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CIO, Tech Leader Answers ‘Ask Me Anything’

Roseville’s chief information officer, Hong Sae, discusses the future of gov tech, advances in technology, and his goals for the Municipal Information Systems Association of California, of which he is president.

The following first appeared in MISAConnect, a publication of the Municipal Information Systems Association of California (MISAC). Hong Sae, Roseville’s chief information officer and president of MISAC, was the subject of a virtual “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) event recently. Sae has been profiled by and written commentaries for Industry Insider California. The following is an excerpted transcript from his July 21 AMA session and has been lightly edited for clarity and style. The full exchange is available online.

Hong Sae
Hong Sae
Following are the participants’ questions and Sae’s responses:

Question: There have been a lot of developments/advancements in artificial intelligence. Which current developments/advancements do you think are most useful now and which ones will be most useful in the next five years?

Hong Sae: We cannot talk about AI without pulling in machine learning (ML). They are both more than just simple developments and advancements. They are also ideas and powerful tools in place today that help advance many of our business applications. Look at your existing applications. Many vendors are moving towards these two components to help build applications and deploy faster decision-making processes internally.

Question: Sae, you’ve accomplished a lot of great things during your term as MISAC president — what things remain on your to-do list for the organization?

Sae: Actually, I did not accomplish those by myself within MISAC. The MISAC team itself accomplished many, many, many things in the past few years (the committees, the state board, the chapter boards, MISAC staff ... many volunteers such as yourself, all 1,500-plus members):
  • MISAC has grown significantly this past year, both membership-wise and at the programs level.
  • We are more adaptable and proactive today (look at the Communications Committee).
  • Educational Committee’s training programs are strategically aligned to our members’ and agencies’ needs.
  • Continuous collaboration with our business partners for best-practices presentation.
  • Created digital content to improve our members’ business and technology maturity.

What else remains to be done? What could be possible?
  • Taking inclusion and diversity to the next level, creating talents/leaders from all levels.
  • Providing grants and scholarships for educational programs.
  • Putting a sound investment policy together to provide ongoing funding for needed and necessary programs.
  • Creating a framework on California’s local government cybersecurity program — $1 billion in grants and a five-year plan.
  • Making MISAC the best local government technology leadership association ever.
  • Partnering with CCISDA (California Counties Information System Directors Association) and building relationships with the state technology/administrative departments.

Question: What activity helps you relieve stress?

Sae: This is a hard one. For me, I believe work itself helps me to relieve stress ... especially when I see the team (Roseville, MISAC, and partnership with the state technology department) accomplish what we set out to do day in and day out for our community and our constituents.

Question: Is your first name Sae or Hong? If Hong is your first name, why do you go by Sae? On a more serious note, community broadband is top of mind for a lot of cities. Ultimately, do you see the owner of these projects being IT, public works, or the city manager’s office? Are multi-agency broadband solutions realistic, given the challenges of procurement, maintenance, and liability?

Sae: I am Chinese, and grew up in Malaysia and Singapore. Surname or family name is “Sae.” Given name by the family tradition is “Hong-Yi.” The Malaysian government spells it in other ways, “Hong-Gay,” etc. For simplistic reasons, everyone has been calling me “Sae” (upon) my arrival in the United States in late 1980.

Broadband should be a community/statewide or nationwide priority! We have been through this route before — citywide Wi-Fi, 5G, small, DSL, I-Net (institutional network), etc. This is the very best moment with IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) and ARP (American Rescue Plan) and statewide funding for all of us (at the highest level in your organization) to make a difference.

Outlook on AB 2256: The statewide broadband committee, Roseville and MISAC’s Legislative Committee have been pushing for changes on the committee layout, asking for inclusion of a representative from the local-government technology community.

Question: If you could change one thing about MISAC, what would it be?

Sae: One thing. Hmmm. Just one thing ... Making sure all 1,500-plus members are participating on MISAConnect and getting value out of your very own associations (either giving or receiving). How about another one: Making sure the 20th MISAC anniversary is the best one ever! (Those are not really changes.)

Question: Do you like to relax while boating on the beautiful waterways in California and/or on the Pacific Ocean?

Sae: Neither. Gulf of Mexico. Destin, Fla., was the best beach and ocean we have been to — white sand, calm ocean and no sharks (I think).

Question: What are your favorite tech-related movies? Please tell me “The Matrix” falls somewhere on that list. :)

Sae: Of course, “The Matrix” and “The Social Network.” I just watched the future tech movie, “Transformers!”

Question: What do you like to do in your spare time aside from browse/post on MISAConnect?

Sae: In my spare time, I always wonder “what would [agency] want?!” Haha! Actually, my mind and brain don’t really do well in having a break or having spare time. ... I am a robot, remember. My team always said that: We have Sae No. 1, Sae No. 2, Sae No. 3 or Sae No. 4 around the building or somewhere! In my spare time, I watch movies with my family and am usually working at the same time!

Question: Explains why you were so vague on the AI/ML question. I bet you’re processing this info and plotting right now, LOL J/K!

Sae: That is Sae’s AI in motion. His brain is still in “processing mode.” Frankly speaking, many programs have their own sets of AI components. Can’t predict which is good/best or the future — don’t have the magic eight ball!

Question: Would you rather go back in time or be transported to the future?

Sae: Neither one of those is possible :-). But, if I had to pick one right now, or a new one, it would be stopping the clock and seizing the best moment today — right now.

Question: What are your thoughts on public agencies working from home (providing their role in the organization could accommodate WFH)? Especially at the local level. Do you believe in a hybrid approach? If yes, what does that look like — two or three days in the office?

Sae: This question will be applied differently for every agency or organization. With what is going on today — the Great Awakening (resignations, retirements, recruitment, retention, redevelopment and reskilling efforts for all) — every level is trying to reinvent the “future of work,” whether hybrid, WFH 100 percent, etc. We need to continue to be flexible and adaptable in order to address employee/staff needs as well as business needs for performance! As a leader, we need to pivot when possible!

Question: How would you like to see MISAC transform in the next five to 10 years?

Sae: Excellent question. … Continue charting our course set out in the MISAC Strategic Work Plan for 2022-23 and beyond!

Thank you, everyone, for this engagement opportunity, to get to know me better or knowing what MISAC is about. See you next time for the 20th annual conference!