After 31 years working for the Oakland County, Michigan, Chief Information Officer Phil Bertolini said Friday will be his last day on the job.
In addition to leading an IT division of more than 150 employees and 150 major applications serving a population of 1.2 million people in the suburbs of Detroit, Bertolini has spent the bulk of his career advocating for increased collaboration in government. He’s overseen development of initiatives that encouraged governments to pool resources and share services, such as an online procurement website called G2G Marketplace that today has more than 1,000 registered users from around the world.
In a phone interview with StateScoop, Bertolini said that encouraging people to collaborate and adopt management practices that are centered on people, rather than technology, has been a hallmark of his career.
“That’s been an area of focus and something I’m passionate about for years. And I think it’s the only way government is going to solve this problem we have of finding the best technologies to address our various challenges,” Bertolini said.
In addition to local participation in the G2G Marketplace, Bertolini said he’s especially proud that the platform’s also been adopted by more than 100 government agencies outside of Oakland County. His county also helped develop an initiative called CySAFE for Business that provides localities an IT security toolkit that borrows controls from popular frameworks, providing government bodies of all sizes a free and well-researched approach to cybersecurity.
Governments should work together in ways like these to achieve their goals, Bertolini says. “Build it once, pay for it once, and everybody benefits,” he’s quoted as saying on the county’s website.
It’s that collaborative spirit, he said, that kept him in government for three decades. Bertolini joined the county government in 1988 as an entry-level property appraiser, eventually working his way up to administrator of the county’s Equalization Division. He was appointed IT director in 2001 and then deputy county executive and CIO in 2005.
Bertolini said he received job offers from the private sector over the years that had sounded interesting and even exciting at the time, but it wasn’t enough to pull him away from public service.
“I’ve always believed public service is a noble profession and I believe in what I’m doing and why I’m doing it,” Bertolini said. “When you work for government, you get a chance to help people every day, you get a chance to change people’s lives.”
He pointed to the county’s opioid data website — containing statistics, maps and information on local prescription drug abuse programs — as a recent example of work government does that helps improve people’s lives. The county’s Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System — an expansive computer system supporting everything from computer aided dispatch to fingerprinting in more than 200 public-safety agencies across 10 counties — is another example of Bertolini’s penchant for shared services that serve the public good.
Over 30 years, he said, the biggest change to IT management has been an increased emphasis on people. “People, not technology,” has become a mantra of the government CIO in recent years, but Bertolini said it took time for the notion to catch on.
“People were so enamored with the bits and bytes they lost track of the people side of things,” he said. “They’ve figured it out that if it’s not about the people, what is it about? I’m enthused that our citizens get it, our business units of county government get it. It’s not something where we have to pull them kicking and screaming to get somewhere. It’s an exciting time for government technology.”
Despite the excitement, Bertolini said, it’s finally time to move onto something new. He said the death earlier this month of his boss, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, 80, whom Bertolini worked with for more than 20 years, was especially hard.
“When you work for a visionary, you work for a great man, like I had the opportunity to do,” Bertolini said. “He was my mentor.”
For now, Bertolini said, he plans to take a month off before getting to work on a new project, the details of which he was not prepared to reveal. Michael Timm, Oakland County’s IT director, he said, is “more than capable” of carrying on his work without him.
“I’m going to start something new at the end of September,” Bertolini said. “I don’t plan to be retired for very long.”