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New Clark County CIO Bob Leek Details His Tech Priorities

Weeks into his new leadership role in one of the largest U.S. counties, Leek opens up about what he wants to accomplish — and how to accomplish those goals. Digital equity, hybrid work and collaboration are top missions.

Clark County Government Center
As Bob Leek takes on his role as the CIO of Clark County, Nev., meeting with staff and local leaders and others during the first weeks of his new job, he is also planning the technology future of the population, economic and cultural heart of the state.

Digital equity is high on the list.

So is citizen feedback and participation in new tech efforts — including programs that would reflect the realities of post-pandemic life in an area that has some 2.3 million residents and attracts 45 million tourists each year, according to pre-COVID figures.

Collaboration with his peers at other large and influential U.S. counties — say, Cook County in Illinois, or Kings County in Washington, or Harris County in Texas — also has a place on Leek’s to-do list.

SENSE OF CONTINUITY


Leek has worked as Clark County’s deputy CIO since February 2021 when he replaced Nadia Hansen, who left for the private sector after two years of heading technology efforts in the county, which includes Las Vegas. He now leads some 200 workers.

He said that while he had no guarantee he would take over as CIO, he did accept the deputy CIO job — moving from Portland, Ore., where he was was CIO for Multnomah County — with the hopes of taking over. Leek said he loves that he can play golf all year round in Nevada, along with the state’s various outdoor attractions.

“When you step up, you already know what’s going on, and you want to make sure there is a sense of continuity,” he told Government Technology.

During the pandemic, and under Hansen’s leadership, the county’s information technology team faced the challenge of making sure public agency employees could work from home during lockdowns, while also replacing paper with digital processes, among other tasks.

Hansen also oversaw a new strategic technology road map and the shift toward hybrid schedules for county employees — that is, a mix of remote work and in-office attendance, along with the option to split workweeks into four or five days.

Those trends continue and guide Leek’s focus as pandemic restrictions continue to ease and a new normalcy emerges.

“Now that we are back in the office, what are we doing to support employees who are coming back or have hybrid schedules?” he said.

CITIZEN SERVICES


That sense of offering support doesn’t apply only to county employees, of course. The pandemic forced citizens to adopt more digital methods when it came to accessing government services and officials, whether via benefits, licenses or public meetings.

Now Leek is leading further efforts to strengthen and expand those services, work that serves as a response to our increasingly online and mobile culture. It's also a way to bring more efficiencies and cost savings to county government.

“The county recognized that bringing tech-enabled services to the public (is) what the focus needs to be,” he said.

Of course, that can be easier said than done, even as he points out, “almost everyone has some type of mobile phone.”

That’s because designing for a smartphone screen is much different than designing a service for a larger computer or a walk-up window — and there is little doubt that citizens for the foreseeable future will use all three methods to access public services.

PRIVATE-SECTOR LESSONS


The way Leek puts it, he can meet that challenge thanks in part to his private-sector experience at the dawn of the e-commerce era, when he worked as application development director for Egghead Software, which has since gone out of business, its domain name now owned by Amazon.

In that job, Leek and his colleagues — “We were trying to be Amazon before Amazon” — had to figure out how to sell products in the expanding world of online retail. Doing so seared into him the practice of thinking of the end user first, a lesson that has stayed with him as he becomes more familiar with his new role at CIO.

“In government, one thing we want is to have more of a voice for the public in designing services,” he said.

That could include, say, such processes as focus groups and more input on how to better apply technology to tasks such as business license applications.

DIGITAL EQUITY


Digital equity also will take up a significant portion of Leek’s time, he told Government Technology. In fact, that specific area of IT was mentioned in his Clark County hiring announcement.

For him, digital equity generally means “removing the barriers that let people fully participate in society.”

That work includes not just the technical side — for instance, access to affordable high-speed Internet — but what he called the “literacy” side: making sure residents know that digital and mobile services exist, and how to use them on their own devices.

Progress in the gov tech space comes not only from digital equity work and better mobile services, Leek said, but collaboration with peers, another priority of his.

Clark County, along with other large counties in the U.S., can together show the way when it comes to scaling technology for local governments. That can happen in various ways, including via professional organizations. While none of that is really brand new thinking — in-person conferences are finally returning after pandemic absences, after all — Leek is eager to do his part and encourage more collaboration and learning.

“It’s about getting together and talking about what we are doing,” he said. “We are not competing with each other.”
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.