As part of Techwire’s ongoing efforts to educate readers on state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT leaders.
Rolland Kornblau is the director of technology for the city of San Bernardino, a position he has held since Dec. 6, following a 20-plus-year career in educational technology management, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was most recently director of IT at the El Rancho School District for more than five years; before that, he was director at large for California IT in Education (CITE), an association of educational technology professionals, for more than seven years.
Kornblau holds a master’s in public administration from California State University, Northridge, and a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems from American Sentinel University. Among his professional recognitions, he received Chief Technology Officer Certification in 2008 from CITE and has been part of its mentor program. In 2014, he earned a Career and Technical Education (CTE) from the Association of California School Administrators’ Innovative Technology Academy.
Techwire: As director of technology at your organization, how do you describe your role? How have the role and responsibilities of the technology director changed in recent years?
Kornblau: My background is 23 years in educational technology. Being with the city, I’m fairly new, but I believe the goals are still the same. … It’s oddly familiar as far as the structure goes, as far as the IT goes. … We’re still in the people business, so that really hasn’t changed. In this position, I oversee the technology operations and evaluate the different processes that we have in place according to what our established goals are. That’s the main thing. I will be establishing IT policies, systems to support the implementation of strategies that are already set up by upper management. And I also analyze the requirements of all departments – business, fiscal and all that – to find out how best to serve their technology needs, because we’re still a public service.
Everything’s going IT, if you will, because – that used to be the long-running joke, is, anything that plugs into the wall, we give to IT. And I used to think that IT was the only one that touches every aspect of the business, but I was corrected because finance touches every aspect of the business. But having said that, it does, and so it plays an integral part in connecting everybody, unifying. The city’s growing again. It was declining a little bit; it’s growing again. And I think IT is on the forefront of being able to unify, bring everyone together, whether that be via communications, via technology, via the Internet. I think we do have a crucial role to play in that, and I believe that a lot of the cities … as they’re moving toward the smart city implementation, I think IT is just going to play even a larger role as we go forward.
Techwire: How big a role do you personally play in writing your organization’s strategic plan?
Kornblau: Being that I’m fairly new, right now I’m actually reviewing – there was a strategic plan in place prior, and I’m reviewing that and seeing how IT can move forward with that current vision. There’s also been, like I mentioned, some goals set already. I’m going to take a big role in implementing those goals that are already in place and then evaluating how you can improve the process. …
Techwire: What big initiatives or projects are coming up? What sorts of RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?
Kornblau: The city of San Bernardino is growing tremendously, as I mentioned, and I think the largest implementation that we’re looking for is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to … No. 1, update all of the software and then bring it together to be a little bit more cohesive for communications, for better transparency, and also for security, right? If they all talk to each other, we can make sure and lock them down a little bit more for security and safety. That’s the major one. Other systems we’re looking at right now are going to be anything from the help desk to the human resources systems and different ones, so we’re really looking at the entire structure and how to update. We’re in a really good place right now at the city of San Bernardino. Bringing those all up to speed, I’m starting with bumping the network speed to go from 1 gig to 10 gigs for the Internet, and then that brings a host of challenges along with it on how to then transfer that speed down the line, right, so that everybody benefits from it. So, that’s in place right now, but I think (I’ll be) evaluating the entire software and hardware that we use to push us forward, to make it better, faster and more economical.
Techwire: What term or phrase do you use to refer to what many call “digital transformation?” How far along is your organization in that process, and how will you know when it’s finished?
Kornblau: We’ve had tremendous current growth in the city in the last couple years. We’ve added personnel; they’ve done a lot of good work in that sense. I don’t know if I call that change or growth. There’s no real big term for it. Everybody’s calling it a smart city; I guess that’s the leading verbiage that they’re using, but it’s basically just change and growth. And we have to change with times, we have to keep up with them, we have to, again, give Internet wirelessly, allow connectivity to the endpoints. Not everybody enjoys change as much as those folks that are in it in technology, so it becomes a situation where we have to assure everybody else that it’s going to be fine, we are qualified to handle it and we will move forward. As far as being finished, I don’t think it will ever be finished. It’s more of a journey than a destination. Because as soon as you get to a specific point in time where you feel that we are advanced enough to be able to give the Internet, advanced enough to have the wireless, something new is going to come out. Technology changes or adds something new about every six months. As a public service entity, we are not always able to keep up with that speed change because of finances, or because maybe we shouldn’t keep up with the change 100 percent, because it hasn’t been fully vetted or analyzed. But we want slow and steady growth, we want continuous growth.
