Terri Bettinger – Franklin County, Ohio

Four rules for better technology and government

After 26 years working with banking giants like JP Morgan and Citigroup, Terri Bettinger had an epiphany.

“If I’m going to be a workaholic, then I want to bring my passion and work ethic to benefit my local community,” she says.

She’s been CIO of Franklin County, Ohio, for two years now, and has leveraged her private sector experience to make government more efficient. Underpinning her philosophy are her four tenets for good technological solutions: that they solve multiple issues at once, be user friendly, be secure and be reusable among different government agencies.

Terri Bettinger – Franklin County, Ohio

Technology that meets these criteria, she says, will not only save the government time and money, but modernize it, helping Franklin County swap out paper processes and long lines for efficient smartphone apps and digital forms.

One stone, many birds

Bettinger’s first tenet—that technology be useful for multiple issues—is the art of taking one piece of technology and adapting it to dozens of customers. Bettinger’s IT department is doing that with a recent update to its enterprise content management system (ECM), which creates a digital template that simplifies the process of bringing on new employees.

The template not only lets managers fill in basic employee info, like phone numbers and addresses, but can also be customized so that each department can add unique content, like their own training materials, which may include anything from videos, to modules, to short simulations.

This will replace the old system, where each department came up with its own method for recording employee data and its own way of training.

“The animal welfare department probably has very different needs and training than the court system, so it’s important that each agency be able to adapt the system to what it wants,” she says.

The county has already started rolling the system out and a few agencies getting ready to use it.

The system will also help modernize the government by making training materials more fun. Instead of conventional seminars and workbooks, Bettinger says the new system’s ability to handle interactive modules and online videos may be more intuitive to millennials.

“As millennials are onboarding, they’ll feel like the training is speaking to them,” Bettinger says.

Cutting the middleman

Content management also illustrates the importance of Bettinger’s second tenet, that everyone, not just IT staff, be able to use technology. She says the county has been revitalizing its website and part of that project is letting each department modify its page without going through the IT department.

Before, Bettinger says that departments sent a formal request to change their webpage to the staff at the county’s data center.

“Now, each department can alter content in real time,” she says. “They can do everything from post emergency information to just changing their page’s color scheme for the fall.”

This change gives all departments more control, but also frees data center staff to focus on more skilled, innovative projects like developing a new app or service.

Sharing the bounty

Another way the county saves on money and manpower is through Bettinger’s third tenet—that technology be shareable between different agencies and levels of government.

She says government agencies generally don’t share enough information, and that includes technology. She uses vendor procurement as an example—if the state of Ohio has negotiated a contract for software, then Franklin County, she says, shouldn’t have to approach the same vendor and go through an entirely new negotiation. Instead, the county should be able to tap into the state’s agreement.

“In theory, I should never need to buy anything,” Bettinger says. “I should be able to find a municipality that has already built the technology I need and I should be able to leverage their successes,” she says.

If the county can share software and hardware in this way, it can avoid costly installation and maintenance fees. She also says that sharing technology creates consistency among levels of government, making it easier for the state and county to exchange information quickly and without losing anything.

“You have so many systems—HR systems, time tracking systems, accounting systems—if we all share [the same technology] we get built-in efficiency,” Bettinger says.

Modern cyber warfare

The last of Bettinger’s tenets, that technology be secure, may seem obvious, but it can also be the most challenging.

“As fast as our teenagers are downloading apps, that’s how fast we have to create solutions to protect and secure them.”

“As fast as our teenagers are downloading apps, that’s how fast we have to create solutions to protect and secure them,” she says.

She says the cybersecurity of 10 years ago was akin to the county building a fort, hunkering down and trying to protect itself from outside forces. Now, she says, security, like warfare, has become more agile and threats can arise from within the county’s systems as well as from outside.

To stay vigilant, the county works with digital security consultancy, Securance. President Paul Ashe says his team helps the county develop response plans in case of attack and offers guidance on improving its internal processes to be more secure. He agrees with Bettinger that it’s not enough to install a firewall; instead protocol must be put in place that prevents anyone—even current or former employees—from easily accessing sensitive information.

Even then, breaches are inevitable—during the last two months of 2016, not only did large counties, like Los Angeles County in California and Erie and Niagara Counties in New York get hacked, but fears about the U.S.’s national cyber defenses against foreign hackers made headlines. Regardless of the size of the government, Bettinger says the best tactic is to focus on responding quickly and shutting down threats, rather than ‘defending the perimeter.’”

Ashe describes the IT team at Franklin County as “unique in the government space” for being receptive to suggestions and willing to undergo any and all assessments to improve security.

Doing the most good

Cumulatively, these tenets push for the same thing: user-friendly, easily accessible government. More than saving money or increasing efficiency, the ultimate goal of Bettinger’s tenets is to make it easier for government employees to communicate with each other as well as residents, making everyone’s life easier.

This was the kind of change she had in mind when she decided to work for Franklin County in 2015.

“I switched to the public sector because local government is where every single person, regardless of race, creed, or politics, is affected,” she says.

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