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Silicon Valley CIO Departs for Private-Sector Role

Santa Clara County Chief Information Officer Ann Dunkin, formerly with the federal government, will leave public-sector service after three years with the county to join Dell in a role related to state and government.

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Ann Dunkin, chief information officer in the heart of Silicon Valley at Santa Clara County — and CIO for the federal Environmental Protection Agency immediately prior — will return to the private sector next month, she confirmed to Techwire.

The public-sector veteran made her departure known Monday, just more than three years after joining Santa Clara. Vacation notwithstanding, her last official day at the agency will be Feb. 21, and she’ll join Dell on Feb. 24. The CIO declined to say exactly what she’ll do for the computing and technology giant, but described it as “a strategy role related to state and local government in the western” regions of the United States and Canada. A job search for her successor has not yet opened, and it’s unclear how Dunkin’s position will be filled in the interim. Santa Clara County hired Nina D’Amato, longtime chief of staff for the San Francisco Department of Technology, in mid-November as director of its Office of the CIO. But family circumstances caused new Deputy CIO Donald Lemma, who came to the county at about the same time from the Columbia Business School at Columbia University, to decide not to relocate after around two months on the job — so Santa Clara is now without a deputy CIO.

Dunkin pointed to her work with the EPA, an agency with local and global impact, to explain why she’s leaving Santa Clara, a county that serves more than 1.7 million residents and is deploying a new voting system.

“All that said, that’s one county," Dunkin said. "And so, as I think about this, I’m like, ‘Well what can I do in the next five or seven or 10 years, however long I decide to work, that … touches more people?’”

Work at Santa Clara, running IT services for 42 agencies and three hospitals, impressed upon her that the public-sector “system is full of really great people” — but across the public sector, that same system, including rules, “makes it hard for really great people to do their job.”

“The system is the problem,” said Dunkin, who in three years spearheaded much of the ongoing consolidation of four major IT organizations — hospital systems, social services, finance and internal services — into one with around 1,000 staff. The goal, she said, was to ensure customers of county agencies got better service, by consolidating core services like infrastructure and business offices. Another goal was freeing up funds that might have gone to IT to be spent on things like hospitals, social services, public safety and justice, and county administration. Elected officials and offices like probation still retain their own IT staff, but the CIO said one way she measures that success is by the fact that several county agencies have offered to reassign their individual IT staff to join hers.

The CIO led completion of a class study, incomplete upon her arrival, that reclassified all IT employees at the county — in her organization and elsewhere. Doing so reclassified about 800 employees and around 200 vacancies, and created 119 new job classifications. The process also included the re-evaluation needed to reclassify the employees and the training they needed in their new roles.

“We absolutely moved the needle. There’s no doubt about that,” Dunkin said, calling it “the biggest we’ve done since I’ve been here."

Her organization also handled the IT chores last year when Santa Clara spent $235 million to buy O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, along with the De Paul Health Center in Morgan Hill. That meant onboarding about 2,000 new employees, standing up an Epic HealthLink employee health record system in less than five months — an endeavor that typically takes at least 18 months — and adding 300 new IT employees on the weekend in August when it went live. Elsewhere, county courts had a successful go-live of a new Odyssey case management system, and a case management system for the county jail is wrapping its procurement.

Data, however, is an area where Dunkin said she wishes she’d been able to do more, noting Santa Clara faces an issue familiar to many governments — the desire to access and analyze personal information housed in multiple systems governed by many distinct rules.

“I very much value privacy — don’t get me wrong, it’s really important. The problem is, there are too many different organizations protecting your data for too many different sources with different rules,” Dunkin said. “At some point, someone’s got to look at those rules holistically from a Legislative standpoint.”

This article originally appeared on Techwire is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.