IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Lynchburg, Va., CIO Terry Hutchens Steps into Retirement

During his career with the Virginia city, he helped connect residents and witnessed the rise of cybersecurity and AI. He talks about what’s next for gov tech, and why local leaders should look to Disney for inspiration.

The skyline of Lynchburg, Va.
Shutterstock
To the popular imagination, central Virginia means Thomas Jefferson, Civil War battlefields and other people and places anchored to history. But as Terry Hutchens prepares to retire from his job as CIO for the city of Lynchburg, Va., he can recall all he has done to bring the future to the region.

Terry Hutchens
Terry Hutchens
His proudest achievement during his nearly 22-year run as a Lynchburg tech employee? Helping to build a high-speed broadband network that connects some 100 buildings via 47 miles of fiber-optic cable.

“Lynchburg is a third-tier city,” he said, referring to the level of attention that smaller cities often don’t get. “We are often lower on the totem pole.”

But Hutchens and his colleagues found a private-sector partner for the project and now Lynchburg residents enjoy the digital fruits of those labors.

Hutchens, who just turned 65, began as a network services manager for Lynchburg in 1999 and took over the CIO job in January 2020 upon the retirement of his predecessor, Mike Goetz. During Hutchens’ time with the city — home of Liberty University and located near the Blue Ridge Mountains — Lynchburg won recognition for, among other gov tech accomplishments, its cloud and application collaborations with schools and state agencies, and its use of artificial intelligence to keep tabs on flooding risks.

A big part of Hutchens’ responsibilities, he said, was to adopt a tech pace suitable to a city of about 80,000 people — a place that’s home to Liberty University and other institutions of higher education, to be sure, but also a relatively sleepy town.

“You lead with cautious innovation,” he said. “You try to avoid leading-edge tech but you have to realize when it’s time to adopt it.”

PUBLIC-SECTOR CHALLENGES


As Tom Williams, the city’s assistant director for network services, prepares to take over from Hutchens on Wednesday, city officials praised his long tenure in public service — highlighting some of the ideal traits for a public-sector CIO, especially one working for a smaller organization.

“His robust IT background and his incredible relationships in the organization allowed him to both advocate on behalf of our community and build a strong team that is mission-driven,” said Reid Wodicka, Lynchburg’s interim city manager. “Terry’s many years of experience in the city, and in the private sector prior to that, and his incredible relationships that he has built in the city will be a huge loss. Terry is an incredible partner and friend to many on our team, so we will miss him, but we are so excited for him and his family as they approach their next chapters.”

A U.S. Coast Guard veteran, church elder and professional photographer, Hutchens left the private sector after more than two decades because, he said, he was drawn to the challenge of building better technology for citizens — indeed, he points to the fiber-optic project as a prime example.

“It was a fine, exciting thing to do,” he said.

Hutchens is retiring as gov tech emerges from the pandemic and all its challenges — closed offices, remote work, the growth of digital services, disruptions to city and state revenue streams. At the same time, work progresses on AI technology, smart city initiatives, remote sensing efforts, civic mobile apps and all the other software, gear and processes that increasingly occupy CIOs across the country. Local and regional governments could face more pressure in the coming years to keep up with the changes and retain top talent.

“It is becoming more difficult to recruit experienced and talented IT professionals into local government positions,” said Rita Reynolds, CIO for the National Association of Counties. “County leadership, especially IT leadership, is concerned with succession planning and the ability to develop current IT employees in areas that will position him or her to move into the CIO or IT director role.”

SECURITY, AI AND DISNEY


What she called “the highest talent priority” is for cybersecurity professionals such as chief information security officers, application security officers and security analysts. Hutchens, for his part, emphasized how much more important cybersecurity became during his career — and the bureaucratic challenges of keeping ahead of online criminals.

“The culture moves slowly in organizations,” he said. “But you have to adjust to cybersecurity. If you want to connect, you need security.”

Then again, getting citizens to connect can be its own tough job, even with pandemic habits in place.

“How we do business has changed quite a bit,” he said. “But we still have people walking in and paying their bills, even with the COVID stuff. We put kiosks out and offer more self service.”

Getting more buy-in from residents for those digital deployments will require what amounts to a change of imagination on the part of many local governments, he said.

“I think government needs to think more like Amazon, Chick-fil-A and Disney and make it much easier for self service,” he said. “Each experience should be magical. We have some work to do there.”

AI promises to play a role in all that, along with other gov tech tasks in the coming years. The technology stands as one of the top priorities for CIOs in 2021, according to research from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. At the state level, the group said, 75 percent of them use AI via chatbots — one common task is answering citizen questions about unemployment insurance.

“AI, while not totally new, has the promise to help fill in the gaps, especially when you cannot add people (to IT departments),” Hutchens said. “I am really optimistic about that.”

Technology, of course, is not the only important factor when it comes to effective gov tech. Relationships matter a lot — and many of those relationships will have to be repaired in the aftermath of the pandemic. NASCIO found that “vendor relationship management” was among the areas most impacted by the virus outbreak.

Hutchens said that CIO success depends in large part on having those “good relationships.” Additionally, IT talent should seek out mentors and take advantage of continuing education.

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” he said. “Learn from them. Be a positive change force.”

Hutchens will no doubt take his own advice during retirement as he checks off boxes on his bucket list. He has already run a marathon and will keep up with his wedding and event photography. He anticipates taking some piano lessons and focusing more on the links.

“I’ll be working on doing a par round of golf,” he said.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in New Orleans.
Special Projects
Sponsored Articles