Chief Information Officer

San Francisco District Attorney Office’s CIO on How to Drive IT Innovation

Herman Brown, Chief Information Officer, San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, offered insights into what it takes to foster a culture of innovation in IT during his keynote presentation to Argyle’s CIO membership at the 2018 CIO Leadership Forum: Data Strategy & Innovation in San Francisco on Feb. 13. In his presentation, Brown provided recommendations to help IT professionals drive innovation in their respective organizations.

Today’s IT professionals face many challenges. These professionals are forced to manage massive amounts of data across an organization. At the same time, IT professionals are tasked with promoting innovation and helping an organization optimize its productivity and efficiency.

In many instances, IT professionals are unwilling to take risks. Yet failure to experiment may cause IT professionals to miss out on opportunities to innovate.

“We, as children, are born with no limits,” Brown stated. “What happens is we become socialized … and we stop thinking outside of the box. We stop becoming creative. And we stop becoming innovative.”

IT professionals must avoid the fear of failure. Conversely, IT professionals must be willing to step outside of a comfort zone and do whatever it takes to help an organization succeed.

“In IT and technology, it is important that you know the business. But it’s also just as important to know your end users and executive team and get their buy-in and support.”

If IT professionals allocate resources to promote innovation, they help organizations achieve immediate and long-term goals. However, IT professionals must be ready to think outside the box to ensure an organization can move beyond the status quo.

“As technologists, we’re here to understand the business and improve the business. That requires us to think outside the box,” Brown said.

Building and maintaining a data strategy often is a key part of an IT professional’s day-to-day operations.

Structured and unstructured data is available to IT professionals, yet different types of data must be protected accordingly. Without the proper safeguards in place, an organization could put its clients and employees at risk.

“A data strategy is about a business’ scope, mission and long-term objectives and how we store data,” Brown noted. “This creates a huge challenge.”

IT professionals must develop data strategies to account for all available data, at all times. These strategies can be developed in conjunction with multiple departments within an organization to ensure that sensitive information is properly stored and secured.

“I have to know where my data is, and I have to know how my users are utilizing that data,” Brown pointed out. “We work very closely with many agencies in law enforcement, but I cannot share all of my data with them just because they are in law enforcement.”

IT professionals also must be able to communicate with stakeholders across their respective organizations.

“As technologists, we’re here to understand the business and improve the business. That requires us to think outside the box.”

If IT professionals can get the support they need to drive innovation, they may promote a cultural transformation within an organization. Moreover, these IT professionals can collaborate with key stakeholders in an organization and obtain the budget and resources that they need to foster innovation.

“In IT and technology, it is important that you know the business. But it’s also just as important to know your end users and executive team and get their buy-in and support,” Brown said.

Furthermore, IT professionals must consider the short- and long-term ramifications of innovation. If an innovation corresponds to an organization’s mission and goals, IT professionals may want to move forward with it. On the other hand, if an innovation leverages best-in-class technology but fails to help a company, IT professionals may want to consider other options.

“It’s not difficult to be innovative … but to be innovative, it goes back to the mindset of the individual,” Brown stated. “Are you willing to think outside the box, and are you willing to take the risk?”

IT professionals must be ready to work within their means too. These professionals generally have limited time and resources at their disposal and must explore ways to get the most out of the time and resources available to them.

“We have limitations that are put upon us … and these include time, money and people,” Brown pointed out. “Anything is possible with technology … but it is important to consider whether it is financially feasible to invest the time, money and resources to drive an innovation.”

When it comes to promoting IT innovation, there is no surefire solution that works for all organizations. Comparatively, IT professionals must remain flexible and identify opportunities to innovate.

With an open approach to innovation, IT professionals can help their organizations become more productive and efficient. These IT professionals also can challenge other departments to innovate – something that could help a company accelerate its growth and boost its revenues.

“Challenge your organization and your stakeholders and your executive team to become innovators,” Brown recommended.


Herman Brown serves the City and County of San Francisco as the CIO for the SF District Attorney’s Office. His private-sector mentality and a track record of success, proved valuable contributions to the City & County for the last 5 years.

With more than 25 years of experience in IT, Herman’s managed several enterprise initiatives. His experience spans various industries; defense, manufacturing, healthcare, software development, advertising and now local government.

Herman aims to bring efficiency, transparency, and productivity to government by leveraging technology. As CIO for the DA’s Office, Herman leads the effort to transform a government law firm laden with paper to a digital one that rivals any private sector organization.

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