"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
On Sunday March 1st I was on a train back from the NACo conference in DC. Great conference, lots of helpful cyber security stuff. Beautiful day on the train. The pandemic was just sort of on the horizon. I saw one person in the Union Train Station with a mask. No gloves. Lots of other weirdness (normal for Union Station), but little concern.
From the train I reached out to a few people and said something to the effect of "hey, we should probably talk to other local government CIOs about preparing for this pandemic thing, in case it becomes a big deal."
Alan Shark and Dale Bowen at the Public Technology Institute / CompTia agreed with me and took me up on it. I talked to some other CIOs and checked all my message boards. We did a webinar in about a day and a half about how to prepare, how to make a plan, what to expect. I did a blog post to summarize it, gave lots of advice. Very sage of me. It was sort of like Evander Holyfield telling people he had a plan for defeating Mike Tyson. This is where the above famous quote from Tyson comes from.
I would have been better off advising people to go out to eat and get a haircut while they still could.
Mike Tyson was expressing what military strategists have said for hundreds of years. No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Look up the quote by Prussian field marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder if you want a classy version of this. Sun Tzu probably said the same thing. What Tyson and Helmuth were expressing is that the plan isn't the point. The point is how you react when the plan goes south, and every plan does go south at some point. So you "planned" on an orderly distribution of laptops as employees were sent home in dribs and drabs as the situation perhaps worsened. How did you react when the word came down overnight that EVERYONE was to stay home?
I received an spam email from a vendor during this crisis that really set me off. His point was essentially that I would be remembered by how I reacted during this crisis, and anything other than to use his products would tarnish that. Lets just say I reacted negatively to his email.
But, I think he was more right than he was wrong. I think our localities, not individual departments, will be remembered for how we reacted during this crisis.
Think about this from an local government technology leadership perspective. We are well positioned to react to this, after we got punched in the face. We are used to dealing with demanding users. We are used to doing more with less. If telework (so necessary now) exists anywhere in the local government it is in the IT department. Stay home and work you say? No problem. Been trying to sell telework for years. New business processes? We have been creating these on the fly for years. Not enough laptops? Well, we know where the laptops (and bodies) are buried. Gonna need you to work long hours... Yeah well, how do you think all those enterprise projects and weekend roll-outs happen?
Not that this has been easy, it hasn't. IT staff have worked and worked and worked some more to keep the services flowing to the customers that can help our citizens. But at least we (the IT folks) are wired for it. We know what to do, and we are getting it done. I have checked in on over two dozen local government CIOs via phone and message boards, and they are all stepping up, being leaders, executing.
So remember, you (the technology leader in local government) make it look easy because you are really good at what you do. We all got punched in the mouth, and we reacted well.
So what do we do now? That will be the subject of another blog post. Here's a hint: transitioning back to any kind of "normal" in the local government offices is gonna be a real bear. Lets hope we can work with local government leaders to plan this a bit more, and maybe not get punched in the face quite as hard.
And (shameless plug) check out my podcast with Alan Shark on the CompTia feed, should be up in a couple of weeks. More sage advice and reflections. Stay well and wash those hands people!