How a city slicker found his niche
How a city slicker found his niche
BY TRUDY WALSH
'I have always believed that local government can have the most dramatic impact on our quality of life.'
'Harris County It Chief Steve Jennings
| GCN STAFF
How did a native New Yorker like Steve Jennings wind up in Harris County, Texas, as executive director of the Central Technology Center? 'I drove,' he said.
Jennings has been driving information technology in Harris County for 26 years. The transplanted New Yorker said he has 'always believed that local government can have the most dramatic impact on our quality of life. I've had the good fortune to be in a position to apply technology to government service delivery.'
After earning a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in finance from Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., Jennings worked for Nassau County, N.Y. When Jennings' boss moved to Texas, he recruited Jennings to join him in Harris County to build a new data center. This was back in 1975, when Barry Manilow was music and he wrote the songs, disco ruled and most computers were larger than a fur-lined van.Make yourself at home
The nation's third-largest county offered Jennings plenty of reasons to stay: more than 500 cultural, visual and performing arts organizations, including a world-class opera company, symphony orchestra and ballet company and 11 museums; the Houston Astros, the world's largest medical center, and a multicultural community of more than 3 million people.
Another attraction was the wealth of IT resources centered around NASA's Johnson Space Center.
But Harris County must confront challenges, too. 'We're in the center of a migration path for storms and other disasters,' Jennings said. 'We've got hurricanes coming out of the gulf, and chemical hazards in the east side of the county.' In 1989, the county started building an 800-MHz SmartZone two-way public-safety radio system from Motorola Inc.
Now the system runs seven major towers throughout Harris County, with 71 subscriber agencies.
'We practice emergency drills every year with the state,' Jennings said. 'We know it's just a matter of time before we get a big hurricane or other disaster.'
One of CTC's top priorities for the immediate future is to bring the county's Justice Information Management System into the 21st century, Jennings said. Like just about everything in Texas, JIMS is massive. Count on IT
Made up of more than 4,000 CICS/VSAM interactive and batch programs, 180 subsystems, 130 million criminal justice records and 67 million civil justice files, JIMS averages 1.5 million transactions per day for 281 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
'But we're not replacing JIMS,' Jennings said. The new JIMS will have all the functionality of the old JIMS, but it will have expanded capabilities. 'We'll be able to capture data at the source,' he said. 'We'll increase the integration of core components and minimize duplication. We want to move the information, not the body.'
The county uses all Microsoft Corp. products for its e-mail, word processing and database software. It has used Microsoft Outlook for three years. 'We're going heavy into unified messaging using Microsoft Exchange 5.5,' Jennings said.
Jennings sees training as another challenge of the new century. 'We need to train our staff to work with object-oriented tools. Our JIMS programmers are taking courses in object-oriented design and development right now.'
A lot of government services, at the state, local and federal levels, are locked in a tangle of stovepipes that will have to be knocked down and ultimately integrated, Jennings said. 'We want a singular portal,' he said. 'We'll have to integrate everybody's services out there.'