Steve Jennings is CIO of Harris County, home to the city of Houston. His organization supports more than 16,000 county employees in 278 locations. Earlier this year, Jennings was named to Government Technology's annual list of Doers, Dreamers and Drivers, which salutes government's most innovative and effective IT officials.
Describe some of the projects under way in Harris County.
We've been working with Microsoft on putting their Stimulus 360 product into production for stimulus tracking. We are very heavily into CRM [customer relationship management]. We also have a records/document management effort that is probably going to change all of our rules and procedures down the road and make everything more efficient.
So the economic climate hasn't stopped county technology initiatives?
No, because everybody is looking at how we can take what we have and be more creative -- to either reprioritize goals and funding, or look at convergence. When the economy isn't good, it allows us to take a look with fresh eyes. It allows us to build new relationships where they potentially couldn't have happened before. These are good times for government. You need to look at financial adversity as different ways to be more creative.
What impact will federal stimulus money have on Harris County?
Where I see it having long-term benefit has to do with infrastructure, either electronic or physical. Think about if we could make roads smarter. And our mobility a whole lot better, and look at how to integrate local transit. That impacts both cities and counties. Then start taking a look at helping the hospital district with telemedicine and telehealth programs that reduce transportation requirements or eliminate clerical functions. It's the same with education. There are a lot of different areas on stimulus in the local level that we can put into play and have operational within two years.
What's involved in using that money?
A lot of the mechanism is still coming out. Most of the stimulus grants have multiple buckets of money. Realistically if you're not in the first wave, you need to learn and get in the second wave. The other impact is you must have projects substantially completed in a two-year time frame after the grant award. You can't just sit on the money, so your planning has to be a lot more comprehensive up front. Your financials also have to be a lot more comprehensive to meet the reporting requirements. So there's going to be a lot more effort aside from just figuring out what you're going to apply for.