Behzad Zamanian was appointed as the Chief Information Officer for the City of Huntington Beach (Surf City USA), California in August 2015. In this role, Behzad is responsible for the overall leadership of the Information Services Department including strategic technology planning, development and implementation of technology standards, policies and procedures, project management, budget development and implementation.
Behzad started his career with the City of Huntington Beach is January 2004 as a Business Systems Business Systems Manager and was soon promoted to the Business Systems and Public Safety Systems Manager responsible for the oversight of public safety systems in addition to business systems and enterprise applications.
Before joining the City of Huntington Beach, Behzad held the position of Chief Architect and Administrative Computing Manager for 10 years at the University of California, Irvine.
Behzad has more than 28 years of experience in the field of Information Technology, including the private sector, Fortune 500 organizations, academic and research institutions, health care industry, public safety and local government.
Behzad holds the Certified Government Chief Information Officers (CGCIO™) designation from Public Technology Institute (PTI) and Rutgers University of Public Affairs & Administration. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Information Systems from Cal Poly Pomona and Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of California, Irvine.
What superpower do you want most?
Time travel would have been interesting. Think about how technology has grown in the past few decades. 40 years ago, you had a computer the size of this room and now you have an iPhone in your pocket that has ten times more processing powerful and fits in the palm of your hand. It would be interesting to see what technology looks like in the next 40 years. Will that consist of maybe a chip under your skin keeping you connected at all times, diagnosing what goes on in the body, etc. it would definitely be interesting to see where technology leads.
What did you want to grow up to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a pilot and loved to fly, I think I must have been a bird in another life! I always had a desire to fly and often dream about it, I grew up in Iran and moved to California in 1984. Wondering how you went from dreams of being a pilot to the IT industry? Selecting a career is different for people who migrate to the US, you don’t take things for granted and tend to think of what’s available and needed than what you like to do. When I decided to major in Computer Information System, I thought about what’s hot what’s not in 20 years thinking software would run everything at some point, guess I wasn’t so wrong.
If you won the lottery what would you do?
Find a place in Hawaii some place far away from big cities… the island life and retire.
What’s the #1 area of focus CIO’s should concentrate on?
I personally feel that the most important thing for a CIO is to become s strategic business partner with other units. Being a business partner lets you align your IT mission with the organizations mission and vision and that should ultimately be the goal of every CIO. Some refer to it as “business alignment”. In my opinion, building partnerships with the departments is the key to IT’s success. If I’m able to accomplish what other departments want then that automatically aligns my goals with business.
In terms of initiatives, one thing we are seeing is cyber security becoming the main priority for a lot of organizations. One interesting thing I heard at a recent conference regarding state vs. local government priorities is that priorities aren’t the same for state and local government agencies. For example, states are still focusing on IT consolidation but local agencies have mostly consolidate to a degree and moved on to other priorities. Cyber security seems to be a hot topic for everyone. The last thing I want is to see our City becoming a victim of a cyber-attack so security is definitely one of the major concerns. In terms of automations and applications, enabling field workers to use mobile devices and providing more citizens engagement online systems, I see that as a stepping stone for connecting IoTs. At some point everything will be connected, city’s assets, pipelines, water meters, cars, roads, applications, etc, and you have the ability to monitor and manage everything remotely. As a stepping stone, richer mobile enabled applications would be the focus for government agencies. Empowering users to do work in the field and connected to a central system. We have developed an integrated work order system to manage Public Works requests but it’s missing the mobile functionality at this time. We are working with a vendor to build a mobile application that enables citizens to submit a request and field staff will soon be able to get the request immediately and respond to the request to take care of the problem.
A lot of people think of cloud as a strategy for IT but I see cloud as another tool to provide better level of support. There are multiple factors when you look using the cloud. Example of those factors are investment in your organization datacenter or the nature of the application, is this an enterprise application, does it require remote access, are there a lot of integration points, etc. Enterprise applications such as ERP software have proven to be more successful on-premises for larger organizations like us. On the other hand, simple applications that require a lot of interaction with customers/constituents such as online recruitment applications can be a good fit for the cloud. Additionally, some agencies like us must comply with security protocols and regulations so cloud isn’t always an option.