Techwire: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the overall budget?
Kornblau: It’s a multimillion-dollar budget for the city as well as the IT department, and we’re still analyzing the exact numbers. But the city employees, we’re 700 and growing. We’ve grown since I’ve been here, in my brief time. So, we’re adding personnel not only for the growth and the ability to serve the community, but also, it was part of the strategic plan to refill certain positions that were not filled prior. The city manager is doing an awesome job in taking care of that as well as the (City) Council, to move us forward and get us where we need to be. There are several projects underway and that’s why I don’t have an exact figure for you, but those projects will actually determine the needs and the amount of budget that I can ask for. … We’re migrating toward a two-year budget, to have us better handle future budgeting needs and to make sure that we’re fiscally sound. That’s a huge job in itself, that changes a lot of our numbers; we have to make sure that we’re good, fiscally sound, for that amount of time at least, probably further. … We’re looking at about 14 folks (in IT) and we have a couple openings right now, and I’d like to add two more to backfill some positions. So, we are growing; since I arrived, we’ve had a couple promotions and we need to backfill those positions as well. I plan to add at least two people to the IT department; we’ll see how that works out fiscally and need-wise, but I think that we’re better able to serve our community and our employees with that.
Editor’s note: July 1 will mark the start of the city’s first two-year budget cycle.
Techwire: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn? How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?
Kornblau: The best way to communicate with me is through email; we get tons of phone calls, tons of emails and solicitations and such. While I would like to respond to all of them, I really can’t just because of the amount of work that we have, and our job is to serve our community and entities. But I do try and keep those vendor emails so if there’s a need in the future, I have them. As far as … educating themselves, the best way is our website; that’s one of the things that’s going to be upgraded as well. We have a lot of information on the website. Once we go with upgrading the website, hopefully we’re able to not necessarily remove any of that information, but fine-tune it so it’s more accessible, more searchable. But there’s a lot out there, and you can find a lot about the city, our growth, our plans. We have a 2050 plan to grow the city in the future, so there’s a lot of information out there.
Techwire: In your tenure in this position, which project or achievement are you most proud of?
Kornblau: I’m fairly new to the team but before, there was an interim spot where the team didn’t really have a director, so I just want to commend them … because they have done an awesome job. I think that’s a testament to the team and how they work together without an immediate director. I think the greatest times are ahead of us working together, and I think my role here … is to take that team, polish it, have everybody work together under the same umbrella and move toward a centralized goal. I think the best times are ahead of us. I’m confident it’s a highly qualified team and we can all work together and do that.
Techwire: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?
Kornblau: I thought a lot about that, and I think that all the rules, procedures, regulations and everything about the procurement process are there for a reason. … the bidding process, the RFP, the budget checks and all the people involved, while it takes a minute to get everything done, I think it’s fair and I think it allows the entities that submit bids and that we work with to have a fair working relationship with us. Actually, I kind of like all that, because it just makes things fair for everybody out there to be able to do business with the city. … The stumbling point is speed … especially with today’s times, you want it right now, you want to be able to go out and buy something right now. But that may not be the best way to do everything, because then that means that you’re not vetting the process, you’re not vetting the product, you’re not vetting the folks that you’re working with. And all those processes, procedures are there as bumpers for you to bounce against, stand against and keep everything fair and make sure everything stays aboveboard and transparent.
Techwire: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the govtech/SLED sector?
Kornblau: I’m fortunate in that I’m in a position where I enjoy learning and I enjoy technology, so that’s great. I read everything as far as technology. … I was onboard an association in the educational sector called CITE that helped me get contacts to all the school districts in California. MISAC (the Municipal Information Systems Association of California), in this space, is probably the best organization that I’ve seen … in order for the folks in this space to collaborate, to vet products, situations, experience. We don’t do anything ourselves, we do it as a team, a group and we are … better than the sum of our parts. MISAC and other technology news basically is what helps me stay abreast. But mostly, the network and the people in it is the best learning.
Techwire: What are your hobbies, and what do you enjoy reading?
Kornblau: Probably much the same. I’m kind of boring in that sense. I really love learning, I really love technology, and so, being able to – and I’m not in education – but being able to teach, lead and bring that forward is what I enjoy the most. (I listen to) podcasts and audiobooks. Going between meetings or going on the drive to and from work or locations, I can fill my time with that. I don’t listen to as much music as I’d like because of that. It also keeps me abreast of different situations out there because they’re always talking about something interesting on a podcast or in a book that you can listen to a little bit easier than read.
Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.