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Cocoa CTO: ‘The Project I’m Most Proud of Is the Complete Migration of Our IT Infrastructure’

An image of Robert Beach, CTO, City of Cocoa, next to a quote that reads: "I believe the greatest technological challenges in Florida local government is balancing the rapid integration of new technologies such as AI and cloud services with the need to ensure robust cybersecurity measures to protect against the increasing threat landscape while maintaining transparency with the citizens you serve."
As part of Industry Insider — Florida’s ongoing efforts to educate readers on state and local government agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with public-sector IT leaders.

Robert Beach is chief technology officer for the city of Cocoa. He has 31 years of public- and private-sector IT experience, including serving as director and chief information officer for Seminole County and director of IT for the city of Oviedo.

He was also a managing partner at Magellan Advisors, an adjunct professor at Seminole State College of Florida, Valencia College and ITT Technical Institute, and an information systems manager at Trust International.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Central Florida and two master’s degrees from the Florida Institute of Technology, one focusing on IT and the other on business administration.

Industry Insider — Florida: As chief technology officer of your organization, how do you describe your role? How have the role and responsibilities of the CTO changed in recent years?

Beach: My role as the chief technology officer at the city of Cocoa is to oversee the strategic implementation of technology to enhance city operations, improve public services and ensure cybersecurity. In recent years, the role has evolved significantly to include a focus on digital transformation, data analytics and the responsible integration of emerging technologies such as AI, all while maintaining a strong emphasis on cybersecurity to protect our infrastructure and data.

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

Beach: The project I’m most proud of is the complete migration of our IT infrastructure from a traditional physical desktop environment to a fully virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). This transition has been transformative for our city operations, offering unparalleled flexibility and remote access capabilities for our employees. The benefits have been many; we’ve significantly enhanced our disaster recovery capabilities by ensuring that critical city functions can continue uninterrupted under any circumstances. Additionally, this shift has facilitated a more agile work environment, enabling employees to access their workstations and applications securely from any location, which has been particularly invaluable in supporting remote work arrangements. The scalability of our VDI environment has also allowed us to quickly adjust resources based on demand and improve operational efficiency. Overall, this migration has not only improved our operational resilience but also positioned us to better serve our community by ensuring that our city’s services remain robust and responsive, regardless of external challenges.

IIFL: What projects will you be looking to fund in the upcoming fiscal year?

Beach: For the upcoming fiscal year, we are exploring the potential of AI to enhance various facets of local government. For example, in law enforcement, AI-driven analytics could potentially improve public safety through more efficient crime detection and prevention strategies. Additionally, we could leverage AI for predictive analytics in public services, such as maintenance of city infrastructure, to optimize resource allocation and reduce downtime. Investments will also be directed towards strengthening our cybersecurity framework to safeguard against the escalating cyber threats faced by local governments. These initiatives are part of a broader effort to harness technology in making our city safer, smarter and more responsive to the needs of our citizens.

IIFL: What big initiatives or projects are coming up? What developing opportunities and RFPs should we watch for in the next six to 12 months?

Beach: Over the next six to 12 months, we are hoping to release an RFP for a modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to streamline city operations and facilitate easier interaction with citizens. We’re also transitioning more services to cloud-based solutions to improve scalability and resilience. Vendors and developers should watch for RFPs related to these projects.

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

Beach: To me, digital transformation involves integrating digital technology into all areas of city operations, fundamentally changing how we operate and deliver services to citizens. Our organization is starting this journey by focusing on automating processes and enhancing data analytics capabilities. This transformation is ongoing, and we believe this change will result in enhanced service delivery efficiency and improved citizen engagement.

IIFL: How often do you update your organization’s enterprise catalog?

Beach: We review our enterprise catalog annually to ensure it reflects the latest technologies, services and that vendors align with our strategic goals and standards.

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

Beach: Our estimated IT budget for the upcoming fiscal year is approximately $2.5 million, supporting a team of 400-plus city employees. This is part of the city’s overall budget.

IIFL: What modernization projects is the city of Cocoa currently working on?

