3 Questions With San Francisco CIO Marc Touitou

3 min read
  • Government
  • Information Technology

Marc Touitou was hired a year ago this month to be CIO of the City and County of San Francisco, in response to complaints that the city had been too slow to take advantage of new technology, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. He was born in Paris and maintains dual citizenship, and spent much of his previous career in the private sector for companies such as ASML and Naspers. He identifies himself as a “change manager.”

How did you come to make the transition to the public sector in the U.S., and how has that been different?

Well, let’s rewind that tape a bit (yes, I also still use vinyl). I moved to Philadelphia in the early 90s, spent close to 10 years there and took a corporate CIO job in Holland in a super high-tech semiconductor company from 2002 to 2011. When I decided to return to the U.S. and go to San Francisco, I didn’t really have a plan to work for the public sector and I even thought it might be a good time to do nothing for the first time in my life, other than take care of my family. But I met a savvy headhunter who pushed all the right buttons and convinced me to do my “tour of duty” in government and leverage my experience to get things done in the amazing city of San Francisco.  

Guess what: IT is IT in public and in private alike. The governance issues are as complex. The main difference is that you touch citizens and they are your customers too—all of them!

I had the luxury in my past assignments to have brilliant and somewhat centralistic CEOs, and it felt easier to set directions and create alignment. But all roads lead to Rome, whether you get top-down alignment, lateral or bottom-up. Some roads are faster, but others are more robust. At the end what matters is always your own pace, not the pace of the others—you have to adjust a bit without it causing excessive frustration for you or the others. It’s tough, but the reward is high.

You talked last year in Government Technology about a project to complete email migration and consolidate your data centers. How’d that go, and what advice can you offer to other CIOs about how to undergo such a project?

I am glad to report that San Francisco is the first city of its league to complete this summer the migration of 100 percent of its email population to the government-class cloud (Microsoft Office 365).

It is a symbol of our commitment to do the right thing, show our alignment and win collectively. It paves the way for more enterprise shared services in the years to come. It is a culture change, I can tell you.

Now for the data center consolidation and virtualization project (DCCV). We secured a world-class (T3) state data center contract and we replicated both our legacy mainframe and our brand-new Oracle PeopleSoft platforms to the state data center for business continuity and disaster recovery purposes. We also accelerated the virtualization effort in one of our three designated shared data centers leveraging VMware technology. The effort is going well.

I mention business continuity because there are several ways to get buy-in for data center consolidation—or anything else, for that matter:

First is logic. Most people do not respond well to logic—especially in IT. No, seriously. So the logical argument is that it will help us be fiscally responsible, faster, and it protects common assets of the city for our citizens. Spock said it better than me, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” or at least they should.

Another way to get buy-in is through social engagement as well as technical engagement—being a part of something big, bigger than you. It binds you emotionally. My advice to CIOs at large is to have the courage to hold their rank and stand their ground but to invest in the social and emotional engagement. Logic alone won’t suffice.

Being CIO in San Francisco must be a challenge. What’s it like, and how do you juggle all those conflicting demands?

No, it’s not tough to be CIO in San Francisco. In fact, I live it as a privilege and an honor every single day, simply because, while I do have a lot to contribute, San Francisco and its players bring so much more (and I can almost say I would have done it for free). Yes, we have a lot of techies, but I find that so many San Franciscans care more to collaborate than they care to argue. Yes, I know we can argue hard, too, but being such a center of innovation and a social magnet comes with its share of challenges and opportunities.

In the last 12 months, we came together and brought high-density high-capacity free Wi-Fi to the city (Market Street and 32 parks). It was thought to be impossible, and we did it. People are happy. We have disaster recovery and business continuity. Everyone pitched something: public sector, private sector, citizens. Isn’t that inspiring?

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