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San Luis Obispo IT Manager: ‘I’m a Very Service-Oriented Person’

An image of Miguel Guardado, information technology manager for the city of San Luis Obispo, next to a quote that reads: "I think we're just seeing the surface of what AI is going to ne able to do and how it's going to be able to help. But I think we have to put some guardrails around it to say, 'This is how we're going to use it.'"
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.

Miguel Guardado is IT manager for the city of San Luis Obispo, a role he has had since April 2019. Today is his last day in that role; Guardado will join the city of Manhattan Beach Monday as its director of IT. San Luis Obispo’s incoming IT manager is Josh Erquiaga, veteran city employee and network services supervisor since June 2019. Following a recruitment, Erquiaga’s selection was announced Wednesday; today is his first day as IT manager. Guardado’s time at San Luis Obispo dates to 1998, when he joined the organization as an IT technician. He served as interim IT manager there before being made permanent; and before interim, was the city’s network services supervisor for more than 13 years.

Guardado’s licenses and certifications include being a Certified Government Chief Information Officer by the Public Technology Institute & Center for Government Services at Rutgers University, and being a Certified Public Manager by The Centre for Organization Effectiveness.

Industry Insider — California: As IT manager at your organization, how do you describe your role? Is it similar to that of a chief information officer? How have the role and its responsibilities changed in recent years in terms of their intersection with IT and innovation?

Guardado: It is [similar] in the sense that I’m the highest IT person in the organization. I do report to the deputy city manager. He acts as the IT director and that’s been a good thing. I started in my current role in 2018; I started with this organization in 1998 as an IT technician. I went through some of those transitions from technician to what we call a network administrator, which is now a senior systems engineer. [I was] network services supervisor from around 2010 to 2018 [when] I took the role of the IT manager here in the city. I’ve seen technology change since I’ve been here. We started as a department of two; we were underneath the Finance Department because Finance had the computer systems for payroll and some of those other functions. And that’s kind of where a lot of California agencies had their beginnings, with their IT in the finance department. As the IT manager now, I get to see our city’s entire information technology systems and platforms. I think the biggest thing is just ensuring that our technology resources align with the city’s major goals. I oversee the infrastructure management and cybersecurity. Of course security [has] always been a big thing, but now we call it cybersecurity, with hybrid systems, with on-prem and then cloud. Now you have software integration that we’re doing with those systems. The hardware procurement, the thing we all love, IT budgeting. And of course, just team leadership. IT leadership in the organization is the other thing. But you know, as technology has changed — I talked about strategic alignment, cloud adoption, all those things. I think it’s just something that we have to stay abreast of, with what’s going on.

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?

Guardado: We do. We, the administration and IT department, lead that initiative. We coordinate with our multiple department heads, our multiple divisions. We do the surveys, we check the pulse of the organization on how well we’re doing, what we need to improve on. We do what I would call strategic planning almost constantly, but when we do our capital improvements and our budgeting, we start looking at projects that are coming up and how we define them. And so that is a little mini strategic plan check, because departments want to do things. The strategic plan provides a kind of a road map, but sometimes those things change. You constantly need to be checking in with the departments to say, “Hey, you identified this initiative in year three of a five-year strategic plan. Is this still your No. 1 or have things changed?” Because they do. But I see myself as a partner.

Editor’s note: Go here for the city’s Economic Development Strategic Plan; its Information Technology Strategic Plan; and development of its first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.

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?

Guardado: We’re working on a broadband initiative. We’re putting in for [federal] grant funding for broadband. And we’re going to be looking out for somebody to help build. Our work plan is changing because I’m leaving. Other projects include:

  • Police/fire computer-aided dispatch and records management system replacement
  • Fire station alerting replacement
  • Mobile data computers replacements/upgrades for public safety vehicles
  • Potentially, a voice over Internet protocol phone system upgrade project
The best way to get notified of these initiatives is to register on the city’s Bids and Proposals site.

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

Guardado: We should be making digital services more available to our residents. I think that’s one thing that we should be doing, ensuring that our websites are accessible to all residents, mobile friendly. We’ve all developed our websites many years ago, but how do you transition so that all the services come to this now? It’s on the mobile platforms, providing online services like permits, payment of your business taxes, public records requests. A lot of it is, we want to be transparent with our residents as much as possible; but also, we want to engage our citizenry. We’ve gone [away] from the traditional city hall that’s open 8-5 Monday through Friday. I think there’s an expectation that we’re available 24/7 and provide those types of services, being able to submit applications in the middle of the night and be billed. And all those things, I think, are critical. Data security and privacy, we’ll never be done with cybersecurity, right? You have to continually train staff. I think that is critical, that’s our last line of defense, we call it the human firewall aspect. The more we can educate them on social engineering attacks — just ensuring our users’ best practices for data protection and complying with the relevant data protection laws and regulations that are out there, I think that is super crucial. We have a lot of personal information that we’re responsible for. Not everybody needs access to it. It should only be certain people. And then promoting transparency and accountability, I think, is good for us. We keep hearing about smart technologies or smart infrastructure. I think our city does well in embracing some of those things, like parking and online payments. I think the biggest thing is using the technology that helps us improve our visitors’ or our residents’ interaction with government, the feasibility [with which] they can do things. The easier you can make it, the better it’s going to be. COVID-19 highlighted the importance of remote work and capabilities, but I think what it also did, it also helped us shine light on how and why we did investments in technology that enabled us to work efficiently, remotely. Things like VPNs. I call it business continuity during emergencies. Being able to remain as the government entity when our doors were shut, we continued to move government and provide services to our residents. And then, the collaboration tools. There’s the collaboration tools that allow you to do project management, share document platforms. And just being able to do better, quicker, and being able to get those things done in a better way.

