LA CIO marries minimalist IT and government tech

Ted Ross, the CIO of Los Angeles, uses IT to deliver modern government services that are easier to access and more responsive to the city’s more than 4 million residents.

By Matt Kapko
Oct. 20, 2016

Agile IT, collaboration in the City of Angels

Government agencies do citizens a disservice when they allow vendors to take years to deliver products, because those technologies will be old by the time they're available, Ross says. "In addition, you miss out on the opportunities that agile provides. Our ability to implement something quickly, even if it's minimalist, allows us to gain essential feedback, and then we can build on it."

The same logic applies to some of the collaboration tools that Los Angeles IT staff uses today, according to Ross. "I think it's important in this era to be able to influence good technology, knowing that you can't control technology," he says. "When a government becomes overly controlling in how it delivers technology, it's often creating multiple bottlenecks and it's constraining its delivery." However, Ross says, he will never relinquish control over some aspects of technology, including cybersecurity, network management and his datacenters.

Providing flexibility is a sure way to foster innovation, Ross says. Los Angeles was the first large city in the United States to migrate to Google's G Suite for Government in 2009, for example, but the city could do a lot more to further its goal of digitization in government, according to Ross. "We're still not leveraging the [Google] tools nearly to the capability of what we can do."

Collaboration, for example, requires that people have the freedom to choose how they interact with coworkers, according to Ross, and the best course of action is sometimes to simply get out of the way. "By facilitating and empowering the workforce in general they will build and deliver all sorts of great things without always having to go to the IT shop." Such an approach also lets Los Angeles IT staffers focus on building the tools and services that require their technical expertise, according to Ross.

He says some of his team member also use the popular Slack collaboration tool, and he's excited by the prospects of other similar products such as Workplace, Facebook's recently launched social network for business collaboration. "CIOs have often thought of collaboration as a white whale, something which we've seen so much promise, we've seen so much opportunity, but it's become very difficult for us to crack that nut," he says. "I'm very excited Facebook is stepping in the enterprise and wants to make a run at this. The vast majority of users out there are very familiar with Facebook, and are using it on a personal level, so the idea of adoption when you bring it into the enterprise level, it's already multiple steps ahead."

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