Beach: Beyond the ERP system and cloud migrations, we’re working on expanding the city’s fiber-optic network to improve connectivity and business continuity across city facilities and enhance public access in city services.

IIFL: What do you read to stay abreast of government technology/SLED sector developments?

Beach: To stay informed about government technology and SLED sector developments, I regularly read publications like Government Technology* and StateScoop. I also actively participate in FLGISA and MS-ISAC and attend relevant conferences and webinars.

IIFL: What do you think is the greatest technology challenge in Florida/local government?

Beach: I believe the greatest technological challenge in Florida local government is balancing the rapid integration of new technologies such as AI and cloud services with the need to ensure robust cybersecurity measures to protect against the increasing threat landscape while maintaining transparency with the citizens you serve.

IIFL: What advice would you give someone who would like to lead an IT department?

Beach: Focus on building a team with diverse skills and fostering a culture of continuous learning and camaraderie. Stay adaptable, prioritize security and always align technology initiatives with the organization’s strategic goals and the needs of the citizens you serve.

IIFL: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?

Beach: I would streamline the procurement process to allow for more flexibility in testing and adopting innovative technologies. Reducing bureaucracy can speed up the implementation of beneficial solutions.

IIFL: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn?

Beach: I prefer to be contacted by vendors via email, followed by a well-structured meeting or presentation. While LinkedIn can be a starting point for connections, formal communications should transition to more official channels. Also, with me, it’s difficult to have a good result from a cold call.

IIFL: How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?

Beach: Before meeting, vendors should familiarize themselves with our city’s strategic objectives, ongoing projects and specific challenges we face as both an organization and community. Understanding our context and proposing tailored solutions is key to a productive conversation. Also, be sure you do not refer to us as Cocoa Beach. I love those guys over there, but we are not Cocoa Beach; we are Cocoa.

IIFL: Which of your certifications would you like to note?

Beach: Among my professional certifications, I would highlight my Certified Government Chief Information Officer (CGCIO) credential. This certification is particularly relevant to my role, as it has equipped me with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the unique challenges and opportunities of applying IT strategies within a local government setting. In addition to my professional certifications, I hold an MBA in information technology management and an MS in information technology. These advanced degrees have provided me with a comprehensive understanding of the intersection between business and technology, equipping me with the knowledge to align IT initiatives with organizational goals.

IIFL: What professional or affinity groups do you belong to? Do you volunteer, and would you like to share that experience with readers?

Beach: I am actively involved in several professional groups that are central to the field of information technology and public service. First, I currently serve as the second vice president of the Florida Local Government Information Systems Association (FLGISA), an organization committed to fostering excellence in technology leadership and innovation among local governments throughout Florida. This role allows me to collaborate with peers, share knowledge and contribute to the development of strategic initiatives that address the unique technology challenges faced by local governments. In addition to my involvement with FLGISA, I hold the city seat on the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) Executive Committee. The MS-ISAC is a key resource for cyber threat prevention, protection, response and recovery for the nation’s state, local, tribal and territorial governments. My participation in the MS-ISAC Executive Committee is an opportunity to contribute to a broader dialogue on cybersecurity challenges and solutions, ensuring that the perspectives and needs of local governments are represented and addressed in national cybersecurity policies and practices.

IIFL: What conferences do you attend?

Beach: I regularly attend both the FLGISA Winter Symposium and Annual Conference, as well as the MS-ISAC Annual Meeting. In addition to these events, I try to attend GovTech Digital Government Summits* and various local cybersecurity summits.

IIFL: What are you reading or listening to for fun? What do you do to unplug in your downtime?

Beach: I’m currently enjoying Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games. I love his ability to weave intricate narratives with detailed technical accuracy. As a self-proclaimed “geek,” it is something I admire and find particularly engaging. To unplug and recharge, I enjoy the time spent on road trips and traveling with my family. They offer us a chance to explore new places, experience different cultures and create lasting memories together.

*Government Technology is a sister publication of Industry Insider — Florida and hosts the Digital Government Summits.
Katya Diaz is an Orlando-based e.Republic staff writer. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.