Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority
Vice President - SLED
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The CIO for Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, Chad Meek, discusses success in IT and improved efficiency.
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TL: Good morning. We're here today with Chad Meek. He's a CIO at the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA). It's an organization based out of Central Ohio, but servicing the communities within the geographic region. I'm Tim Lonsway, way from CBTS. I'll be your guest moderator for today. Let's get started. Hey Chad, looking at your bio, you've been with the housing authority for over six years and you've been the CIO the entire time. When you first came in to the housing authority and started to look at what you thought you might get into, how has that changed over what it's really actually turned out to be?
CM: So, when I was brought in to the housing authority, um, I came from a cutting edge technology company, so they brought me in to bring their technology up to speed within the environment. They wanted to be a very paper driven, very mechanical organization. Um, so I wasn't expecting it to be as far behind as it was. So, I had to basically look at the network infrastructure, start with it, build it so that we could then build software platforms to support the organization going forward.
TL: You've been in the industry over 20 years. Did you have enough arrows in your quill, or your quiver, so to speak, to take this on or did you, was there a great learning curve in taking on the role of the CIO for CMHA?
CM: So, moving into a CIO role, I thought I had it down on the first day, and then I realized I didn't. So, one of the differences with the CIO role and working for a quasi-government organization is you have to learn the politics. You, not only dealing with office politics but you're dealing with outside government politics, and I didn't have that before. So, there was a learning curve there for me.
TL: Perfect. That's awesome. Uh, question – I'm a big fan of leadership. Without good leadership, you go in the wrong direction, things fracture or splinter; what's your philosophy on leadership and how do you apply that within your organization?
CM: So, one of the things we do within the IT part of our organization, the department is, we're results driven. We don't worry about when people come and go, we worry about hitting deadlines, dates, um, setting reasonable timeframes to complete things. So, taking this approach has allowed me to work with less employees and get just as much done as I was doing before, where we were time-driven. When people feel like they have freedom, they want to do more for you. And, so that's been a big approach. Now that has dwindled into other departments within our organization also, which I've been able to influence and I'm very proud of. Um, our, our core leadership team was very on board with this when I came in and they liked it and, you know, our CEO is fabulous, he's outside the box on everything and he wants to try anything new, and in IT it's worked very successfully.
TL: That's, that's awesome. That's very impressive. One of the big things is, as you look at sending kind of the vision and the strategy, then ultimately it still bundles down into the services that you provide for the constituents that utilize the Metropolitan Housing Authority. What really is the vision and how do you measure success? What are you trying to accomplish there at CMHA?
CM: So for me, success is, is looked at by how the clients respond. Clients being internal, clients being external, if they have a simple, if we're getting a lot of help, desk tickets, we’re not very successful in IT. If the clients – so when I came in, one of the things is, their systems went down for 20 minutes on three to four days a week, for between 12:30 and 2:00 everyday three or four days a week. And that was normal and they accepted it. Well, to me, that wasn't acceptable.
And now they see that we haven't been down in over 400 days for even five minutes. Um, and that's a big step for me, that success. They're happy. When I say I want to roll out new software, they're saying, “When are we getting it?” Instead of, “Oh no, we're getting something new.” When you can get your users and your clients to say, “Give us what you've got, give us something new,” because they want it? That's success to me.
TL: So basically what I heard you say was, you've taken enterprise-level standards for IT services and you've taken it into your quasi-governmental organization. Good enough isn't good enough for your government. You've, you've taken it and made it a higher level of availability and performance both with your infrastructure and your applications. Is that a fair statement?
CM: That is a fair statement. I believe that we need to run our government agencies like private businesses and everyone in this organization and leadership group, except, I believe, one or maybe two people come from private industry and we run it as if it's a private industry organization.
We watch expenses. We, we look at revenues. Even though we're nonprofit, we still need to look at revenues and bring it in, because we're creating subsidies that we're providing to our clients locally and not relying on government subsidies for that.
TL: Very good. As you, as you've basically come in and stabilized the environment, increased availability of systems and processes, where you taking it next? What efficiencies or, what, what capabilities do you intend to roll out to the constituents moving forward?
CM: So, we started with this internal look, right? So, the big thing we're looking at now is, how can we provide software that's external to our clients? You know, mobile apps, portals where they can get onto websites. We went to an application that’s all online now, and when we did that, we got a big pushback saying, “Our clients aren't technology capable. They won't have access.”
We had to meet with all the libraries, get them ready for this big rollout of opening up our wait list that hasn't been opened in eight years. Um, I took the approach: we're going to make it mobile capable. Um, and, in having that foresight, we were able to open up our wait list. It's 24 /7, never closes and we never planned to close it again. We took 26,000 apps in in the first five days, and 86 percent of those apps were taken on a mobile device versus a computer. There was no lines at the library. Matter of fact, the library called us and said, “We didn't have anyone ask how to use the computers to do your apps”. And so the whole preparation from the organization was all, they're going to go to libraries because that's where they can use free computers. And we took the approach in IT of: we're making this mobile capable because everyone has a phone and even our low income, um, constituents have mobile devices.
TL: Can, with your mobile applications are people going to be able to register, do interviews, do updates through those, those applications to those clients directly through their mobile devices?
