San Francisco DA’s Office CIO Talks Tech Initiatives and Core Values For IT-Business Alignment

Esther Shein

Herman Brown has been CIO for the San Francisco Attorney General’s Office for less than two years. But in that time, he has instituted an “open door policy” that emphasizes trust and support, and working with the business units to resolve individual, department and agency concerns, and ultimately, help them be more successful.

In this Enterprise Mobility Exchange Q&A, Brown discussed his approach to working with the business, his greatest challenges and what’s on tap for this year...

EME:  Digital transformation is foremost on the minds of IT leaders. What recent initiative(s) have you spearheaded that you are particularly proud of?

HB: We are in the process of a major digital transformation, since as a “government law firm” we have extensive paper processes and legacy technology. During my time here, we started with shoring up our security posture, issuing laptops to attorneys to allow better work/life balance and mobility in the courtroom.

We are digitalizing our forms and making them available via mobile platforms, rolling out an MDM solution, and we are embracing collaborative cloud solutions that allow units to work together. We are also in the early stages of implementing a new case management system. Most of all, I am proud of my team and how they have been willing to grab the bull by the horns and take the lead in successfully implementing these solutions.

EME: As technology becomes a more integral part of an organization’s ability to operate, CIOs today need to have a blend of tech and business skills. What have you done to enhance your own skill set?

HB: I haven’t done anything formally to enhance my own skill set; however, I have spent time reading “self-help” and “motivational” type materials, but most importantly, partnered with the business units to learn what they do, how they do it and why they do it. This is instrumental in assisting me in solving the problem with the right solution. This doesn’t mean we are perfect, it just means we are attempting to solve the problem from the view of the people we support.

EME: How much of an issue is IT-business alignment at the DA’s office?

HB: I have heard from many of the line managers and the CFO that prior to my arrival IT was where people went for service (i.e. my keyboard doesn’t work, I can’t log into the system, etc.). Now, IT is where the office goes for solutions. The business units see us as a partner and solution provider. I say we are very much aligned as an organization -- not perfect -- but we continue to get better with time with continual service improvements.

EME: What has changed to make IT “where the office goes for solutions?”

HB: Attitude. As a new leader to the unit I brought fresh ideas and a “can do, will do” attitude. [I also] created a department mission statement and core values for the team and shared those with the entire firm:

    • Core Value: A.C.E.I.T
      • Accountability – we will be accountable for our actions whether it’s a service we provide or is being provided on our behalf
      • Communication – we will communicate what we are doing, why we are doing, when we will do doing it and how this will assist the “firm” in achieving its mission
      • Empowerment– I am empowering my team to make decisions; but they will be held accountable for their decisions -- but not in a bad way. We all make mistakes, when a mistake is made own up to it, let’s correct it and move on. We will also empower the staff through education, educating them on the products and services we implement and how these tools will benefit them.
      • Innovation – we will remove the word “NO” from our vocabulary, even when the answer is no. We are problem solvers, let’s figure out how to solve the problem, which may require thinking outside the box.
      • Teamwork – our individual success is dependent upon us succeeding as a team, our team success is dependent upon the “firm” succeeding in its mission. We must trust and support one another and work with the business units to help them be successful.

EME: What technologies are you eyeing for implementation this year?

HB: This upcoming fiscal year will be very exciting for us as we are moving into a new building, which will give me a great opportunity to implement new network infrastructure (i.e. network switches, firewalls, Wi-Fi, VoIP, etc.) The DA has given me the green light to turn us from a “government agency that happens to be a law firm,” to a “law firm that represents the government.”

EME: What are your greatest tech challenges and what keeps you up at night?

HB: As with any agency in these times we are concerned with cybersecurity and resource constraints (time, money and people). We just don’t have enough resources to do everything we would like to do when we want to do it. It takes us longer to get solutions to production due to lack of resources and competing priorities.

EME: Finding IT staff is often a struggle due to the well-documented shortage of quality IT professionals. Is this the case for you? If so, how do you attract and retain talent?

HB: This is especially true for government in the Bay Area, where we are competing against Silicon Valley and tech start-up companies all around us. We cannot compete with the pay and company perks. What we have to offer is purpose! And a pension. The DA’s Office is not only about prosecuting crimes; we have an extensive community outreach program that aids victims of crime and breaking the cycle of crime.