Greg Chavarria - GovConnect Interview

007 Greg Chavarria

(CIO, City of Hallandale Beach, Florida)

Connect with Greg: LinkedIn| Website

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Andrew Kirk: Hello, I'm Andrew K Kirk, CitySourced Chief Revenue Officer and today I'm talking with Greg Chavarria the Assistant City Manager and Chief Information Officer at the City of Hallandale Beach, Florida. As our listeners hopefully know our goal with the GovConnect podcast is to speak with as many interesting and diverse Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Information Officers, and IT leaders in order to learn about the rapidly changing rules in local government.

Greg, welcome to GovConnect.

Greg Chavarria: Hi Andrew. Thank you for having me. It's a great privilege and opportunity to be here.

Andrew Kirk: Well I'm glad to have you on. We actually connected because CitySourced end of last year we had you on a panel as part of our first ever mobile government summit. And actually the way I found you was because of all the kind of interesting and cool content that you post on LinkedIn and you really like to be kind of public-facing and talk about your role so you're made for that that's been a great platform for you I take it as far as connecting more broadly with the community.

Greg Chavarria: Absolutely it has helped me learn a lot, connect with others and just expand my skill set so yeah from that podcaster, that forum that we had I learned a lot from the colleagues that were part of that summit.

Andrew Kirk: We will make sure at the end of the show to get all the links for your contact info so that we can share that with our listeners. So let's shift our attention a little bit to the you know, the changing role of IT in local government organizations. Looking at your background you specifically went from a programmer to a project manager to IT leadership. In a few minutes or so can you kind of take us through your background?

Greg Chavarria: Yeah sure. Actually, I started out as a civil engineer, believe it or not. I have a background in civil engineering and environmental engineering but nevertheless I transitioned into it because I wanted to make an impact into society and I found that with technology you can make the biggest impact.

So my first career path was being a programmer and I was doing a lot of conversion programs and doing it with Visual Basic 6.0 believe it or not and one of my first accomplishments was developing a classic ASP web app that allowed everyone to collaborate together and real-time get information from a web page without anything being installed.

I'm talking about like late 90's and from doing that I saw the power of technology and how it helped the organization be efficient. So this is one of my first experiences in technology and from that I just took further interest into project management and I took interest in to seeing how we can accelerate productivity performance and then later on transitioned into IT leadership.

Since my start of my technology career I have served as a CIO for four government agencies and it's been a great experience coming in and providing solutions, improving the quality of life of constituents and just making it easier for all to access information.

Andrew Kirk: As I understand your background you've served in IT leadership CIO roles at the local government level in public safety at the state department level. How do those experiences overlap and what's some of the differences between different organizations being in an IT leadership role?

Greg Chavarria: Well, every organization has their own culture and so as an IT leader, you have to adjust, modulate, interact, engage in the in the patterns that are specific to that organization. For instance, in Public Safety the priority was the 9-1-1 system having communications and resilient paths with 700 cop cars. So the focus was on that and this is before cloud solutions were available. Later on with the state court department the focus was on ensuring resilient operations during court operations. You can't tell the judge, hey take a pause, take a break, the computers aren't working. So we had to always make sure that the computer systems were always up, that they were available as these systems impacted the lives of individuals..

Making sure there was budget, making sure there were vendors with great SLAs and then later on the last two endeavors that I've had in as a CIO is been with local governments and as I mentioned every municipality has their own culture, has their own priorities and needs and with the city of Doral, which is my prior role prior to the city of Hallandale Beach it was to engage better and to have smart city solutions. So there, you know, the priority was different and again, you have to adjust your services and your projects to make sure that they meet the needs of the elected officials and then here at Hallandale Beach it's all about engagement, it's all about being inclusive, letting people know about our services and also engaging further with cloud services.

So I've had the experience and opportunity to be 90% on the cloud. Even our ERP is on the cloud and so again being adaptive is important and also having a good ear to understand your customers needs and when I say customer it can be an internal or external person as well.

Andrew Kirk: So let's jump in a little bit more about your current role at specifically the city of Hallandale Beach. You're in the Miami area there, so you're next to a major metropolitan area, but the population of your city is actually below 40,000. You have a higher than average resident median age at 53 years old. So how do these demographics impact your departments approach to engaging into delivering digital services?

