Understanding the more technical aspects of the job of a public-sector IT professional is just the beginning. Modern CIOs bring a very diverse set of backgrounds — educational and professional — to their positions, and the agencies they work for reap the benefits. CIO Benny Chacko, of the Los Angeles County Probation Department, supplemented his bachelor’s degree in computer science with an MBA in finance to broaden his skill set, and had a number of private-sector jobs before joining the county workforce. We caught up with Chacko recently at the Los Angeles Digital Government Summit, where he talked about the importance of understanding your agency’s unique business needs and thinking beyond technology.
1. What are some of the unique challenges you face as the IT leader at the Probation Department?
The challenge that a CIO for Probation has is it’s really a mix of services. We have a law enforcement aspect to it, we have a social service aspect to it and we also have a health service aspect to it. So it’s getting someone who can bridge the gap in those three different domains and figure out a way to really drive strategy within the organization and push technology to enhance the business.
2. What are the most important skills a public-sector CIO needs beyond an understanding of technology?
It’s really understanding business process, engaging with the executives, and at the same time coming back and translating strategy and vision from the executive team to the IT team to actually execute and drive projects forward to completion. So it’s definitely people skills and communication skills, whether it’s written or speaking skills. Those are absolutely critical, and then engaging not only with the executive team but also your own team … looking for solutions based on problems that you observe, whether that’s walking through a facility or observing someone do a certain business process. It’s being able to bridge the gap and look for a solution that can help make their job easier.
3. What are some disruptive technologies that are impacting your work?
Data overall has been a challenge because we collect pieces of data in every form or fashion and it’s spread out through the entire department. It’s disruptive in the sense that we need to make something meaningful out of it. It’s collecting data — whether it be video footage or actual text information within a database — and being able to quantify certain values of our service and provide metrics to our executives to make decisions. We’re in the beginning phases of that.
4. Can you apply that data toward reducing recidivism?
Absolutely. Our goal in the organization is to reduce recidivism within our client population. We don’t want repeat offenders. So we need to determine what services we’re providing to that juvenile that are having the biggest impact so they don’t come back through our system and they’re able to sustain a life on their own without going through the system again.