Upbeat chief leads IT comeback
Upbeat chief leads IT comeback
BY TRUDY WALSH
Orange County assistant CEO Leo Crawford says outsourcing is essential in his $90 million IT shop.
| GCN STAFF
No doubt about it, Leo Crawford is a 'glass half full' kind of guy. As assistant chief executive officer of information and technology for Orange County, Calif., Crawford focuses on the good that came out of the county's bankruptcy declaration in 1994 [GCN/State & Local, June 1999, Page 30]. Orange County's treasurer Robert Citron and his assistant, Matthew R. Raabe, went to jail for losing $1.7 billion of the county's $7.4 billion investment portfolio through risky investments.
'Because of the bankruptcy, for three years I couldn't buy any fixed assets, which was anything that cost more than $5,000,' Crawford said. 'So back in 1994, I couldn't buy a 486 PC, which was nearly $5,000 back then. Those were the days when everyone else was scrambling to upgrade their PCs from 286 to 386 to 486 processors. We did lose some productivity. But when I finally could buy PCs again, in 1997, I bought Pentiums.'
The bankruptcy kept the county from going down what Crawford calls the dead-end technology streets of the early 1990s, such as Unix and client-server. 'And we learned to look for ways to stay lean and mean. We reorganized the county around a business model.' That's why Crawford's title is assistant chief executive officer, not chief information officer.
While other states and counties made headlines recently with large outsourcing projects, Orange County has been quietly outsourcing its data centers and other technical support for 25 years. Forty-five percent of the county's Information Systems Department employees are contractors with Lockheed Martin Corp.
'We've outsourced our WAN, our data centers and some LAN support,' Crawford said. 'We've been outsourcing since 1975. We just don't make a big deal of it.'
Crawford attributes the county's outsourcing success to hard work and 'treating our vendors as partners. We want the Lockheed Martin employees to feel like they are county employees. And we're lucky in that we've got a vendor who is interested in something other than just profit,' he said.
Crawford's California roots run deep. He graduated from San Diego State University in 1965 with a bachelor's degree in social science. He joined the Air Force a year later and received a master's degree in computer systems management from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., in 1977. He retired in 1987 as a lieutenant colonel.
Crawford calls the county's data warehouse a data shed. He says the county payroll system is 'near and dear to our hearts.'
Crawford sees himself as someone who embraces change, something he's seen plenty of since he joined the county in February 1987 as a data center operations manager. He'll be in his element in the coming months, as more changes are coming to the county. Officials are ramping up to provide 24-hour online access through the county Web site at www.oc.ca.gov
.The right connections
Crawford and his team are putting the finishing touches on an asynchronous transfer mode WAN that will connect all the county's buildings with T3 network connections. He also is working with the department on an optical storage system that will store the county human resources and financial records online.
Orange County had one of the first Web sites with an online procurement system. 'You've been able to order a birth certificate or marriage certificate for three years online now. But we want to make sure we provide services people really want,' Crawford said. 'I'm not sure paying your taxes online is such a good thing if it's going to cost you more money. If I can mail my taxes in with a 34-cent stamp, why would I want to do anything else?'
But even with an outlook as sunny as an Orange County sky, Crawford knows challenges lurk ahead. 'No question, security is my No. 1 problem,' he said.
'Security has become even more important now that we're trying to provide more services over the Web. We have some law enforcement databases that are so sensitive, if a citizen even looks at one, he's broken a law.'