Greg Chavarria: I am so glad Andrew that you mentioned that in fact the facts that are available before us 40,000 in population and 53 year old median. Those are 2010 census stats. And as I was mentioning having a listening ear is very important.

The demographics have transitioned. For instance, we're experiencing a lot of development, high-rise oceanfront buildings that attract new types of residents. We see a lot of millennial and Generation Z individuals moving into our city.

So what this means is that our services, how we connect with our constituents, how we are able to do our intake or just to provide awareness about the city it has a great need for technology and it and it has a great need to be cost efficient because we would like to sustain the greatest and latest methods for engaging further and for just offering and leveraging our city services for constituents.

So in recent years, we've transitioned into many Smart City technology operations. For instance, we went from manually reading water meters to now via radio and IoT products having a read over the airwaves and knowing for instance where there are abrupt water usages across the city so that we can let the constituents know that hey there may be a water leak in your in your home and not have to wait until the water bill comes or you know we use a lot of social media to take the pulse to understand the needs of the different communities that make up Hallandale Beach and we focused on also providing and developing mobile apps that are functional specific to specific services so that the constituents feel that they have an avenue that they can connect with us and that we can be responsive effectively.

Andrew Kirk: Great. Well, thank you for correcting me on that demographic transformation that's gone on since the last census. I know speaking of transformations that's something you've written about in terms of embracing digital transformations. As the CIO, you've got a lot on your plate now as you mentioned before some mission critical systems.

So how can this role of CIO also serve as the catalyst for a digital transformation when you've got all these other things on your plate in terms of maintaining and keeping systems up and running.

Greg Chavarria: Well the good thing about technology is that it has now evolved into a technology that is smart. For instance, we have firewalls that understand patterns better so that they can detect intrusions better. We have cloud-based systems that allow us to seamlessly gain access to our emails, recover emails and even we have for instance Amazon type of web services that allow us to backup to the cloud.

So what these new technologies have afforded us is the ability to be innovative to now instead of putting all of our efforts into operations it allows us to put greater efforts into innovation and with innovation that helps us improve our services, our connectivity, our the technical experience that users and constituents have. So I just want to share that, you know as a CIO it's important to constantly leverage a knowledge experience and and even best practices that other organizations may have and this is important as well to have value-added partners that can lend a hand with expertise and insight and leverage that to bring in new solutions and experiences into the organization.

Andrew Kirk: As we discussed earlier you have a really interesting unique background, especially from the programmer to moving into project management before you took over IT leadership and I know project management PMP. It's something that you thought and written a lot about in the past. How did the principles of great project management help you in the role of CIO and how could they possibly get in the way or hinder the work you now do as in IT?

Greg Chavarria: Andrew. I'm glad you mentioned that because I feel that there is a need for project management skill sets across the board a lot of times. I've for instance when I transition into organizations, I see that there have been projects that have been abandoned perhaps underfunded or perhaps a sign with not the most adequate resources.

So project management what it does is it allows us to have a formal view of what needs to be done. It allows us to get our goals prioritized with our different stakeholders and it provides accountability for the budget so that they're observed and then project management lasts, it helps us stay on time with the schedule.

And so formalizing our efforts with the team that built that builds leadership that allows us to deploy and launch solutions quicker. And that also builds momentum and trust with the executives of the organization and so project management should be a one of the priorities for any executive for any IT leader because what it does is it just amplifies the opportunities for innovation and digital transformation.

And so I have seen many colleagues that have perhaps perfected their project management practices. They've developed pmo's processes that ensure that the Investments are handled appropriately and in seeing that the goals are completed and fulfilled and what it has done is it has amplified their ability to grow to get promotions to even seek opportunities beyond what they initially perceived. So I encourage anyone, you know to to consider perfecting their practice through project management. Absolutely.

Andrew Kirk: Some great points, on the flip side I think when people think about innovation and transformation, they don't think about planning and process and spending a lot of time doing analysis. So are there some aspects of the project management mindset that either had to get over or unlearn or possibly had a negative impact in being an IT leader, or is it all been positive?

Greg Chavarria: Well, I will tell you that sometimes I tell individuals that are seeking or pursuing IT leadership that they need to be less tact and more people person. In other words they need to unlearn sometimes that the technology is what drives the business more it's like the business will drive the technology needed.

