CUSTOMER STORY: Richard Calkins, IT Director, City of Fort Myers

Public-sector IT leader keeps the City of Fort Myers moving forward with targeted support from Info-Tech

IT director mobilizes resources to meet varied technology needs at the City of Fort Myers

Known as a gateway to southwest Florida, Fort Myers is a popular tourist destination, featuring historic landmarks, sandy beaches, and wildlife parks. To support a daytime population of 100,000 residents, the City of Fort Myers delivers a broad range of services from parks and recreation to public works and emergency services. Working behind the scenes, the City’s Information Technology Services (ITS) department serves the entire operation with computer and telecommunications services, software development, cyber security, web design, technology support, and more.

Charged with meeting the City’s extensive technology needs is Richard Calkins, director of ITS. With a lean IT staff and equally lean budget, Calkins faces the challenge of allocating limited IT resources across all departments: “That includes everything the City does from a services perspective, including police, fire, and government. For example, we support all the communications for the City, even the police and emergency services dispatch. And yet we are also responsible for putting Wi-Fi on a new Zamboni at the City’s skating rink to enable its onboard diagnostics system.”

photo of richard calkins

Member Name

Richard Calkins, IT Director, City of Fort Myers

Industry

Public Sector

aerial view of downtown fort myers

Bringing private-sector expertise to public-sector opportunity

With a background in geography, Calkins spent his early years in the private sector specializing in geographic information systems (GIS) systems within the growing cellphone industry. His expertise led him to projects around the world and eventually to a position closer to home as an analyst in GIS at the City of Fort Myers. In that role, he created the city’s first online zoning map using Esri web mapping. He also developed high-profile maps that displayed projected foreclosures. “Some of them were used in news presentations, and one of them even made it in front of U.S. President Obama,” noted Calkins.

In 2018, Calkins stepped into the role of director of ITS for the City of Fort Myers and committed himself to meeting the department’s broad mandate. He noted that working in IT for the City presents opportunities not found in the private sector: “I love the breadth of options here. For example, I have tech over at the police department that is working on crime, solving cold-case stuff – doing geolocation, license plate readings, predictive analytics.” He added, “I consider this a very honorable position to be in.”

Finding the right match with Info-Tech

When Calkins took the helm, the department’s previous technology advisory firm was brought in to conduct an assessment and advise on steps required to get the department to the next level. However, for a small public sector IT department, the plan came with a hefty price tag for the small public-sector IT department. Seeking an alternative, Calkins came across Info-Tech and its CIO Business Vision survey. He found Info-Tech to be a better match for his department. “What I really appreciated about the Info-Tech approach over the previous advisory firm is that they tailored their advice to our size and situation,” Calkins explained. “They understood I wasn’t going to get approval for a big chunk of money or 20 new staff. Instead, they suggested we check out their workshops to help develop a game plan for building a more mature industry-leading IT department.”

“What I really appreciated about the Info-Tech approach over the previous advisory firm is that they tailored their advice to our size and situation. They understood I wasn’t going to get approval for a big chunk of money or 20 new staff.”

IT Strategy framework image

Building IT strategy one step at a time

The first step in Calkins’ journey with Info-Tech was the CIO Business Vision survey, which measures how well IT is supporting the business. Calkins acknowledged the value of an honest appraisal of his department’s performance and explained, “I need to know how my customers feel about our services. It was interesting that many saw value, but from a satisfaction perspective, we came in at only 56% satisfaction. This gave me the firepower to say, ‘Look, we’re not able to meet the customer service needs of the city and here’s proof.’”.

To improve on a service delivery model that may have resulted in poor customer satisfaction, Calkin’s next step was a Service Management Workshop.

Info-Tech’s expert facilitators helped the team create a roadmap, completed right before COVID-19 struck, to formalize the way IT services are designed and managed. “The Service Management Workshop gave me the opportunity to bring in all the big players from around the city. We’re partners with them, and we all want to make the city better. Together, we created a formal framework that describes what IT does for the organization, which proved especially valuable when the pandemic hit. We couldn’t be together as a group, but we had this formal structure to fall back on,” said Calkins. He added, “The Service Management Workshop also helped me put a new online, cloud-based help desk system in place. This allowed us to work remotely and still meet the needs of the organization.”

Laying the foundation for future initiatives

A new phone system is also on Calkins’ radar as the City is using an older VoIP system that has become challenging to maintain. To help identify their needs and assess new technologies, the team engaged Info- Tech for a Unified Communications Workshop. Calkins noted, “It was good to have that workshop because it revealed a big gap that we need to address. We couldn’t even look at this whole new sector of communications coming in because the older architecture of our domain wouldn’t support it.”

Another large project on the horizon at the City of Fort Myers is a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. “We have to figure out what we want this new ERP to do, so we need to do process mapping. However, right now, all my people have 110% workloads, so I can’t ask them to do more,” Calkins said. He turned to Info-Tech for an ERP Strategy Workshop to develop an actionable ERP strategy and roadmap.

Being able to rely on Info-Tech resources as an extension of his team, Calkins is confident they are building the right strategies for the City of Fort Myers. “What I appreciate about the Info-Tech approach is that it’s targeted to what I need done. We have a little over 1,000 employees total and a team of 22 IT people, but Info-Tech is able to bring solutions that help us at our level.”

“The Info-Tech approach is targeted to what I need done. We have a little over 1,000 employees total and a team of 22 IT people, but Info-Tech is able to bring solutions that help us at our level.”

streetview of city of fort myers

A commitment to learning drives success

When asked to share any advice with his peers, Calkins suggested that learning from and partnering with others is the best strategy when it comes to addressing challenges. He participates in various groups and associations, including the Florida Local Government Information Systems Association (FLGISA), which provides an immediate network of experts to call on. “I tend to lean on the partnership approach,” Calkins said. “There is very little you’re going to encounter that someone else hasn’t already tried to tackle. Find out how they approached it, what they tried, did it work. Ask, ‘Should we try it?’ I know it’s cliché, but you need to have a lifelong learning approach.”

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