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Vennard Wright Reimagines Prince George’s County

Prince George’s County, Md., appoints former tech director of Friends With Hillary as its CIO.

Tucked away in the Atlantic Coastal plain is Prince George’s County, Md., the former home to some of the rich and famous, such as Muppets creator Jim Henson, TV personality Kathy Lee Gifford and bad boy comedian Martin Lawrence.

The county, which has a population of nearly 1 million, is also old stomping grounds for Google Founder Sergey Brin and Roger Easton Sr., the chief inventor of GPS. But these aren’t usually the first images that come to mind when people think of the county — it’s more a perception of crime and inefficiency, said Vennard Wright, Prince George’s County newly appointed CIO, whose claim to fame is as Hillary Clinton’s tech director.

Wright, whose IT career spans more than 15 years, was named the tech chief on Nov. 20, after serving as acting CIO since January. A resident of the county, Wright is adamant about changing people’s perception of the county and is energetic about technology projects he’d like to implement. And now that Wright is permanent, he said he feels more surety about his decisions.

Government Technology spoke with Wright about his vision of the ideal IT landscape and the county’s plans for knowledge transfer in an aging work force. One solution is grooming the younger generation to hopefully become the Sergey Brins of tomorrow.

Is there a program implemented for knowledge transfer from older to younger employees?

It’s less of a problem in the Office of Information Technology, but it is a problem across the entire county. I think that one-third of our workforce is eligible for retirement, or will be in three years. So we’re using SharePoint more, [and we're] making sure that documents are in a central place so there’s visibility into what the agencies are doing and what people are responsible for. I’m looking to make sure that information is consolidated in a place that everyone has access to it and that the processes and procedures are documented. 

A few of the projects that we’re working on have actually facilitated that. 311 is an example of that, where the service request comes in and the agency has to handle it. So in order for us to code those workflows into the CRM system, we had to go in and understand what the agencies and the people responsible for having those service requests were doing. 

Another one is ERP, where we have to go in to understand the business processes that are being coded into the ERP system. A lot of the projects that we’re taking part in are going to help with the knowledge transfer because it’s going to make sure that whatever people are doing is automated and documented so that someone can come in behind and pick up where the last person left off.

With one-third of the workforce set to retire in the next three years, how do you go about attracting and retaining younger people into work force?

We have our career pathway that we’re working with the school system on. We’re going into the Prince George’s County school system and identifying students who are interested in IT and offering internships, whether it’s here in county government or some companies that we’re working with. We’re laying out what it takes to start a career in IT, and working with colleges in Prince George’s County to make sure that the requirements for starting a career in IT are completed, so that hopefully we can attract those people back into the county government once they’ve completed those requirements. 

Do you have any IT mentors or someone who you admire?

Yes, I do. I actually do take a look at some of our neighboring CIOs. Our CIO in Fairfax County, Wanda Gibson — I think she’s done some good very things out there. And the CIO in Howard County, Ira Levy — just the way that they had a solid relationship with their administration, which allows them to make decisions quickly and some things that they’ve been able to accomplish. So I really do look to those two. As far as IT guidance outside of that, I just take a look at what industry is doing. 

If you could change the county’s IT landscape, what would it look like?

I would have our governance in place. What I mean by that is the way we accept new tasks, new projects. Right now, a lot of relationships have been developed directly with developers and our engineers, so requests can go all over the place and there’s really no way of tracking them. 

What I’d like to see happen is that any new request goes through our service desk, it’s vetted, there’s a business case developed for it if it’s needed, and a solutions manager helps to build the case for it moving forward. If it’s a go/no-go decision and then it’s worked on, it’s tracked [and] it’s available online so you can see where the progress is. 

So if I could actually have all of this happen tomorrow, we’d have all of those processes — we’d have our enterprise project management office in place and governance would be streamlined. Our processes would be consistent across the board and everyone would know where the project was in the pipeline.

Photo by David Kidd

Karen Stewartson served as the managing editor of Government Technology for many years. She also contributed to Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.