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Our SearchCIO-Midmarket 2013 IT Leadership Awards recognize the contributions and innovations of IT professionals within midmarket companies. We put out a call for nominations of individuals who have excelled in six categories: cultural innovation, technological advancement, business value, green IT, IT engagement and customer experience.
IT departments are often charged with "keeping the lights on" -- a catch-all phrase that doesn't really do justice to everything IT accomplishes on behalf of the organization. But to call the work of Daniel M. Ryan, CIO for the city of Battle Creek, Mich., "keeping the lights on" is no slight -- it's a fairly accurate description of how his innovative GPS usage has benefitted his city's 53,000 residents. Ryan turned to GIS-grade global positioning system (GPS) units and Esri ArcPad software for precise field location and attribute collection of all lights, in order to track and maintain 4,000 street lights along 320-plus miles of roadways. In this Q&A, Ryan, a finalist in the 2013 SearchCIO-Midmarket IT Leadership Awards in the business value category, talks about trends in GPS usage, the IT leadership role and other hot technology topics.
Number of years in IT: 15 plus
Revenue: $37 million general fund
Number of employees in the company: 600
Number of employees in IT: 13
Educational background: Bachelor's degree in surveying engineering and Master's degree in public administration.
First job: My first job was as a janitor at a racquet club where I learned a lot of lessons about customer service.
LinkedIn: Dan Ryan
What's the best advice you've ever received?
One of the many bits of advice from my dad: "Work hard, play hard -- but know the difference."
An excerpt from the nomination
[Ryan] listens first and then approaches the challenge with an engineered solution that delivers the best results at an economy that the city can afford using -- in this case, multiple technologies that we already owned.
In the movie of your life, who would play your character?
Woody Harrelson -- his characters are so underrated.
If you could have just one superpower, what would it be and why?
I think that being able to stop time could be incredibly useful for getting things done without interruption, but there are so many excellent fun choices amongst superpowers.
What's your favorite app on your smartphone or tablet device?
Great question! So many apps just mimic what I can do at my desktop. Right now, I really like CardMunch as a way to get all those business cards I meant to enter into my contacts list.
Where do you fall in the iPhone vs. Android debate?
I currently have an iPhone and like the standardization of the iOS across carriers. So right now, I personally find the iPhone creates fewer issues in the workplace for tech support.
Describe the best technology decision you ever made.
Relocating our data center to on-premises at our main building, City Hall. It gave us the opportunity 10 years ago to "green" the data center and forced us into a smaller, more efficient footprint. An intangible benefit was giving IT a face rather than simply being a faceless consumer of resources and revenue.
Was there ever a technology that you thought was a gimmick but now couldn't live without?
GPS. I think back to my early university days, when GPS required mission planning to utilize it to get a position, and I recall articulating that this was a technology that would never have application beyond military use! Now it's in everything and becoming a bit of a commodity.
What's the biggest challenge you face in IT today?
Security, more than ever, is the greatest challenge we face as technologists. With BYOD [bring your own device], the consumerization of IT and life in the cloud, there are more demands made upon IT to provide solutions that mimic what employees can do at home in the workplace than ever before.
Excerpt from the nomination
Dan is an exemplary IT leader in that he sees business problems and searches for ways to assist.
Which role and/or internal partner do you rely upon the most?
Our purchasing agent.
What's your prediction for the next big technology?
If I could predict the next "big technology," I would assemble the team and begin working on it now! Seems the focus has been on smaller, faster and mobile -- we are in need of something really exciting.
What's your favorite non-monetary benefit or perk of your job?
I'd have to say my favorite non-monetary perk of the job is being able to talk to people about their business problems and find ways to help them. A lot of my time is spent with our business leaders just listening to what challenges they have in delivering the service of local government.
What is the biggest problem you see with corporate cultures today?
Corporate cultures have become undercommunicated, and a shift to managing rather than leading has occurred. It's a natural evolution -- once no one understands why we make widgets, [we] simply focus on counting them.
What are "rookie mistakes" that you see in up-and-coming IT leaders?
I'm inclined to say that the "rookie mistakes" in up-and-coming IT leaders is they lack having enough time with a good mentor. As the Baby Boomers leave the workforce, we are entering a time period where the up-and-comers can rise quickly, but without gaining all the understanding of truly leading and having all the soft skills that go with being the IT leader.
Describe your leadership style.
I am a very competitive individual and I often think in terms of sports and analogies. I have created and I lead a high-performing group very similar to being the coach of a high-performing team. You have various egos, skill levels, roles that each employee brings to the table, and my job becomes assessing those components and people so each project sees the most success and the "players" are all placed in a manner that failure is minimized. Sometimes, this means starting a "bench player" or bringing them in for specific items on a project and quickly rotating them out, but the end goal is to "win," or implement our initiatives successfully.
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Abandoning lights-on to empower IT