CM: The plan is to be able to have them be able to do video interviews, upload documents – the less they have to come through our front door, the better it is for the organization in my, my eyes. So we want to make it to where they can do it 24/7 every day. We want them to have – so one of the things we push is we try to get our clients to, you know, we're getting them, helping them get jobs. We're having them getting out there and we're helping workforce people. Well workforce people have 8-5 jobs or 7-8 jobs, a lot of them, but they're working all these hours. Well, we need to be able to service them at times that benefit them. So, if we can do all this electronically and we can allow them to connect though their mobile devices, then we can expand the times we’re available for interviews and meeting with people in the call centers and answering questions for them.
TL: That's very impressive. The, um, the, the next question I'd kind of ask you is, as you look at that, you're really, what you're doing is Uber-izing CHMA and you're basically providing expanding spheres of influence, you know, that ultimately could be taken advantage of by other organizations within Ohio or other areas throughout the country. Is that kind of a goal or objective of your organization?
CM: It's absolutely an objective of our organization. We want to provide these capabilities to our clients, but then we want to also go out nationally and provide it to other housing authorities. We are a leader in the housing authority environment today ,and we want to continue to be that leader and the next place of leadership is through technology.
TL: Perfect. So, obviously I'm a Central Ohio person. I'm, I'm excited to hear what you guys are doing, especially when it comes to efficiencies in government and quasi-governmental organizations. Those interactions with workforce development or the library community or whatever it might be are imperative for us to remain competitive with our workforce, with our individuals and the programs that you guys are driving out is, is, are very impressive. As you look locally though, ultimately in Central Ohio, there's a unique set of use cases. You know the, the back office systems and the applications are things that you're developing to become scalable horizontally as well as vertically, but as you look at the community itself, you're servicing every, every layer of constituency from age demographics to other, other demographics that are there. Is there anything kind of unique, or how do you service all of that, that broad variety of spectrum of, of individuals who consume your services?
CM: So I look at it, the standpoint there's really not a difference of your age. There's not a difference of your income. We want to treat you all equally. We want to make sure that everyone's getting equal service, that it, that the systems have the flexibility to do anything that operations needs it to do to successfully meet the needs of all the low income market rate that we do, and everything like that.
TL: Perfect. So, when you look at innovation groups or technology consortiums in the Central Ohio region, are you able to take advantage of that? Are they able to provide value to you as well as you back to those organizations?
CM: Yeah, so I'm, I belong to the small-midsize enterprise CIO forum, and that group works very well for me in the sense of feedback. We, we talk a lot. There's anywhere from 12 to 15 people in that group. We tend to have smaller IT departments. So, when you work with the large CIO foreman in central Ohio, they're great from the standpoint of leadership. The one thing that is hard from an IT standpoint for us to relate to is our size. They've got 100, they've got a thousand employees, we've got 11, you know, we're trying to make IT run on a smaller platform and we have to take that into account.
TL: That's, that's impressive. That's not a lot of people to do a lot of work and to take on some very ambitious, ambitious activities. When you look at the app today, then, with such a small group, you know there's agile and waterfall and all those different types of development – how does, how does that work within your organization for your application development activity?
CM: Well, it kind of goes project to project, and we kind of mixed into a hybrid of everything. We try to set up a schedule and we tried to work in this waterfall state, but it has to be from an agile standpoint. We have to be able to adapt. We have to be able to move very quickly and we can't have systems down, and we only have a few people that can handle certain things. So we work a lot with vendors. We have some very good partnerships out there that also allow us to be able to do certain things that, um, keep us flowing smoothly.
TL: You know you, mentioned before, and I'm kind of digressing a little bit, but you mentioned before when you rolled out that app that kind of went to the libraries, you really thought you’d get a lot of questions and it was so intuitive that you really didn't get a lot of questions when you deployed that. Why was that? What, what, what do you attribute to that individual success?
CM: So, we put out a lot of marketing material. We printed marketing material we had in our, in our main lobby there. So, if people came through the front door, we um, we tried to make sure we got out to the newspaper and let people know this is all online. We got with all of the local government agencies that would be doing services for these people that would want to apply to let them know, “Hey, these are the areas, and this is how you're going to do it, and this is the steps.” And it was very – so the screens go step by step by step and there's explanations on every screen.
TL: Okay. So, very good. As, as you look at, um, other areas, um, within your organization where things are going, how are you going to adapt and change with the changing of the demographics or the needs or the expansion? I mean, do you have thoughts around basically driving this, um, uh, your organization towards modernist or continual service improvement methodology and kind of, what are your thoughts? Just kind of moving that, where you are today into where you're going to be in the future, which, who knows?
CM: So, as we move into the future, we plan to expand our software. We plan to grow it, we plan to sell it, we plan to take it out and subsidize it for other smaller housing authorities. With that being said, we're definitely going to be growing that part of the department. Um, we have a, another organization that we have, a subsidiary of us that's called, um, Premier Housing Advisors. We use that branch of our organization to manage and do things outside of the CMHA direct platform.
TL: Very good. So thank you. Thank you very much, Chad. Any, any kind of last words of wisdom for the team before we wrap it up?
CM: No, I don't, but thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate it, Tim.
TL: Thank you for your time. And with that, we'll conclude.
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