Exclusive Interview of Brian Thomas of City of Lawrence. Edited by Powered Magazine
In a world where technology has become the cornerstone of progress, leaders like Brian Thomas are at the forefront, driving innovation and transforming cities. As the esteemed Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the City of Lawrence, Kansas, Brian Thomas has been instrumental in leveraging technology to enhance public services and improve the lives of citizens. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Brian's visionary mindset, his groundbreaking initiatives, and the remarkable impact he is making as a catalyst for technological advancement in Lawrence. Join us as we uncover the driving force behind the city's digital transformation and gain insights from the remarkable journey of Brian Thomas.
Tell us about yourself and your role.
I, Brian Thomas After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, my background and education have been in the technology field, predominantly healthcare. I am currently the CIO for the City of Lawrence, Kansas. As the CIO, my top priorities are helping our city’s leadership implement the strategic plan, assisting with a performance improvement programme, and providing technology vision and support for 950 employees.
What were your biggest challenges when serving as CIO at the city or other companies?
Challenges come in many forms, but what I have found sitting in the C-Suite and over my career is that planning and communicating help mitigate challenges that are avoidable. I discovered early in my career that if I was able to thoroughly learn the business I was supporting, I was able to provide solutions and better support the company and its customers.
How have you handled success and failure over the course of your career?
When handling success, I have always maintained a sense of humility and remembered where I started in my career. While I have contributed to many successful milestones, I like to say it was always a team effort. I’ve been proud to serve with many great people and teams over the years, and it’s because of them that I’m successful. As far as failures go, I would say they were some of the best learning experiences one could have. Each failure taught me a great lesson and made me look for a path to be successful at the next opportunity that came my way.
What strategies do you use to stay competitive in a changing market?
Education and networking Over the last 25 years, technology has massively changed and is still changing. Keeping your skillset sharp is key to knowing, but more importantly, having that knowledge to apply solutions to problems. Networking with peers and other leaders has also been my go-to strategy. I learn so much from others, and keeping a strong network of various professionals and leaders allows me to be available and stay marketable.
What motivations drive you to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity?
Knowing that adversity and challenges bring a new lesson or new benefit to experience. It’s important to note that there will always be peaks and valleys, and you need to remember to pace yourself and plan accordingly.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their chosen field?
You can’t learn everything in one day. Pace yourself and take deep breaths when feeling overwhelmed. Also, try to go the extra mile in everything you do. Focus on excellence and providing the best customer experience possible. Lastly, build relationships at all levels.
How have technological advances affected the way you conduct business?
You don’t realise how many things have changed in the last couple of decades until you sit down and reflect on how things were done when you first started your career. I would say the last 3–4 years have really been a game changer with some of the latest platforms, process automation, and machine learning. With conversational AI, we are seeing use cases for just about everything. For example, having a chatbot manage simple but high-volume customer requests will change everything and enhance the customer experience.
In what ways has customer feedback or response influenced how you prioritise goals and objectives for the business?
I believe that customer feedback, good or bad, is the best way to improve your product or service. I would rather get some negative responses on our surveys than none at all. Receiving no feedback can be misleading, and I believe some people think that no feedback is good feedback. If you aren’t getting feedback, then I would make it a priority to reach out and engage. Keeping your pulse on the customer is a great way to keep true north on your compass.
What trends do you see emerging in your industry that are likely to shape its future growth and development?
As mentioned previously, I believe leveraging some of these newer and emerging technologies is key to bringing more efficient processes to your organisation. Additionally, let your employees lead. They are your best asset and are fully capable of doing great things. Give them the goal, and they will amaze you with better outcomes and solutions.
What have been the most rewarding and difficult aspects of your chosen career or business path?
The most rewarding aspect of my career has certainly been the people and relationships. On the flip side, regarding difficult aspects, one could say the same about people. However, my philosophy has always been to treat people the way I’d like to be treated and to be a good listener. This has guided me to both success and personal fulfilment.
Are there any skills or areas of expertise that you think are essential for success in your field?
Sure. There’s a certain amount that is technical, but by and large, I would say that having those soft or people skills is by far more essential than the technical. Being empathetic, communicative, and transparent have certainly contributed to my success.
How has working remotely or online impacted your business over the past year?
A lot. I could spend eight hours discussing this topic. At the end of the day, remote work is a positive perk for staff. However, building camaraderie and keeping staff engaged can certainly be challenges. I have recently read a book from a good colleague of mine, “The Successful Hybrid Team”, and it has provided a lot of insights and solutions to some of the most common challenges working in a hybrid or remote environment.
What tips would you like to offer to others who are in a similar position to you but looking to take their careers further?
As I mentioned earlier, start with building foundational, long-lasting relationships. Next, find a mentor. Whether you’re a customer service representative or the CEO, this is vitally important to help navigate challenges and guide your career trajectory.