After owning a software firm, Peter Collins followed his interest in law enforcement software into positions as a Sonoma County, Calif., sheriff's deputy and a Boston police officer. He joined the Austin Police Department in the 1990s and ultimately became involved in a series of IT projects. Chosen as city CIO in 2003, Collins currently chairs the Texas Radio Coalition, an organization working to implement statewide radio interoperability. In January, he was named Texas CIO of the Year at the Government Technology Conference Southwest in Austin.
Q: You've earned a reputation for successfully completing projects. What's the secret?
A: I'm a strong believer in good project management. You can have [Project Management Institute] certification and anything else you want, but you've got to be a leader. If you're not a leader, you're not going to get the job done. The other thing that people need to realize is that projects mean problems. It seems like there is a cultural attitude out there that if something goes wrong, it's the end of the world. It isn't. The problem is that things get masked in that environment because people are afraid to say they slipped a little bit.
Q: How do you create the atmosphere where it's OK to admit problems?
A: It's really somebody being mature, self-confident and secure enough to say, "Here's the problem." Successful project managers are true risk managers. They can look out on that horizon and see danger lurking and raise a red flag. It's communication and risk management. And just because there's a problem on the horizon doesn't mean you're done as a project manager; it means you are paying attention to your job and you're able to lead that team.
Q: How does your law enforcement background influence what you do now?
A: Being a patrol officer was the best job I ever had in my life. If I could go back tomorrow and do it, I would. But I felt I could impact public safety more here in a management role. I actually started in Austin as a police cadet, and I kept a low profile; I just fixed things. Eventually I was asked to do a project called Radio Dispatch and Mobile Trunking, which was the regional radio system. We built an 80,000-square-foot communications center and replaced the computer dispatch system for police, fire and EMS, and the report management system.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: I'm most proud of the folks I've worked with over the years. It's not all about me; it's about the whole team. They're the people I really have to thank because they've made it happen.