NACo’s Bert Jarreau on IT’s growing role for county execs

NACo's technology sessions have been around for a while, but under the direction of Bert Jarreau, participation has grown rapidly.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bert Jarreau doesn’t represent a single county as chief information officer. Instead, he represents all of them, as the CIO for the National Association of Counties.

In addition to his day-to-day role with NACo, Jarreau also helps to lead the information technology efforts inside NACo’s membership, large and small counties alike, alongside CIOs and technology officials.

“None of this would be possible without Bert Jarreau,” Oakland County, Michigan, CIO Phil Bertolini said after NACo’s Information Technology Committee adjourned at the association’s annual conference Saturday.

The committee meeting capped off 2 1/2 full days of technology-related discussion at NACo, following the association’s CIO Forum Thursday and the Technology Innovation Summit Friday.


But the common theme in each tech-centered event was Bert Jarreau. StateScoop sat down with Jarreau at the conclusion of the technology portions of the conference.

StateScoop: You’ve been involved in 2 1/2 days of discussion centered on technology and IT. What impressed or excited you most about county IT?

Let me give it a historical perspective. When we first started doing the Technology Innovation Summits – that was even before I got here, and I’ve been here 15 1/2 years, so it’s probably been about 17 years – it was primarily IT-centric things with IT people, with geographic information officers, with chief information officers.

The evolution that I’ve seen that I was really impressed with is that we’re getting more department heads, we’re getting more board members, we’re getting people who make decisions about where their counties go and how critical IT and cybersecurity is part of that fabric. It’s another one of those risks that they have to manage, so to me that’s the most impressive part.

This year’s Technology Innovation Summit was the largest audience we’ve ever had. We had nearly 300 people that attended in person yesterday. We had another 180 that participated online. Even more important than the numbers is the makeup. Most of them were chief elected officials, board members, so that tells me we’re doing something right.


Their peers said, “You’ve got to go to the Technology Innovation Summit.” So that was music to my ears, the fact that it’s organic and it’s building. That’s the most important part — getting to the decision-makers. They are participants. In past conferences, we would have technology people asking technology questions. Most of the people asking the questions [this year] were county elected officials.

SS: Over these 2 1/2 days, the giant topic has definitely been cybersecurity and its importance to the NACo IT Committee. What are you seeing on how cybersecurity concerns are playing out in the counties?

BJ: We spent the entire discussion of the IT Committee on cybersecurity. We had cybersecurity content as a major part of our CIO Forum, where we had representatives from the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, from the private community — we had FireEye at that one. We had the Department of Homeland Security, and we had Ralph Johnson, from King County, Washington. We wanted to show the different perspectives associated with IT security.

At the Technology Innovation Summit, we had private sector experts focused on helping people understand what the risks are, where it’s headed. I really like the way they put it yesterday: You’ve got to manage risk on bridges and roads, and health care, and what we’re trying to do is make sure that they understand that this is another risk management issue. They don’t need to become experts in it, but how do you manage the risk that it poses?

Because most of the counties are putting their things online. That’s getting tougher and tougher to do without having cyber threats. We have to evaluate those things. It’s the most important thing on our agenda, as part of the IT Committee.


Granted, it’s not the most important thing for any one county representative because they’ve got to manage all of that risk, right? But to this committee, it is the No. 1 priority, and it will probably be so at least in the foreseeable future. (

In the wake of the Office of Personnel Management breach, what should counties be thinking about with cybersecurity — in the context of some of the things you’ve heard here at NACo?

Counties need to be aware. I’m not trying to say anything disparaging about my federal counterparts, but it was inexcusable that this data was not encrypted.

Part of our job is to educate our elected officials on what those responsibilities are, so if they’re aware of it, they can deal with it. Go back and find out where you are in this whole rubric of assessments, and then find the resources that are available to us — such as what you heard from CySafe [a cybersecurity assessment originating from Oakland County, Michigan, and posted on the county’s G2G Marketplace for free download], or from MS-ISAC and people you can go to that are subject matter experts.

Sometimes you need extra help. We have representatives here from corporate America. We’re not endorsing anyone, we’re saying “here they are.”


To be aware, you need to first go back and assess. So we’re encouraging the assessment, introducing them to people that can help them and reintroducing people to our County Innovation Network and peer-to-peer networking. We’ve got 3,069 counties, so how do we get the word out to them? For our CIO Forum and Technology Innovation Summit, we have recordings that we’re going to be putting online shortly after this conference, so they can see everything that we covered. Every presentation that was given will be available.

How do we sustain it? Our County Innovation Network, peer-to-peer, will let people know who the subject matter experts in cybersecurity are, and how you can get to them. That’s how we plan to sustain it.

SS: How do you hope to continue the growth of the technology portions of this conference?

The great news is that we haven’t really had to do much of a marketing effort. We had a reception, and we invited people who typically don’t come to our innovation summit. We invited the leadership of every one of our steering committees, we invited our board of directors, our large urban counties, rural counties, and they came to the event and they said, “I heard some wonderful things” from the people on their staff who attended these sessions and wanted to get more involved.

And I use that as an example because this word of mouth is getting out, and we’re getting great support. Our NACo leadership has been great about giving us what we need. Each year, the rooms get bigger, we’ve gotten sponsors. This year, we got 12 sponsors. So I see that only growing. Next year, we’ll have a bigger room, we’ll continue to participate online, and we’ll continue to make sure that we have videocasting so people can participate. We’re getting instantaneous feedback from people in our counties, it’s just a wonderful thing.

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