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CIO to Vendors: Call Me and Let's Talk

The CIO of the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department has some projects on the horizon — and some advice — that will make savvy vendors sit up and take notice. Here are the takeaways from the Techwire virtual briefing with Mohammed Al Rawi.

For a public-sector CIO, the elements to success are open-minded leadership, strong relationships and a willingness to innovate. That’s the philosophy of Mohammed Al Rawi, who’s the CIO of the gargantuan Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department and who was the subject of a virtual briefing Thursday afternoon for Techwire Insiders.

Al Rawi also extended an open invitation to tech vendors who have innovative ideas and a desire to do business with his department: “Shoot me an email, and we’ll jump on a call.”

The business takeaway: His department is focusing on system modernization.

“We have a number of legacy systems that are being replaced,” he said. Specifically:

  • “We have an ASB-based Web application that is not responsive, and it’s the main application for (park) registration and reservations.
  • “We also have obsolete platforms like FoxPro for databases, so we’re moving from that.
  • “For system integration, we have a lot of fragmented solutions that do not talk to each other. We’re hoping to consolidate and integrate ... our ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and enterprise asset management workflow and BPM (business process management) to talk to each other.”
Al Rawi noted the metrics of his department — 2,700 employees, 700,000 trees, dozens of swimming pools and parks and trails — and noted with understatement, “With so many assets, we need to have an effective enterprise asset management system. Right now, we have [IBM] Maximo. It was implemented with a waterfall approach, which ... ended up being not intuitive and not simple.”

He wants an enterprise asset management system that includes mobility, GIS (geographic information system) and IoT. Digitization is another undertaking for the department with 10 million records that need to be scanned and stored.

For vendors, opportunities abound. And he offered some advice: “Sometimes vendors just do what they’re asked to do, even though they know this may not be the best approach. This leads to a short partnership. Vendors should stay on top of what the county wants.”

And the more vendors are pitching and competing for his business, he says, “the better it is for us. We’ll have more options and more competitive offerings.”

Al Rawi worked for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors before taking his current role at Parks and Rec eight months ago, and he acknowledged that in IT, recruitment and retention of top talent can be a struggle. Compounding the challenge, he said, is that “from procurement to HR,” the system hasn’t changed that much in the last 50-100 years while "IT has changed every year.”

The 34-year-old CIO says the accomplishments of which he’s most proud include his “IT advocacy — changing the culture to accommodate new IT solutions.”

With this cultural change — seeing IT as a business partner and not a service desk — will come a better return on investment for taxpayers and park users, he says. That’s a point that was echoed afterward by briefing moderator Joseph Morris, vice president of research for e.Republic, Techwire’s parent company.

“IT’s impacting everybody, whether Parks and Rec or some other department,” Morris noted. He cited the “pressure” on state and local government to keep up with the technology and to continue providing ways for people to better their lives.

Morris pointed to a comment Al Rawi made about how one return on Parks and Rec’s tech investment is getting kids to leave the house and go to the park. They may still be watching YouTube on their phones, but at least they’ll be getting some “sunshine and Vitamin D.”

L.A. County Parks and Rec is already exploring wearable and portable tech — pool safety for children, phone data tracking for park hikers, tree sensors for forests — even as it revamps its IT from top to bottom. It’s adding tech games to draw kids to parks. It’s shifting, Al Rawi said, from reactive to proactive.

He said the department is now finalizing an RFP for a fast solution to streamline reservations and registration for park facilities.

And he noted proudly, “We have zero on-premise servers or hardware infrastructure,” having migrated into a fully managed private/public/hybrid cloud.

When a dynamic CIO isn’t on the job, what does he read? Al Rawi recommends The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks by Joshua Cooper Ramo. It’s about the futility of rejecting digital transformation and learning how to thrive in a world that’s changing ever faster.

Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in Northern California.