W. Harold Tuck is CIO of the County of San Diego
His job includes all operational and strategic IT for San Diego County, providing services to 16,000 county employees at more than 200 facilities.
Harold Tuck subscribes to what he calls the "zero-five-three" plan. "Whenever your age ends in a zero or a five, you need to make a splash personally and professionally," he explains. "After three years, you review where you are and make mid-course corrections to get you to where you want to be."
It's worked for him. Tuck is chief information officer for the County of San Diego, CA. His responsibilities include all operational and strategic IT for San Diego County, providing services to 16,000 county employees at more than 200 facilities.
"We provide all the health and human services for the region," says Tuck. "San Diego is the second largest county in California with a population of about 3.1 million people in eighteen cities. We provide public safety, the sheriff and district attorney, medical examiner, libraries and more. Everything that local government does, we do."
In 1999 the county took what Tuck calls the "bold step" of outsourcing all IT responsibilities except law enforcement to the private sector. Hewlett-Packard is the prime subcontractor for helpdesk, desktop, network, data center and apps; AT&T is a subcontractor for network services.
"I call this a 'bold' step because it was both risky and innovative," he says. "It was risky because at the time no local government had ever outsourced its entire IT operation.
"Was it too much too soon? Should we have outsourced just a few things, watched how it went and then decided whether to do more?" he asks.
Fraught with risks
"All the staff, a lot of them part of a union, would no longer be county employees. All the hardware would be moved out of the county offices. It was fraught with risks."
The county didn't do it to save money, Tuck emphasizes. "In fact we invested $100 million to make this happen. We realized that IT was not the core competency of San Diego County, and we couldn't provide excellent service to our customers unless we had better technology to support us."
Some departments were better funded than others with more resources. Outsourcing evened the playing field and created an environment where equipment like computers and laptops would be refreshed on a routine cycle. "We want our customers on line, not in line," Tuck says with a smile.
One of Tuck's responsibilities is to ensure that the county's government and citizens receive the full benefit of a multi-year, $700 million IT outsourcing contract. "We spend about $125 million per year," Tuck calculates. He's a member of the senior executive team, reporting to the county's administrative officer, the highest appointed official.
A typical day has Tuck in the office early. Most of the day is spent in meetings with various staff members. He has fifteen people reporting directly to him including the team that manages finance contract activities like the budget, an enterprise architect, the info security officer, a communication expert, an exec assistant and the assistant CIO who runs the office on a day-to-day basis.
"They know I don't like surprises, unless it's my birthday," Tuck says. "I expect people to take ownership for what they do and deliver. It's okay to bring bad news but I expect them to mitigate it with their plan for solving the problem."
Tuck has spent almost half his life in California. He was born in Baltimore, MD but spent much of his time in rural North Carolina where his parents grew up. "In the summers I learned to garden and plow fields," he remembers. "That experience was fundamental to my upbringing in understanding how important family and religion are to me."
He attended a college-prep high school and Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD), and graduated in 1974 with a BS in biology.
"I didn't have a particular career path in mind when I started college," Tuck acknowledges. "My parents didn't attend college but they wanted their kids to go. I only wanted to get a degree and since my parents had always wanted to have a physician in the family, I studied biology.
"If I could do it over I would work harder in all my grades, from kindergarten through grad school, because I could have achieved that much more if I had put more sweat equity into it," he admits.
When he graduated a friend told him about an opening at Household Finance Corporation (HFC). Tuck was hired and went through the management training program. "It was a two-year program but I finished it in about a year," he notes.
In 1981 HFC promoted Tuck to branch manager and transferred him to San Diego, CA to open a new branch office. "I was promoted because the company was sensitive to having a diverse workforce," he says, "but I also know the company wouldn't have promoted an unqualified individual." In fact, Tuck completed an MBA from National University (San Diego, CA) in 1982.
Then a life-changing event happened, Tuck's first really big challenge: he was fired.
"By then I thought I was a superstar," he says. "I was arrogant and full of myself, and it was a humbling and humiliating experience. I was fired on the same day I went to the hospital to pick up my wife and our second child. I was at a crossroads and it dawned on me that I needed to be focused."
On to IT
In 1983 Tuck joined Comprehensive Health Center (San Diego, CA). It was his first experience in IT. "My title was assistant director but I was really the IT manager for that clinic.
"It was a good segue into what I would be doing later on," says Tuck. "I learned a lot and was the lead in automating the facility. The county hired me because of that experience."
In 1986 Tuck joined San Diego County on the operations side as electronic data processing coordinator for health services. "I was working with medical software designed to automate community health clinics for billing; the precursor of electronic medical records," he says.
He rose to regional general manager for the county health and human services agency's central region and director of housing and community development in 2001.
In 1999 he had earned an MS in public health from San Diego State University. "At the time, I thought I was going to seek a professional track where I would be the healthcare administrator," he explains. Instead, he became general manager of the public safety group in 2002 and moved into his current responsibilities in 2008.
Besides his county service, Tuck serves on the board of directors for the Neighborhood House Association, Rest Haven Children's Health Fund, and the community advisory board for Union Bank.
Tuck has announced that he plans to retire from the County of San Diego next July. He'll be sixty. "My birthday is on a Monday next year and that's the day I'm retiring. I knew that when I was twenty-five years old," he says.
He plans to keep working at something, but isn't sure what. "That's Part Two, and I don't know yet," he says.
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