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?

Guardado: I don’t think we’ll ever be finished, just because technology keeps improving and we’re going to have to keep up. Within the context of being a municipal government or local government entity, I define it as the strategic use of technology and data to enhance the efficiency of what we do, the effectiveness of what we do, and the accessibility of the things that we do. Both operationally and in making decisions. The ultimate goal is, and I’ll say this again, I’m a very service-oriented person. Everything that I look at, the ultimate goal is improving the quality of the service that we deliver to our visitors and residents. And adapting our processes to new systems, just to keep up with technology. Because it’s constantly changing. And so, how do we change our process to keep up with it? I feel that our city has done a great job of that. We’re implementing a lot of things. We’re all civil servants, so we want to do the best that we possibly can, to be there for our residents. I think a lot of it is, we have certain expectations for how it is that we want something to work. But then we have to look at, what are our residents’ expectations of how this should work? And I think that that’s one of the things that we do well. We do engage our community on big initiatives. I’ve been here for a long time and I think it’s one of the things that we do very, very well.

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

Guardado: The IT division consists of 18 full-time employees, with a couple supplemental employees. Those are interns or assistants that we bring in to help with initiatives and rollouts. We do provide opportunities to showcase what IT government could look like with our local colleges and stuff, and so we like to bring interns. We have a couple positions there. Our overall budget is $6.1 million, but that also includes capital IT projects that we’ve selected for certain years. When we look at updating storage, firewalls, switching infrastructure, things of that nature, it encompasses all of that. But it also has our contracts that we manage, pay for our staff and stuff like that.

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

Guardado: I think I’ll answer your question first not [with] the traditional, “Hey, we’ve implemented this system or this technology.” I think that for me, it’s the team that I put together and developed here, I think that is what I would call my greatest accomplishment. But if you’re looking at a project, we do a lot of what we call public-private partnerships, where we can utilize and actually save money by partnering with, like a local ISP, to be able to provide Internet or connections to some of our buildings, via the exchange of use of our conduit. In exchange for them going into our conduit and bringing fiber through, we light up some of our facilities. And it’s a zero-cost exchange for us. That’s been a good thing.

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

Guardado: I think we’re all hearing it and we’re all seeing it. At all levels of government. I would have to say it’s how quickly AI is playing a role in our day-to-day. And how many organizations are adapting it. I think that we need policies in place to define these services, how we’re going to use them safely, effectively and transparently. I think that’s the other component. I think that AI is going quickly, and I think that some organizations have already developed plans, but I think we’re just seeing the surface of what AI is going to be able to do and how it’s going to be able to help. But I think we have to put some guardrails around it to say, “This is how we’re going to use it.” We’re not hearing internally that a lot of people are using it. But it’s just a matter of time before, maybe, some people in Utilities or Public Works start saying, “Hey, this can be AI driven.” Or, you know, there’s components of AI. I think it’s just how do we use it? I don’t fear AI. I think it’s great. I just think we need to have some guardrails. But I’m sure policy is forthcoming.

IICA: Is there a particular project in the works you wish you would be able to see to completion?

Guardado: That broadband plan. What we’re hoping to do is bridge the digital divide. We’re trying to expand using our existing backbone infrastructure that we have. We have a pretty robust fiber infrastructure or fiber ring in the city; we’re just trying to see if we can get Internet service to some of our, I guess what you would call unserved, areas of the city. Unserved doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything there, but it might be a DSL that is there. Which is super slow. We’re trying to see how we can get high-speed Internet there. That would be one thing that I would like to see [to completion]. I’m kind of bummed that I’m not going to be around for that. But I have 100 percent faith that it’s going to get done with the team that’s left behind.

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

Guardado: GovTech*, for sure. But also, Info-Tech Research Group white papers are always good to see. We have a subscription for that. If we’re looking at something, I like reading some of the analyst writeups that they do, which are pretty quick reads, just to find out how things are going. I’m a member of the Municipal Information Systems Association of California, and so we have a great communication tool; we put out MISAC Matters and things of that nature. I read those, stay abreast of those. And then, technology matters from MultiBriefs are also good.

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

Guardado: I enjoy being outdoors. Here with our beautiful weather, I enjoy barbecuing and barbecuing open pit, like Santa Maria-style. That’s one of my hobbies and something that I like to do. I also like taking long walks with either a good audio book or sometimes just me and my thoughts. To decompress or get things going.

*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.