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In this edition of SDI’s Employee Spotlight, we share the remarkable journey and invaluable contributions of Scott Sanders. Throughout his career, Scott has been at the forefront, providing Interim CIO and IT Director services to northern California cities. Now, he’s pioneering the standardization and promotion of these services, aiming to meet the growing demand for virtual CIO services. As we delve into his journey, we gain insights into the challenges and triumphs that have shaped his career.
How did you get your start at SDI?
Back in 2006, I was leading a local team providing IT managed services in a West Coast city in the heart of Silicon Valley. NexLevel’s leadership team provided project management services for a utility upgrade project, and we got to know each other over that year. In the spring of 2018, we reconnected after SDI acquired NexLevel, and I came aboard SDI shortly after that. It’s been a great opportunity, and I’m very thankful to be part of this firm.
Tell us about your current role.
Over the last five years, I’ve provided Interim CIO and IT Director services to a few northern California cities. We’re now standardizing and offering those services for clients who need a virtual or interim CIO. We’ve been selected for some northern California cities and provide these services to a few southern California clients as well. Over the next year, I’ll work with several others to prepare us for more extensive IT managed services opportunities that are developing.
How do you describe what you do to family and friends for a living?
My family and friends all think I still work with computers on a more technical level, so I get a lot of phone calls for support! I try not to disappoint them too often, even though I’m reminded how long it has been since I had to do that type of work. When I get the chance, I tell them my focus has been aligning IT projects with our clients’ business goals and objectives. Communication between the lines of business and IT takes time and commitment but is critical to the success of any technology project.
What is your biggest current focus/project?
We’ve recently launched our virtual CIO offering and have been selected to help a northern California destination city provide these services. I’ll use a process pulled from our IT Strategic Planning methodology to identify the highest priority projects for our virtual CIO clients and assist with delivering high-quality advisory and consulting services. We aim to make these services affordable and attractive to local government organizations that might not be ready to hire a full-time CIO.
Tell us about your journey to CIO.
I have always enjoyed working in electronics and was introduced to Information Technology while serving as an active-duty US Marine. Moving away from handwritten forms, a UNIX-based local area network and application was provided to our squadron to track the many items necessary to keep F/A-18 aircraft flying safely. I was “voluntold” to be its first systems administrator. As my active duty ended, I became an Information Systems Specialist with my county’s Public Health department. I joined the Central IT Department in 2003 and became IT Director shortly after finishing my bachelor’s degree. In the twenty years since then, I’ve led IT managed services teams in two counties and seven cities.
What is your perspective on the IT industry and its future?
In the 25 years since I joined the IT industry, it has grown and touched on even more areas of our lives. Citizens and residents ask our clients to provide more services online than ever, and that trend will continue. As a result, our clients will continue looking for assistance in prioritizing the right technology projects and providing subject matter expertise to deliver on their goals.
What key factors do you consider when creating a long-term IT strategic plan?
We review our client’s current goals and objectives as defined by their Board of Supervisors or City Council. Doing so helps us ensure that we are aligning IT projects in priority order with the needs of the business units. We evaluate the IT support organization, their conformance to best practices, and whether an enterprise application is being used effectively. We listen to our customers and identify projects that will help them become more effective and efficient and address specific needs. After several weeks of learning about our client’s priorities, we facilitated a workshop to develop a consensus on which projects should be undertaken and in which order. Once that consensus is reached, we begin writing the IT Strategic Plan to guide activities over the next three to five years.
In IT modernization, how do you assess which legacy systems should be replaced and which can be integrated or enhanced to align with organizational goals?
We start by listening to our clients, asking, and learning from them what is working well and what isn’t working well. We often discover a lot of “shadow IT,” meaning work is done outside a system. It could be that a new mandate has highlighted a system shortcoming or that features of a new system were never fully implemented because of reluctance to adapt and change processes that have been in place for a long time. Some clients even say they’ve always done things a certain way without questioning why. The SDI team is knowledgeable and experienced with the software applications used by state and local governments, so we can quickly assess where a change in process, reimplementation, or replacement is warranted.
Could you share an example of a successful IT modernization project you’ve overseen? What were your main challenges, and how did your team overcome them to achieve the desired outcomes?
We often help our clients replace financial and human resource systems that have existed for over twenty years. While many client employees look forward to modernizing their applications, some resist change. Recognizing this, we have built organizational change management practices into our project approaches and often communicate with the project team to help prepare for change. Open and transparent communication goes a long way to ensuring everyone can recognize the benefits of modernization.
How do you wind down after work?
My family and I enjoy taking our Can-Am Maverick X3 Max side-by-side vehicles and ATVs to the dunes whenever possible. It’s a great way to relax, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy being together.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Build a strong support network before you need it, and be ready to support someone in your network when needed.
Don’t navigate IT challenges alone. Connect with SDI’s Virtual CIO experts to harness the power of strategic technology leadership and gain a competitive edge in the digital landscape.
We celebrate diversity; the views expressed above are those of the interviewed individual, not SDI.