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The Life of a Chief Innovation Officer

Monday, July 13, 2015   (0 Comments)
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As Chief Innovation Officer at the City of Riverside, Lea Deesing oversees the Information Technology Department, which employs approximately 60 people. She is also charged with providing innovative solutions to the numerous City departments such as the library, police and fire. 

When asked to describe her job, Ms. Deesing comments, “It’s so much more than switches and coding. I contemplate every day how to solve problems with technology.” 

As technology has evolved, local governments have followed suit, some faster than others. Those that genuinely embrace technology as a viable tool for all departments within a city have been able to do some amazing things. Many have gone as far as creating the position known at a Chief Innovation Officer. This person is charged with using technology to solve problems throughout the organization and also with coming up with ideas for technology implementations that will improve city function and services. 

As more cities create positions such as this, MISAC sat down with Lea Deesing to get some perspective on the position for those interested in becoming a Chief Innovation Officer one day. 

According to Ms. Deesing, leadership is the single largest determining factor in a city’s capacity to innovate.  In order for IT to get a seat at the executive table and the funding necessary to do the job right, the City Manager has to be fully committed to and on board with technology. “You can have all the great ideas in the world, but if the City Manager thinks IT should still exist under the finance department or administrative services, you’re not likely to get very far,” said Lea. 

Lea was fortunate when she took the reigns in Riverside two years ago, after working in Moreno Valley, San Bernardino, Fontana and the Riverside Community College District. The City of Riverside established the position of Chief Innovation Officer in 2006 and, under strong, technology-oriented leadership, had branded itself as the “City of Arts and Innovation.” Recently, John Russo assumed the role of City Manager, advancing the culture of innovation in the City. The City’s strategic plan, Riverside 2.0, seeks to evolve the City into a catalyst for innovation in all forms. The Plan focuses on these strategic priorities: 
1. Accountability
2. Transparency 
3. Responsiveness 
4. Financial Prudence 
5. Decisiveness  

In collaboration with other departments, the City of Riverside has launched, the City’s open government portal including the expansion of available open data sets. The IT Department has also developed the Riverside Downtown Tourism app, among others. This app comes to life when users enter downtown, guiding visitors through a tour of the historic landmarks in the City.  Lea’s department also received recognition nationally for their recent in-house IT project management portal using Microsoft SharePoint technology called “The Hive” (link to article: The Hive, built upon the Microsoft’s SharePoint technology platform already in use at the City, embodies the sentiment in the City’s Strategic to become financially prudent because it cost the City nothing more than staff time to develop it.

Currently, Lea is focusing on cyber security as the Department’s number one priority. She has recently hired a full time cyber security specialist, and the position has paid for itself in the first month, in terms of return on investment by bringing a new awareness to the team that previously did not exist. He introduced the Department to a free service offered by the FBI where a snapshot of a city’s computer traffic is analyzed to determine if any of the computers are unknowingly communicating with terrorists. 

Ms. Deesing is also interested in the city in which she works. She frequently does public outreach and speaks to community and youth groups. She authors and submits articles for publication. Lea encourages IT professionals to seek out mentors and to also mentor young professionals as they grow in their careers. 

So what is the lesson for those aspiring IT professionals out there? 

“If you want to be a Chief Innovation Officer, leadership will expect more from you. They want great ideas to take the City to the next level.” Lea frequently spends her time brainstorming solutions to challenges that involve technology and automation. She asserts “There is innovation on the other side of every problem.” Lea also counsels aspiring professionals to “learn as much as possible, even if you aren’t getting paid for it.” Lea recommends every aspiring Chief Innovation Officer out there take chances and move just beyond their comfort zone for the greatest growth potential. 

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