Former Sacramento, Calif., CIO Reflects on Success

Having overseen an IT restructuring, the city's first 311 app and the birth of an IT innovation fund, Gary Cook reflects on his time in Sacramento and his plans for the future.

by / July 24, 2013
Inside the Sacramento, Calif., Capitol David Kidd

On July 15, Sacramento, Calif., appointed an interim CIO following the resignation of Gary Cook, who looks back at his past three years in the position as he considers his future.

Having accomplished most of his own goals at the city -- and goals assigned to him by the city manager who hired him -- Cook said he felt ready to move on to new opportunities. Between seeing the launch of the city’s 311 app, a major ERP upgrade, and restructuring of the city’s IT department, his stay with the city was successful, he said. Though he's officially of retirement age, Cook said he’s not yet ready for that.

Before Cook began as Sacramento's CIO, a Gartner study identified that one of the Sacramento IT office’s main challenges would be to overcome the siloed structure and redundant positions that were contributing to wasteful spending. There were engineers who worked for different departments, but whose duties were basically the same, Cook said, so they began looking for a more unified approach.

Initially, there was some “angst” among department heads who didn’t want to see their own positions trivialized as IT was restructured. But Cook said with everyone compromising and looking at the bigger picture, they were able to come to an agreement that made everyone happy.

“The staff still fiscally belonged to the departments, but operationally reported to a central IT structure," he said, "so we got the best of both worlds in that we got the efficiencies of everybody working together, but the departments still had their finger in the pie and an ownership stake that they still funded the position."

With budget cuts, everyone was looking for a way to save money, so another thing Cook did, he said, was create a memo signed by all the department heads regarding a certain stipulation around cutting positions: If a position was cut by a department head, the department would also need to cut a corresponding amount of work, because Cook didn’t want people getting fired and seeing their workloads simply passed on to those who remained.

With the IT restructuring, Cook said, there were 102 IT staff, about half of whom were part of the central IT structure financially and about half belonging to the departments financially -- but all reported to a common IT chain of command so as to eliminate inefficiencies. Another nice side effect this had, Cook said, was that his own department, also subject to budget cuts, could maintain more IT positions without being burdened with all of the financial responsibility.

The city’s 311 app was also a major accomplishment for the city, Cook said. “The key on that one wasn’t just the application; it was that we fully integrated the backend so it also helped the 311 operators on their normal day-to-day operations so they weren’t having to cut and paste and do duplicate entries into the other systems," he said. "The app actually fixed the integration on the backend so all the different work order management systems talk to each other."

In addition to restructuring IT and the city’s 311 app, Cook said he was also proud of Sacramento's Peoplesoft and Oracle ERP standardization and upgrade, which was completed on-time and on-budget. Cook accepted a Digital Cities award on behalf of the city in 2012, granted by the Center for Digital Government, which is owned by eRepublic, Government Technology’s parent company. The city's continued success and innovation in IT even led to the creation of an IT innovation fund, Cook said. 

And the creation of this fund demonstrated the city manager’s commitment to IT and showed that he understood the value of such projects, Cook said. Initially receiving $250,000, the idea behind the fund, he said, was to provide new monies each year that would allow funding of projects -- like the 311 app -- that would help create efficiencies so the city could save money.

One project the innovation fund was used for was a “total revamp” of the city’s website, which will likely be launched in the coming weeks, Cook said.

Content with his work in Sacramento, he said, he’s ready to look to the future and keep his options open, possibly pursuing contract work.

“That’s what gets my blood going in the morning is being able to have a challenge and attack it, solve it and resolve it,” Cook said. “Like the consolidation project -- that was a lot of work, and working with people, and working with folks to compromise and see the betterment of the whole versus the parts. And those are the kind of challenges I really like solving and being successful at.”

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

Platforms & Programs