Bakersfield Tech Chief on Data Analytics, Value of Simplicity

As part of Industry Insider – California ongoing efforts to educate readers about state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT leaders.

Gregory Pronovost is Director of Technology Services at the City of Bakersfield, a position he has held for five years – and under his leadership, the entity has grown from a division to a full department. He is a veteran city employee of 25 years, having joined Bakersfield in July 1997 as an accounting clerk. Most recently, Pronovost was deputy director of information technology, a position he held for more than two years before rising to director. He has also spent over a decade in network systems roles.

Pronovost holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration – Management Information Systems from California State University, Bakersfield, where he graduated magna cum laude.

Industry Insider – California: As the director of technology services for your organization, how would you describe your role? and how has the role and responsibilities of the director changed in recent years?

Pronovost: I see my role as head of the technology services department, providing the vision and direction we need to take to succeed in our endeavors. For the rest of the organization, we are a consulting partner, working collaboratively toward a common goal in support of each department’s line of business. Over the past few years, I have seen collaboration increase. Departments are partnering more with technology departments as technology itself becomes more ingrained in the city’s day-to-day operations. Technology is the catalyst for change, change is constant; as such, we as a department should lead and manage this change.

Industry Insider – California: What role do you personally play in writing your organization’s strategic plan?

Pronovost: Currently, the city does not have a strategic plan. We have goals set by our City Council that all departments use as a guide in implementing initiatives. Over the past two years, the senior management team has worked to develop a set of core principles or values ​​in preparation for a larger overall strategic initiative. As a member of the senior management team, myself and the other members actively participate in the development of our organizational strategic planning.

Industry Insider – California: What are the major initiatives or upcoming projects? What types of tenders should we watch over the next six to 12 months?

Pronovost: We have some major modernization projects that will materialize within the year. The first is a regional public safety radio system in partnership with Kern County to better support our first responders. This new system will be an advanced digital trunked radio system with improved coverage and capabilities. The second is replacing our old Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system with a modern ERP to better support core functionality. Going forward, we will be tendering ancillary systems in conjunction with ERP yet to be determined, the best modules to support specific business areas. Additionally, we are building our data analytics team and will be tendering to find a good partner to help us with this process.

Industry Insider – California: What term or phrase do you use to refer to what many call “digital transformation”? Where is your organization in this process and how will you know when it is complete?

Pronovost: I simply refer to digital transformation as modernization because it is essentially about changing processes and workflows to be more assessable and available in the modern lines of communication used every day. We are extending our services from traditional news delivery in newspapers, newsletters and websites to new platforms such as smart devices, social media and artificial intelligence robots (artificial intelligence), as well as the transition fully digitized workflows so citizens can do business with the city 24/7 from the comfort of their living room or anywhere with mobile devices. This is what our residents expect of us as service providers. Currently, we are in the early stages of implementing these changes and are excited to present them. As for when we’re done, as I mentioned before, the change is constant, so we’ll never be done.

Industry Insider – California: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the overall budget?

Pronovost: For the upcoming fiscal year 2023, the Technology Services Department is requesting a total budget of $16.2 million. Our department has an authorized headcount of 60 FTEs (full-time employees). The estimated budget for the City of Bakersfield is $852.6 million.

Industry Insider – California: How do you prefer to be contacted by suppliers, including via social networks such as LinkedIn? How could suppliers better inform themselves before meeting you?

Pronovost: My preference is email; so if the product or service interests us, I can then pass it on to the team who will take a closer look. I admit my LinkedIn game is low. Balancing work and life leaves little time to update social media platforms, although I enjoy reading what others have posted. As with any new relationship, the seller must get to know us. A lot of information can be obtained on our website as well as on various board or committee meetings. During the first meeting, find out what our weak points are, see where we might need help, familiarize yourself with our procurement process; being more flexible with yours could lead to a smoother transaction. Please also be aware that if you are successful in engaging us with your product or service, it is not a one-time transaction, we want to partner with our solution providers, keeping up to date with improvements, bug fixes, updates and address our concerns.

Industry Insider – California: As part of your tenure in this position, what project or achievement are you most proud of?

Pronovost: Easily, it must be about the construction of the department and the improvements of our staff. Four years ago, the Technology Services Division was a traditional IT support service entity with an authorized staff of 37 FTEs. Today, we are a full department within the organization, with an authorized staff of 60 and growing. As part of this growth, we have structured our technical roles to foster agility and multiple career paths. Our staff are challenged to engage in continuous process improvement and continuous training. Above all, we are positioning ourselves to partner with our fellow ministries on the use of technology and best practices to better implement programs and initiatives that bring real and meaningful change to our citizens.

Industry Insider – California: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?

Pronovost: In a word, simplify. Being a government organization, there is bureaucracy in the procurement process that must be followed. This process almost always goes against the way technology and technology services are sold today. Each supply is a little different in the way the contract is written. At Technology Services, we are working with our Finance and Legal departments on what we can do internally to streamline the process. We’re also asking our solution partners to do the same, so hopefully it won’t take months to purchase goods and services.

Industry Insider – California: What do you read to stay up to date with developments in the govtech/SLED sector?

Pronovost: I subscribe to a number of electronic newsletters and print publications covering all three levels of government, local, state and federal, with a focus on the use of technology, such as Government Technology*, as well as those issued by our solution providers. Additionally, I see what my fellow CIOs in the public sector are doing through our membership in MISAC (Municipal Information Systems Association of California) and ICMA (International City/County Management Association). Finally, my staff and I attend multiple conferences and collaboration opportunities. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the unique way existing technology is used to solve new problems.

Industry Insider – California: What are your hobbies and what do you like to read?

Pronovost: I enjoy spending time with my family doing escape games, solving book/game puzzles, and watching movies. I don’t like to read too much for fun (do a lot of reading for work), but I do like working with my hands, such as photography, electronics, and playing retro arcade games and virtual pinball ( video) (the thing I grew up with in the 80s).

*Government Technology magazine is a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Industry Insider – California.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.

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