Vennard Wright served as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s chief technology expert in her Senate reelection bid and presidential campaign, and his next daunting task will be overhauling the sprawling Prince George’s County’s information-technology network.
When he took over as the county’s technology chief earlier this year, he encountered computer systems that were ancient by industry standards — some as old as a decade. He is replacing the county’s stock of 6,000 desktop computers, a third of which belong to the police department, and has created a 311 call center.
Still, Wright has a long way to go to modernize an IT infrastructure that connects the $2.7 billion county government.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I am the first to acknowledge that we have not been competitive in terms of IT,” Wright said. “We were very reactionary. We are working to put the county on a level playing field with Montgomery, Fairfax and D.C.,” Wright said.
Wright, 39, a lifelong Prince George’s resident, won unanimous approval Tuesday from the County Council to formally take charge of the $33 million Office of Information Technology and Communications. He earns $145,000 annually.
Wright had been on the job since January as the acting technology chief, replacing Tanya Gott, a holdover from the Jack B. Johnson administration.
Brad Seamon, the county’s chief administrative officer, lauded Wright’s approach to the job.
“I have been . . . energized by his leadership,” said Seamon, a top aide to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). “He has always expressed a confidence in our ability to get our arms around a difficult challenge, and we are currently in the process of doing that.”
Wright oversees 69 employees and must coordinate with the county’s various agencies, all of which need to communicate with one another and share data.
One of his major projects this year was the creation of the 311 center, an online and telephone call-in system that county residents use to place requests for service, lodge complaints and obtain information. Baker had promised when he ran for office that he would create the 311 system, something that Montgomery County and the District have put in place.
Prince George’s 311 online center opened July 1, and the call center on Oct. 1 in the basement of the county administration building in Upper Marlboro. It has logged more than 19,000 calls and more than 10,000 online requests.
And Wright and his staff are playing key roles in speeding up the contracting and procurement processes, by establishing a database with a list of prequalified contractors. If a contractor is on the list and is awarded a contract, the new system quickly provides information about the company that the county needs to issue the contract, potentially reducing delays by weeks.
“One of the biggest complaints we get is that it takes too long to issue a contract,” Wright said.
Two major challenges remain on Wright’s to-do list. Wright, who received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland, is planning to set up a data-collection warehouse to make sure that online data is being gathered in a format that can be read and understood by many agencies, as well as the public.
His other project is an overhaul of the county’s fiscal data systems for payroll, timecards, grants and other information linked to payments. Fairfax and Montgomery have redone their systems for tracking information and disbursing funds in recent years, spending as much as $40 million. Wright says he thinks he can get it done for less because of the state of the economy. “I think we can come in under $30 million,” he said.
Wright said the county wants to create online elements such as interactive maps so residents and businesses can examine data for specific communities.
The users would be able to look up information about public school test scores, incidence of crime, property values, county services, nearby parks and other information.
The data also will help inform policy decisions and budget proposals.
“The idea is to have all the data in one place so that we can report, identify trends and apply resources to formulate our budgets,” he said. “It will give us a good feel where problems are and will allow us to use data to make more informed decisions.”
That data-collection system is critical to Baker’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, begun earlier this year. It targets high-crime areas and tries to step up government and social services, as well as improve quality of life by better coordinating trash pick-up and cracking down on problems such as illegal dumping.
“It can change the way we do business,” Wright said. “It is more difficult than it sounds. The data is in so many different places, in so many different conditions.”