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Counties' IT Leader Sees AI Safety, Tech Funding as Keys to 2024

Shasta County CIO Tom Schreiber, president of the California County Information Services Directors Association, offered Industry Insider — California a preview of the agenda for the group’s fall conference, which kicks off Sunday in Monterey.

Chief information officers and other technology leaders from county governments across California will gather Sunday in Monterey for the fall conference of the California County Information Services Directors Association (CCISDA). The organization represents all 58 California counties in the area of county government IT.

Tom Schreiber.
Tom Schreiber
CCISDA’s president is Tom Schreiber, the chief information officer for Shasta County. (Schreiber was featured in an Industry Insider California “One-on-One” interview in January 2022.) He’s been with Shasta County for 20 years, serving as IT supervisor and deputy IT director before being named CIO in November 2012. He had served four years in the U.S. Air Force and a decade in the private sector before joining Shasta.

This week, Schreiber participated in an email interview to preview the conference and offer his views on the tech priorities and challenges facing California county governments. This interview was edited lightly for brevity and style.

Industry Insider — California: “CommunITy” is the theme of the CCISDA Fall 2023 conference. What’s it mean?

Tom Schreiber: It means that even though IT directly supports the different departments as part of the county structure, at the end of the day, the work we do supports our community around us. Regardless of whether things have happened in the past, are happening now, or will happen in the future, it’s the people who make IT happen, and we do it for the community.

IICA: What’s the essence of your president’s message to industry and government conference attendees?

Schreiber: Participate in as many sessions/events as you can. The most important thing you will get out of this conference is the relationships you built during your time here. Once you go back to your normal county, office, life, remember that CCISDA is also a community. We are here; reach out and you will find others are always willing to help.

IICA: Reflecting on 2023, what did gov tech and industry get right in 2023? What were the takeaways/lessons learned?

Schreiber: I think one of the biggest impacts on the industry in 2023 was AI. The technology has shown to be a great asset. But on the other hand, it can also have a negative impact if not understood or used inappropriately. AI can be a risk to specific data if not managed correctly. That is why it is important for governments to have policy around its use.

IICA: Please give us your general IT outlook for California counties in 2024. Are your priorities AI and machine learning (ML), cybersecurity, telecom/broadband? Funding? What else?

Schreiber: Unfortunately, with the state of the economy, I believe that many of us will be struggling with budgets and funding going into the next few years. I am sure IT departments will be expected to do more with less. AI is coming fast, and most are not ready. If you don’t have an overall AI policy, get one. Best to get a handle on it and help your departments use it wisely.

Cybersecurity is an ever-changing environment. New threats, new tools, always moving. Hard to keep up, but there are tools and services to help. Leverage those in the industry that have the resources.

AI/ML is a top contender. Counties should move to put policy around its use. It can be a great tool if used appropriately.

Based on many of our security assessments and with the additional cyber insurance requirements, expansion of your cybersecurity footprint is important. Knowing that most cannot do this all in-house, leveraging those companies that provide these types of services to augment your teams is more viable now than ever.

IICA: Closer to home, what’s on your plate as Shasta County CIO for 2024?

Schreiber: Even though I am the CIO, I still am involved down into the details in large county infrastructure projects. I will be reviewing blueprints/drawings for structure and IT buildouts, like for the new jail and to finish up the buildout of the county’s new Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

Shasta IT is a centralized Internal Service Fund (ISF) IT department supporting all the county departments’ IT needs. We recover our cost through rates. Security/cybersecurity was just a component/cost within those existing rates.

For FY 2024-25, we are breaking out those costs into its own service line, “Security Management.” All the different pieces, hardware/software, maintenance, training, staff time, etc. that are part of that overall security posture will be in that service line.

I believe part of security awareness for the Board of Supervisors and executive management is to understand and to see what it costs to provide (and) maintain that environment/services.

Keeping our team together, engaged and healthy — with families struggling with the economy, all the different world events taking place, it is taxing on your mental health. Making sure staff know they are important, appreciated and supported goes a long way.

Like I said above, “It’s the people who make IT happen.”

CCISDA’s fall conference runs from Sunday through Wednesday at the Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay and the Monterey Conference Center. Details about the conference can be found online.
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies including USA Today in Washington, D.C.