By Howard Dyckoff
Oakland has a new CIO (Chief Information Officer) who sees Oakland as readying itself for innovation and creativity in the spheres of open government and open data.
This is the first Chief Information Officer that Oakland has ever had, and Bryan Sastokas seems up to the challenge. Besides becoming one of the youngest CIOs in America in the early 2000s, he also used his position as CIO of Coral Springs, Florida in 2007 to help that city win the first Malcom Baldridge award ever given to a state or local government entity for efficiency, quality, and performance excellence. He hopes to try for that again in a few years in Oakland.
For the last few years, Sastokas has been the CIO of Modesto, CA, helping it win awards as one of the top 10 most technology-advanced cities in the annual Digital Cities Survey conducted by the Center for Digital Government. The award focuses on the results achieved by cities in the use of technology to improve operating efficiencies and realize strategic objectives. Modesto received this prestigious award from 2009 to 2013. Oakland, as a larger city, could be competing in a few years with larger cities like Seattle and Chicago, while Modesto, at half the size, competed with cities like Fort Worth, Texas.
Sastokas carries these honors, and also high praise from many former co-workers. “Bryan Sastokas [is] one of our brightest champions for innovation. An exceptionally creative leader with genuine talent, working with him requires your ‘A-game’ every day,” said Dee Williams-Ridley, Deputy City Manager for the City of Modesto.
Tom Anderson, who was a direct report to Sastokas in Coral Springs, said, “Bryan is the type of manager that you can absolutely trust. He’s got your back and he’ll do what he can to set you up for success. He maintains high standards, but he’ll give you the tools to do the job while making the environment challenging.” Anderson added, “Hands down, he is the best person you could ever hope to have as your boss.”
Partnerships, Infrastructure, Efficiency
Sastokas said he is looking for ways to use technology that brings value for community at large and also lowers the costs of city government. This was the key to Modesto being named an innovative city.
He also plans to support local hackathons, especially those focused on improving city government and encouraging civic engagement. “I will try to make that a success, because we want to show that we are making things better… and I’m a 120 percent for that.”
His initial focus for his first 90 days will be to review the City’s technology portfolio and assess which parts of its aging infrastructure need urgent upgrades and which parts can support new and emerging technologies.
Among the systems undergoing early scrutiny are the City’s radio communications, both for Oakland Police Department and Public Works, and the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system that is used by Public Works and the OPD. He also is considering upgrades across the infrastructure from the email platform, to financial software, to the Oracle ERP suite. “We need to modernize,” he said, adding, “I’m not the type of CIO that wants to mix everything up … we want to do things that clearly provide visible quality improvements.”
City Administrator Deanna Santana explained the choice of Sastokas this way: “We are pleased to add an IT executive of Bryan’s caliber to the City of Oakland team. Bryan’s depth of understanding of public safety and IT needs for local government, coupled with his drive for innovation, made him the right choice for Oakland. An award-winning technologist with national credentials, Bryan brings a wealth of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors that will be invaluable as he leads several major, long-overdue initiatives to upgrade the City’s key technology platforms. His commitment to civic innovation and community engagement demonstrated in other communities will also be strong assets to Oakland’s efforts to adopt leaner, more entrepreneurial approaches to technology.”
Sastokas himself is happy to be in Oakland, which has long been a favorite city of his to visit. “We were here for Restaurant Week and some of that food is wicked good — I probably gained 15 lbs,” he said with some concern. “I have to say it’s very tempting when I can smell all that great food at 6 p.m. It’s nice to live and work and eat in one great city … I will definitely contribute to many local eateries.”
He says he is the type of person who likes to build his own computers, but “I haven’t bought anything new to replace the last one I built.” He adds, “I also have an iPad 2… or should I say my wife does, which she uses when cooking.”
Sastokas usually wears a bow tie in the office. He expects to keep wearing one at Oakland City Hall, but said he is very interested in bow ties featuring an Oakland or Oaklandish logo. Haberdashers take note.
Originally from Boston, he’s a Southie who was proud to be at a South Boston tavern when the film Good Will Hunting was nominated for an Oscar. He is a die-hard Red Sox fan but said he will root for all the local teams. “I can wear silver and black on occasion,” he added. “Like South Boston, things are also changing here in Oakland… it’s ready for a renaissance and I’d like to contribute to that.”
He is also used to colder temperatures and braved an evening trip to Code for America in San Francisco recently in just a suit and tie — a bow tie, of course — and no overcoat.
Sastokas started in IT at a newspaper and moved from there into corporate and government IT. This included stints at Wellfleet Networks (now Bay Networks) and John Hancock Insurance as its Chief Technology Officer. He later worked in the telecom industry at USAC (Universal Service Administrative Company), supporting the Universal Service Fund for telephone service, which helps low income individuals and families. It also provides funds to support telecommunications and Internet services in schools, libraries, and rural health care facilities.
At USAC, he helped create an identity and access management architecture (IAM), a framework to keep the information of applicants and contributors consistent across different IT platforms. This is important because USAC collects and processes about $8 billion a year under its eRate program. He also helped organize a new data center for USAC. While at USAC, Sastokas was selected by Computerworld magazine as one of the “Premier 100 IT Leaders” in 2007.