IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

County CIO: Government Should Be ‘Far More Strategic from an Enterprise Perspective’

An image of Chris Chirgwin, CIO of Santa Barbara County, next to a quote that reads: “Our focus should be on serving our constituents more effectively. There are still far too many data silos, lack of integration, legacy systems, and inefficient processes and systems.”
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.

Chris Chirgwin is chief information officer for Santa Barbara County, a role he has had since September. He joined the county from Lanspeed, where he was most recently business and technology adviser from August 2021-July 2022, during a more than 20-year career at the company. Previously, he had been CEO at Lanspeed from February 2005-July 2021.

Chirgwin has a bachelor’s degree in international studies and business, international business, from Westmont College, and a Master of Business Administration with management information systems specialization from the University of Portland.

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?

Chirgwin: I see my role as the visionary, establishing the culture and core values, creating strategies, and building strong relationships with county leadership. I’ve only been in my role for six months, so I can’t adequately answer the second question. That being said, I come from the private sector, having been in executive leadership roles, and have a lot of experience driving innovation in organizations. Here at the county of Santa Barbara, our leadership is very supportive of innovative ideas and I’m seeing ample opportunity to execute on new and better ways of doing things.

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?

Chirgwin: Our current IT strategic plan (ITSP) is outdated. One of my big goals in 2023 is to develop a new five-year ITSP. Although I will spearhead this new strategic plan, our leadership team will be heavily involved as well.

Editor’s note: Find the Countywide Technology Strategic Plan 2019-2023 here.

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?

Chirgwin: The county of Santa Barbara is about a third of the way through a new ERP (enterprise resource planning) implementation (Workday). This is a significant undertaking, requiring numerous staffing resources. We are also embarking on a new public safety radio network. In the near future, we will be posting an RFP for a digital evidence management system.

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

Chirgwin: Our focus should be on serving our constituents more effectively. There are still far too many data silos, lack of integration, legacy systems, and inefficient processes and systems. Government needs to put itself in the shoes of the people it serves and be far more strategic from an enterprise perspective. I see a real need for experienced enterprise architects and business relationship managers (BRM) in government to rethink and reimagine how we are delivering services. The BRM’s responsibility is to better understand the needs of “the customer” and then collaborate with the enterprise architects to improve processes and implement effective solutions.

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?

Chirgwin: I define digital transformation as a rethinking of how an organization uses technologies, people and processes to improve organizational/business models. The county of Santa Barbara has made significant strides over the past few years in improving our operations, but we still have a long path ahead of us. There really isn’t a finish line with digital transformation. It’s about creating a culture and an environment of continuous improvement.

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

Chirgwin: The county of Santa Barbara is fairly decentralized from an IT perspective. We have approximately 50 FTEs in central IT and there are another 100 or so FTEs involved in IT across the various departments. The budget for central IT is approximately $33 million.

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?

Chirgwin: Like all CIOs, I get inundated by emails, LinkedIn requests, phone calls, etc. I rarely have time to look at or consider those types of connections. A more effective way to connect is through conferences like CCISDA (California County Information Services Directors Association), Gartner, etc. I also tend to follow up with vendors when they are strongly referred by other county CIOs.

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

Chirgwin: As mentioned earlier, I’ve only been in my role for six months. My focus has been on forming a new, stand-alone IT department here at the county of Santa Barbara. Previously, we were a division under General Services. The majority of my time has been spent on building relationships with leadership throughout the county, assessing our current capabilities, and beginning to make recommendations and improvements.

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

Chirgwin: I’ve been surprised by the number of county governments that are requiring their employees to come back to the office. Here at the county of Santa Barbara, we have embraced remote and/or hybrid work and have found it very effective.

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

Chirgwin: There are numerous resources I go to for learning — Industry Insider, Gartner, CCISDA,, etc.

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

Chirgwin: My favorite hobby is hiking in the mountains around Santa Barbara and in the Sierras. I also have been a youth soccer coach for over a decade. My reading interests are very diverse, spanning from learning about financial investing to learning about the native botany in California.

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