August 20, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Photo: Harris County CIO Steve Jennings. Photo by Kelly LaDuke
Steve Jennings, CIO of Harris County, Texas, will retire after 34 years and several landmark projects. He will depart having recently transitioned the county's public safety communications system to cloud computing -- a type of flexible, virtual server capacity existing on the Web.
His last day will be Aug. 31.
Jennings didn't specify his future plans, but said he wanted to stay connected to local government IT in some way.
"Being able to use technical abilities to help your citizens see results -- somehow I'll be involved with that the rest of my life," Jennings said, later adding, "You never totally retire because someone will always call you and say, 'What do you think about this?'"
Jennings was named one of Government Technology's Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers for 2009. The award recognizes individuals who have used innovative technology to improve state and local government.
Jennings joined Harris County in 1975 as the assistant director of central data processing. (Harris County includes Houston's city limits). In 1978 he helped switch Harris County Courts from a punch card processing system to an IBM computer network. Costing roughly $250,000, the watershed project transformed efficiency for processing citizens in and out of the court system, Jennings said. He recalled the technology landscape of that time: "You didn't see a lot of terminals out there and when you did, they were usually green screens. Some vendors had yellow screens. One vendor even had a purple screen," Jennings said.
He became CIO in 1984, and switched to fiber optics for connecting computers during that decade. Jennings said using fiber optics in government was nearly unheard of during the 1980s. He persuaded the county to give him $450,000 for the project, which replaced 150 miles of coax cable -- the connectors of computers at the time.
After he sells his house, Jennings plans to move to Austin.
"My wife is a University of Texas grad and loves the Austin atmosphere. It's really nice," Jennings said.
He mentioned that he planned to stay current on local government IT trends.
"I'm not meant for a rocking chair. I do love to travel and my wife loves to travel, and I love to see how different people do different things," Jennings said.
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