Craig McBeath – City of Bloomington
Craig McBeath earned a promotion to director of information technology for the City of Bloomington, Illinois, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And his first task was keeping the city’s services up and running as the whole country was shutting down.
Located in central Illinois, roughly two hours southwest of Chicago, Bloomington is home to over 78,600 people. McBeath says many local governments, including his own, weren’t prepared to work from home, so his team quickly developed plans and set up infrastructure that allowed more than 100 people to connect remotely within the first week. They were able to keep essential city services—such as financial management, utility billing, public works operations like garbage and recycling, and remote public meetings—functioning even as residents hunkered down and braced for the virus to spread.
McBeath’s team then had to figure out how they were going to guarantee everyone else could work remotely. The IT department supports 24/7 operations such as police, fire and water distribution, which were even more crucial amid the pandemic.
“We took the mandates and requirements given to us and figured out a technical solution to do it in the most efficient way possible,” McBeath says. “So, when those executive orders came down from the governor or from the president, we knew exactly what we needed to do.”
To ensure everyone could work remotely, McBeath and his team tapped multiple vendors to acquire new and used equipment. Supply chain issues were a problem, and with the rush to place orders for mobile devices, sourcing the equipment was a struggle.
“We had to look beyond our normal specs just to see what was in the channel and what we could get,” McBeath says. “Some of the laptops we had were refurbished, and some were more high-end because that was the only thing left.”
Early on, McBeath also realized they would need a game plan going forward. So, they developed the IT strategic plan, which included hiring additional staffers such as a dedicated security analyst.
McBeath and his team spent over a year working on the strategic plan, identifying what they should focus on and what could be done cheaper and more efficiently elsewhere. Two years ago, that culminated in a three-year roadmap, which they have followed ever since.
“We had been reactive for so long, we never had time to step back and look at the initiatives from a priority level,” McBeath says. “And if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. So that was very enlightening for us and the administration and City Council.”
One of the initiatives in the strategic plan was an IT department reorganization. McBeath and his team explained the need for seven new full-time positions, which they filled the following fiscal year. They also created divisions within the IT department to provide better support for enterprise systems, operations and infrastructure.
Partnerships preserve public safety
In tandem with the strategic plan, McBeath was working on building relationships with key partners and agencies, so Bloomington would have those resources when needed. After the city council unanimously adopted the new strategic plan in 2021, McBeath was able to take a closer look at relationships with other area agencies—not just within the city of Bloomington but also with surrounding cities and counties.
“We’re all going through the same thing,” he says. “So, we spent a lot of time fostering those partnerships and working on communication between them, even during that difficult time.”
McBeath also worked to strengthen relationships with vendors, building up communication channels, and it has paid off. For example, Bloomington has been collaborating with Scientel Solutions, a smart infrastructure provider based in Aurora, Illinois, to upgrade the city’s public safety wireless network.
“We have been privileged to work with the City of Bloomington to enhance its network infrastructure, ensuring the city and its constituents have a secure and reliable wireless network,” says Glenn Luckman, vice president at Scientel. “Through our partnership, the goal has been to construct an optimal network for the city to run its entire system on, creating a safer and more secure environment in the process.”
Scientel is currently working with McBeath and his team to install point-to-point and point-to-multi-point links across rooftops, towers and intersections to give law enforcement visibility through a network of Wi-Fi-enabled public safety cameras across the city. They expect to complete the project by summer 2023.
“We’re doing some things with this initiative that a lot of communities aren’t doing yet,” McBeath says. “It enhances community safety by solving and preventing crimes, expediting searches for missing or at-risk individuals. It also saves investigators time and has proven highly effective in court.”
Saving lives through technology
McBeath joined the City of Bloomington as a PC support specialist in 1997. He went on to become the city’s first webmaster, then a senior technical business analyst.
Today, McBeath has been with the City of Bloomington for nearly 26 years. He credits his team of 24 with putting systems in place to make the city less of a target for cyberattacks and keeping the city operating.
“Without them, I couldn’t do this job,” he says. “I knew I could do this role because they trusted in me. I took this role because I didn’t want to let them down, and they haven’t let me down.”
In fact, McBeath says his team has emerged from the crucible of the pandemic stronger than ever, underscoring the vital role of IT departments in organizational resilience and growth. There’s a willingness to serve the community and do the right thing, he says. For them, ensuring that technology works smoothly is sometimes a matter of life or death.
“My favorite thing about this job is the fact that I am helping make the community better,” he says. “Seeing the impact we make is truly rewarding, whether it’s enhancing the quality of life through technology, facilitating smoother interactions with the city or businesses, or helping our first responders save lives.”
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