The Great Recession was a turning point for many local governments as revenues plummeted and budgets shrank. For Sacramento County, agencies had to change the way they did business, and none more so than the Department of Technology. By the time Rami Zakaria became the county’s CIO in 2011, a massive consolidation effort was under way, saving millions of dollars while improving IT services to internal and external customers.
Zakaria says his staff of dedicated professionals is the reason the county completed the consolidation so successfully. But the CIO, who has spent much of his career working for the county, also redrew IT governance, abandoning the old decentralized approach and giving greater emphasis to countywide IT priorities like a new VoIP phone system, automated hiring application process, construction tracking system and a media platform for county leaders to communicate directly with the public.
Zakaria made it clear that IT consolidation was never an effort to centralize control of technology in the county. “We see our role as an enabler, with a focus on customer services,” he said.
Consolidation and new governance laid the foundation for a series of data-driven modernization efforts. By linking 311 data with business intelligence tools, the sprawling county can determine the best way to deliver services to unincorporated areas. At the same time, IT continues to modernize the county’s digital infrastructure and improve information security strategies. In 2014, the county received national recognition for its website and digital accomplishments.
Zakaria keeps his leadership philosophy simple and strives to make it effective. “I strongly believe in leading by example. I don’t sit in my office; I’m out meeting with my staff and others on a regular basis,” he said. “I also believe it is very important to foster collaboration and to build trust with my staff and my customers."
With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology.