Editor's note: In this series, Public CIO set forth to find answers from several of the nation’s top CIOs who have served or currently are in state, local and federal positions. These firsthand accounts are about how establishing partnerships, trusting and letting go, investing in people, and assessing situations have all been instrumental to smart decision-making. Photo by Jessica Mulholland

It takes a village to run an IT organization, and I must give credit to my team, peers and bosses.

I became the CIO of the county of San Diego in March 2008, having spent many years as a senior executive in the operations side of the house. My last assignment was as the deputy chief administrative officer for public safety, a tough job indeed. Our county had outsourced its IT in 1999 except for the elected offices of the sheriff and district attorney. After reaching my wit’s end pondering the simple question: Why don’t we have more innovation being delivered by our outsource vendors? I had an epiphany. (I always wanted to use that word in a sentence.) Innovation starts out on the “edge” from the employees who provide the services. Why weren’t we asking them for their creative ideas? How would they suggest the delivery of IT services to them and the public be done differently?

After giving it some thought, I formed an Innovation Council (IC). However, like most ideas, this wasn’t original — we had tried it before and failed. I took a different approach instead of including just industry experts from existing partners. I chose to add line and select management staff below the rank of department head. I paired the county staff with experts from the IT industry including competitors. We had our first IC meeting in June 2009. Northrop Grumman, Gartner and a county IT staff person facilitated the inaugural meeting. We had our formation meeting, and we were off and running.

The charter members were San Diego County, Gartner, AT&T, CGI, Northrop Grumman, HP, Oracle and Microsoft. All but Northrop remain on the IC today.

The mission of the IT Innovation Council is to increase and accelerate the identification and incubation of innovative IT solutions.

I knew that driving innovation would require a transformation. I first needed to get the support of my peers and boss. I got the commitment and involvement from top-level executives and influential change agents. (Do not start an innovation program without this commitment and support.) I did that by focusing on the strategy, organization, process and culture.

Fundamentally, to get the innovation right, you must get the strategy, organization, processes and culture right.

Many organizations succeed in getting people excited about innovation, and then fail at providing the ability to transform excitement into action. I became the evangelist — innovation needs a champion who can rapidly move ideas from origination to implementation.

In the ensuing years, the organization has adopted the work of the IC, which led to creation of our mobility strategy and many other creative and exciting projects such as our IT road maps. The team is nothing short of amazing, and coupled with the IT staff, we have innovation synergy. The IC has become a fabric in the larger context of how IT is delivered within San Diego.

Read more stories in the Smartest Thing series