After an eight-month stint as the interim chief information officer of Austin Chris Stewart will assume the position in a permanent capacity starting May 10, he told StateScoop on Monday.
Stewart was previously the CIO of Austin Water, the Texas capital’s water utility, until last September when he replaced Austin’s longtime city CIO, Stephen Elkins, as an interim hire. When he officially steps into the role next week, Stewart said, he’ll jumpstart the way his agency — the Communications and Technology Management Department — supports residents with new digital services directly, rather than solely providing internal IT support to the city’s other agencies.
“We’ve focused a lot on organizational changes within IT, and how we can better structure ourselves to help support the city and our residents, and I think stepping into this role, I need to look the other way,” Stewart said. “So instead of looking internal, into the organization, seeing how the organization can help out the city and really how we can help out our residents more.”
When Stewart started with the city in September amidst the coronavirus pandemic, he was tasked with leading a workforce that was, at the time, fully remote. And many of thousands of city workers won’t return to the office, he said. As more people get vaccinated and public health mandates are lifted, Stewart said one of his priorities will be establishing a hybrid workforce.
Stewart told StateScoop in March the city was still deciding on a long-term workforce strategy and that many of the choices about whether to require government employees to be present in the office would depend on resident demand.
“We’re a support service, so we help our departments serve residents,” he said. “And I really want to see how IT can more directly support residents.”
The first step toward expanding the city’s IT support will be hiring a manager for a new digital services division. Stewart said “digital services” once referred only to the city’s website, but he’ll now be taking a broader look at what other applications the city can use to create services that are more equitable and user-centric.
That project will require plenty of public-private collaboration, Stewart said, adding that he’s eager to connect with neighboring CIOs as the digital services division expands.
“The City of Austin can’t tackle this alone,” he said.