After roughly five years as the CIO of Travis County, Texas, Tanya Acevedo is embracing a new role — as chief technology officer for the Houston Airport System (HAS). And though the new job comes with some unique challenges, she said she is looking forward to meeting them head on.
Acevedo, who had been with Travis County in varying capacities since 2009, accepted the spot with HAS and started work July 17.
When the stars — or, more accurately, a mix of family and professional circumstances — aligned earlier this month, the long-time county IT professional jumped at the chance to tackle a new mission with what she called a “quasi-private” organization.
In contemplating whether her next move would take her back to private-sector life or into another government entity, Acevedo said she realized she is a public servant at heart — and Houston Airport System offered the perfect blend of both worlds.
“I was sort of at a crossroads, which was really good timing, because I believe that being the head of an organization at the CIO level, you really need to continue to innovate and change, and a lot of times you really have to consider passing over the reins to someone else for that different innovation.”
Rather than focusing on “just selling widgets” for a company, Acevedo’s new role allows her to focus on the airport customers and organizational efficiencies, with the added challenge of keeping costs low and making way for profits to be made.
As for whether the stakes are higher in her new role, Acevedo said she thinks they are similar in many ways, but very different in others. She compared the airport systems to working for a casino early in her career, in that systems failures are more quantifiable than they might be at the county level.
Where functional systems are equally necessary in regional government or an airport, flight delays and the like bear an immediate monetary equivalence, she explained.
“The criticality of the systems being up and running equate more to money and potentially security than they did potentially at Travis County, but it is different,” she said. “The bottom line is money and security is more of a criticality here at the airport systems … it’s just different, but you can quantify it a little easier and faster.”
Exactly what she will spend her time on as the airport system's CTO boils down to process improvement, maximizing efficiencies, and keeping systems up and running. In addition to the standard airport security and communications projects, Acevedo will focus on less obvious tech undertakings as well.
The restrooms, for instance, are getting some technology attention through the deployment of sensors so airport staff can better use resources to ensure their cleanliness. What might seem trivial at first glance is actually critical to the smooth operation of the rest of the airport.
The line to use a restroom is not only a customer service issue, it also poses a risk to moving people through the airport and to the flights they are trying to catch.
“And why that matters is, if you are not moving someone through those restrooms, you are actually creating backup. If you have lines in your bathroom, you are going to potentially delay people moving through your airport, even potentially getting them on airplanes or out of the airport,” she said. “All of this stuff has potential domino impact on all of the stuff you are trying to do, right down to if a stall is out of service.”
While she openly shares that she will miss working with the team at Travis County, Acevedo said her experiences in regional government have helped to lend a valuable perspective when it comes to her philosophy, which centers on “motivating people through the eyes of a public servant rather than through money.”