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DeKalb County CIO on Going Mobile and Moving to the Cloud

John Matelski, head of DeKalb County, Ga.'s Innovation and Technology Department, discusses shifting the county workforce to remote operations and what that has meant for his cybersecurity strategy.

John Matelski CIO, DeKalb County, Georgia
For nine years, DeKalb County, Ga., CIO John Matelski has led the county’s Innovation and Technology Department, overseeing all information technology services, including administration, applications and infrastructure. Now, his team is adapting to the challenge of the pandemic, resulting in county employees going mostly remote and reinforcing the government’s cybersecurity efforts.

1. Why is implementing a cloud-first strategy important for DeKalb County?

The primary reason is if you really look at the overall total cost of ownership of maintaining an on-premise, or multiple on-premise, scenarios, it just makes more sense to move things into the cloud. Especially in this day and age, and obviously with the pandemic, moving the majority of folks into a telework scenario has magnified security ramifications. So my first argument would be the total cost of ownership and having the security and ability to work with vendors to ensure that your solution is secure and available 24/7, 365 days a year. And then, of course, having any kind of legal and compliance ramifications built into the contract to ensure that your cloud strategy and solutions are implemented securely.

2. What major projects did your office focus on during the pandemic?

We are a county of about 6,500 employees, and probably about 4,500 or so are computerized, so getting all of those people the ability to work remotely, especially initially, was really important. The place where we had to apply the least effort was on anything that we already had available in the cloud. Microsoft Office 365 is a great example. People could access things from anywhere, anytime. So our first line of defense was to make sure that everyone knew that regardless of whether they had a computer, those capabilities from other devices to access email and other services were available. Also, we were able to deploy more than 1,000 devices to get over a quarter of our folks up and running within the first week, and then, within three weeks, we had everybody up and running.

3. What were some of the county’s top IT priorities in 2021?

Cybersecurity was No. 1. Training and education for constituents and internal staffing was No. 2. As we migrated to certain systems or added systems for remote access, we had quite a number of folks ask us questions. From a constituent standpoint, people were used to coming into the auditorium for Board of Commissioners meetings and other things like that. Now they have to do it remotely, so we provided online education and outreach programs to help them navigate those changes. As for cybersecurity, what most people don’t realize is that the biggest threats are actually inside the firewall. Now granted, the pandemic created all these opportunities for additional malware and bad actors trying to break into systems. But with everybody going remote and not having security systems at a particular level, those things needed to be addressed.

4. What is DeKalb’s stance on mobility?

We’ve always been at the forefront of both security and mobility. However, now it’s more of a forced thing because of the pandemic. Before, it was nice to have, especially for IT workers, but like many counties, DeKalb was not at that point where telecommuting was being offered across the board from a personnel and HR standpoint. So the concern was, how are we going to manage people? It’s so much easier to do when you are in an office, but how do you do that working from home? The biggest thing that we did was focus on our people and what really drives them, and then look at how technology can help them be more efficient in an environment they weren’t used to.
Katya Diaz is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.