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County CIO: Consolidation Is ‘a Constant Effort’

An image of Robert Bash, director of internal services and CIO of Fresno County, next to a quote that reads: "I see local government as similar to a conglomerate in that we have multiple business lines with disparate goals and objectives. Even within that framework, there are economies of scale to be had with enterprise-level solutions that solve like use cases."
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As part of Industry Insider — California’s ongoing efforts to educate readers on state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT leaders.

Robert Bash is director of internal services and chief information officer at Fresno County, roles he has had for more than nine years. He was previously chief operating officer at Van-G Logistics for nearly two years, and before that spent more than a decade in San Joaquin Valley government, with more than five years as child support services deputy director at the county of Tulare and more than seven years as director of the Fresno County Department of Child Support.

Bash has a bachelor’s degree in management and organizational development from Fresno Pacific University. He is certified by HRCI as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and by the Management and Strategy Institute as a Lean Black Belt Professional (LBBP).

Industry Insider — California: As CIO at your organization, how do you describe your role? How have your role and responsibilities changed in recent years in terms of their intersection with IT and innovation?

Bash: The County of Fresno has the service departments grouped together into a one-stop shop. The Internal Services Department acts almost like the utility for county departments, providing fleet, facilities, purchasing, IT and physical security services. With the wide variety of roles, we are well placed to partner with our customer departments and help make positive impacts for their operations to serve the public. This became even more evident over the past few years during the pandemic as we made physical, technological and policy adjustments to our new environment.

IICA: Does your organization have a strategic plan, and may we hyperlink to it? How big a role do you personally play in writing that strategic plan?

Bash: The County of Fresno has a Vision, Mission, and a set of Guiding Principles that were refreshed a few years ago. Our county administrative officer is soon embarking on a strategic planning effort for the county, and I am looking forward to being involved in that. The plan is contemplated as an overarching direction that individual departments can then base their internal planning efforts upon.

IICA: What big initiatives or projects are coming up? What sorts of developing opportunities and RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Bash: A constant effort we are re-engaging in the next fiscal year is one of consolidation of efforts. I see local government as similar to a conglomerate in that we have multiple business lines with disparate goals and objectives. Even within that framework, there are economies of scale to be had with enterprise-level solutions that solve like use cases.

IICA: In your opinion, what should local government be doing more of in technology?

Bash: As a county, we have been doing more to embrace and leverage technology to improve the delivery of services. We need to continue to improve our infrastructure and internal use of data to better align with what our constituents need. We need to continue improving the ease of entry into our services and keep redesigning those entry points as preferred methods of working with government change.

IICA: How do you define “digital transformation?” How far along is your organization in that process, and how will you know when it’s finished?

Bash: Digital transformation is not just about implementing new technology solutions; it requires a significant shift in an organization’s culture and mindset. It involves rethinking traditional business models, processes and practices to embrace innovation and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving digital landscape. Since county government doesn’t have traditional “competition,” the purpose of digital transformation in county government is to leverage technology to make local government more responsive, accountable and effective in meeting the needs of our citizens. As a fan of continuous improvement, I don’t know that we’ll ever be “done” transforming, especially in a county environment. There are too many services that we provide for the public to ever consider the job of transformation finished, as there is always another process that can be studied and refined to improve services.

IICA: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the overall budget?

Bash: For our central IT function, we are about $50 million annually with 110 IT staff. As a county working in a hybrid model, there are additional staff costs within our customer departments supporting department-specific applications. The overall County of Fresno budget for the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year is $4.5 billion.

IICA: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn? How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?

Bash: I typically stay within my work email and phone. I will occasionally pop into LinkedIn for a contact that I already have but don’t tend to continue communications through that channel. Maybe I’m a little old school but social remains social in my head. I appreciate vendors that understand that government does have both some similarities and some differences to the private sector. When a vendor can respect the processes we go through to protect the public trust, know that we want the modern look and feel that our constituents want, and understand that our motives and goals are different than a for-profit entity, they are starting off on the right foot.

IICA: In your tenure in this position, which project or achievement are you most proud of?

Bash: I would have to say how our staff responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. County government is where the rubber meets the road in California and where most services that the public needs for safety and security get delivered. Our staff jumped right into action, helped change the way those services were delivered, and were an integral part in ensuring that those functions continued and were able to respond in a safe and effective manner.

IICA: What has surprised you most this year in government technology?

Bash: There is so much movement in the industry as a whole and government is no different. I think as a vertical we are getting better at translating the general industry’s focus on the private sector to the public sector. As our business units get more tech savvy in their focus, the demands on those of us delivering technology gets greater.

IICA: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the gov tech/SLED sector?

Bash: I read industry newsletters like Government Technology.* I spend some time on common news and tech websites to keep up on the field of view in general. We also have a relationship with Gartner and when I have a particular space that I’m interested in, I’ll lose myself in their content as well.

IICA: What are your hobbies and what do you enjoy reading?

Bash: I spend my off time golfing, wine tasting, traveling and traveling to golf (basically a lot of golf). For reading, I’ll throw in the occasional business book but since I read so much at work I generally try to escape. I enjoy the books of Terry Pratchett and Stephen King but am currently on a binge of Michael Connelly and other crime novels.

*Government Technology magazine is a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Industry Insider — California.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.