Rafael Mena cuts through the confusion and draws out the lessons from the halting, often painful journey through the jungles of the information age.
Mena, chief technology officer for Orange County, Florida, warns that the unanticipated and unintended consequences of new technology can be as significant as its potential rewards, especially if we proceed without comprehending the scope of technology's impact on humanity and the planet.
That's why Mena and his team of infotech experts work tirelessly to develop IT tools that will ensure better management of public technology and computer systems so critical to the safety and success of running Orange County. Their work has been valuable to first responders like those involved in the recent terrorist attack at an Orlando nightclub, as well as officials who track hurricane activity.
"I'm in charge of maintaining Orange County government needs from the region's 911 fire and rescue call system to the security systems at Corrections and the 311 non-emergency community service," said Mena, who earned a computer science degree at the University of Kansas and has spent more than 25 years in various roles for Orange County.
Located in Central Florida, Orange County is home to 13 municipalities, several theme parks, the world's second-largest convention center and a life science research park.
In 2011, Mena and his team introduced an app called OCFL Alert. Developed in-house by the county, the Web and phone app gives people all the vital real-time data they need before and after a hurricane: where better sandbags are developed, a map of shelters, and where to locate drinking water.
"What makes our applications so unique is that they are tied to a backend. When you submit something to us, in real time, the information creates a work order or a ticket incident. Then, it's delivered to the proper department so they can start working on the issue," said Mena, who spent some of his youth in Venezuela. "The real test in my profession is when things happen."
That's why Mena has always tried to be on the leading edge of developing IT-savvy tools. Some 70 million tourists visit Orange County every year and they have a wealth of e-government and other computer interactive apps available to them.
Mena is a stickler for ensuring that technology is scalable, and he argues that it all comes down to people and customer service. "It's all about explaining in non-business terms how a system...