And we have to be flexible. We can't be so constraint with what capacities are limitations of current technology offers. So having an open mindset is very important, having great soft skills to engage better with your internal and external customers are essential and knowing the business, knowing and understanding the revenue streams, the expenditures that's going to lend a hand to being cost efficient to justifying projects justifying expenditures, technical goals and just justifying the amount of resources that are needed to create digital transformation to continue the evolution of bringing out new technologies into the organization.

Andrew Kirk: As I'm listening one thing that's coming up that's really interesting to me as you're talking about people and culture and understanding project delivery and budgets and the interesting thing is if you look back like you said to the late 90s where you had that civil engineering background you had a little bit of geek in you and that technologists of could get in build a database pre web services connecting things up looking back at your career, what do you think were the critical steps that you took to help you move into leadership? And I think even more importantly for our listeners who are just starting their career today would the same steps still be applicable for those who someday want to be an IT leadership role?

Greg Chavarria: Yes. Yes. I think those are still available today.

So. Whenever there's a challenge be open to take the challenge. Whenever there is a need to do more volunteer and accept that opportunity to do more. A lot of people say, well, you know, I'm not gonna do that because I'm only supposed to do this. Why not lend a hand? Why not help someone through that process, you will learn through that process you're going to gain you experience that can be leveraged into further opportunities of promotion.

Perhaps even further opportunities to gain trust and by gaining trust that's what's going to open the doors to greater responsibility, greater promotions and just being a more well-rounded individual that adds value to the organization. So I think that volunteering, being open and saying yes to opportunities still is applicable today.

Andrew Kirk: So did you have this long-term plan early on that hey, I want to get into IT leadership role or was it more mindset at each role I'm going to keep an open mind, I'm going to take in what's given me and if an opportunity comes along I'll say yes more often than no in terms of helping, volunteering my time, working with different groups? Was it something intentional that you had set as a long-term goal or was it more a role by role basis that worked out mostly based on that mindset?

Greg Chavarria: I never would anticipate that in 10 years I would do four CIO roles if someone told me back then I would say there's no way but I think it's the thirst to challenge yourself and the thirst to just do something new is what opened the doors to just saying yes, I'll take on that additional responsibility. Not a problem. I'll learn social media and how it works. I'll learn how to understand metrics and how we can develop metrics that will perhaps justify our needs for resources.

Those opportunities they came about from just being open. So I think that every opportunity will open a door incrementally and that you just have to have a an open mindset so that you can certainly be available and be prompt and just be ready for when that opportunity is there for promotions for expansion or just to gain new knowledge.

Andrew Kirk: What are the biggest challenges you see facing Chief Innovation Officers today?

Greg Chavarria: I will tell you Andrew that one of the biggest challenges is cybersecurity. It morphs, it comes about in different ways and different methods and just keeping up with the different threats and risks is something that all CIOs must pay attention to.

Andrew Kirk: Great shifting gears. Let's get started with our rapid three questions. One, CitySourced is all about the power local governments can have in delivering more services via the smartphone what type of phone do you use and what is your favorite personal mobile app?

Greg Chavarria: I have an iphone 8 don't and my most liked app is LinkedIn.

Andrew Kirk: Two, what’s one book you most recommend or give away to others?

Greg Chavarria: I will say that will be Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.

Andrew Kirk: And three what's one tool, software or non-tech hack that you that you’re using right now that makes your life better.?

Greg Chavarria: I really like the online platform that allows me to do Kanban management with things that I need to do, the tasks that I need to encounter and just tracking what has been done and what needs to be done next.

Andrew Kirk: That ends our episode for today. Thank you so much Greg for joining us. Please let our listeners know where they can learn more information and connect with you online.

Greg Chavarria: It's a pleasure to do this interview and share some of my insights and if you'd like to connect with me look me up in LinkedIn or just visit my personal webpage I'd love to share any knowledge I have and just lend a hand and whatever it is that you're trying to pursue.

Thank you very much, Andrew.

Andrew Kirk: Great. Well, we'll make sure that those links are included in our show notes and for our audience if you want to learn more about how local governments are delivering services to residents through our mobile app platform, please visit us at If you have any feedback, I'd love to hear it.

Shoot me an email or on Twitter at Andrew K Kirk. We're on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music and Spotify. Please subscribe to GovConnect through your favorite podcast service and leave us a review. It greatly helps us spread the word that GovConnect is the podcast for local government innovation.

Thanks for listening.