Do you feel IT still carries the title of a cost center rather than revenue driver?
I think that depends on the organization the administration view of IT. IT was viewed as a cost center a few years ago but in the past few years IT has proven to not only be potentially a revenue/cost saving driver but also a strategic business partner. During the recession we saw a big change in how departments viewed IT and utilized technology by automating their processes to save costs. Here is a simple example, our community services department used to print and publish magazines every month so we said let’s cut the cost by creating a digital magazine on our website where the information was readily available to everyone.
Are there any hiring challenges? Specifically, from millennials?
Hiring as it relates to millennials has not been an issue for us. Of course millennials have all the information and tools they need to be able to just move on to the next company with a similar position if they don’t like it which could result in you losing a really good employee. Our challenge has been the high cost of benefits associated with government employees. We simply can’t afford to hire as many full time employees so what I try to do is “smart sourcing”. Outsourcing, use of contract positions, part timer or interns for what makes sense such as repetitive simpler tasks in IT such as helpdesk; and full time employees become smart managers of IT resources and work on mission critical systems that support the core of the organization; this is what I call “smart sourcing”. In my opinion that is the only way to manage technology with extremely limited resources with the ability to scale up and grow. We have 1100 FTEs citywide and about 500 seasonal and part time employees. We had 50 IT employees in 2006 and now only 30 FTEs, we lost about 40% of IT staffing resources to attrition and cuts in the past few years.
What kind of messaging is coming down from the CEO/Key Executives about their partnership with IT? What are they expecting you to look at?
Just like any other progressive organization, we, key executives, would like to see better customer service, better internal and external communication, a more robust IT governance, automation, technology to make people and systems more efficient and productive; and most importantly, technology to provide better service to our citizens, visitors, and constituencies. In terms of projects, cyber security, enterprise systems capable of providing online services, and of course technologies that helps public safety to be more effective and efficient. My role is to partner with departments and be sure to understand business needs and align IT goals with business.
What would be your top three goals for this year?
Cyber security is one of our top priorities, upgrading our legacy systems is another one of our top priorities. We are also looking at mobility, enabling field users to work remotely, public safety functions in particular, police and fire department remote access are some of our high priority initiatives. Providing added remote functionality to our Police and Fire vehicles and expanding mobility is a big-ticket item. We are also trying to look at broadband, perhaps in a public/private partnership model providing high speed Internet access to our constituencies and making the City an attractive option for technology companies. We are looking at laying fiber throughout the city to connect all City facilities and pole tops as the next big real estate market. ISPs will need access to pole tops for mini/micro cell towers and better connectivity. Another priority for us is business alignment, we are here to provide service to citizens and more automation in development services is a priority so we are in the process of replacing our land management system to provide a lot more online services. Online permit request, automated plan check, one stop shop for payment and other citizen engagement services is a high priority for us.
If you could give guidance to yourself looking back before you had the role of a CIO, what would you tell them?
To be patient and try to enjoy the process. CIO job comes with a lot of responsibilities so be careful what you wish for. It’s a fast-paced demanding role that requires high energy personality.
What advice would you give to others interested in pursuing careers as a CIO?
There are two kinds of people at work, some bring a character to their day to day job and some let their job to define them. Try to be in the first group, define your job and the environment you work in. The CIO role is about business more than technology, as a CIO you must understand and address business needs and technology is your tool. For me it was a natural move because I was on the business systems and applications side of the house. My suggestion would be to ask a lot of questions and learn a lot about the business, be sure to understand the big picture before attempting to be a CIO. Be very flexible, you want to be able to re-prioritize your tasks at all times. So if you want to be a CIO, be focused, keep your eye on the ball and you will get there, it’s just a matter of the time.