Westmont Magazine Streamlining the County’s IT Services

Chris Chirgwin ’95 brought more than two decades of executive IT leadership and consulting experience to Santa Barbara County as its first chief information officer in 12 years. During his first six months, he’s mapping a new strategic plan to make IT its own department. “The existing IT team has been keeping the day-to-day operations going,” he says. “I want to focus on an inno­vative plan for technology in the county.”

Chris competed in track and field at Westmont, earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies and dreamed of pursuing a career in international business. He returned home to Oregon to complete an MBA at the University of Portland and fell in love with emerging technology, enrolling in as many IT and information-systems courses as they offered. “I knew I wanted to take my career in that direction,” he says. “In the midst of the dot-com craze, things were really taking off. The internet was becoming mainstream. That whole ecosystem fascinated me.”

While at the University of Portland, he started his own web development company, teaching himself web programing languages. After earning his MBA, he began working for a Portland-area software company. During his time in Portland, he reconnected with a former classmate, Dan Hislop ’93.

“Dan told me he’d started a new job at Lanspeed, a small IT company in Santa Barbara, and they were looking for someone to lead the web development group,” Chris says. “I thought that sounded pretty good.”

Chris began a long and fruitful relationship with the IT-services firm. He started as director of web development before advancing to vice president of sales and marketing. In five years, Chris became president; a year later he purchased the company, serving as CEO and owner.

“My wife and I had had our first daughter, and we were trying to decide what was next for my career,” he says. “I was looking for a new challenge.”

After 16 years, Chris sold the company and worked as a consultant to the new owner during the transition. “My wife and I prayed a lot about it, and we felt like the time was right to sell,” he says.

Not long afterward, Santa Barbara County began its nationwide search for a CIO.

Chris plays an active role in the implemen­tation of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to streamline the county’s core business processes. “We have more than 100 applications that touch finance, budgeting, HR and training, and this new ERP will reduce that number significantly and modernize many applications,” he says.

He also oversees an effort to update a public safety radio network for the county fire and sheriff’s departments, moving applications and data to the cloud to optimize resiliency and performance. “We gain a lot by sharing data across multiple departments, which have been decentralized and siloed for a long time,” he says.

Chris has been active in youth sports, serving with the Santa Barbara Soccer Club to form the new Central Coast Academy for girl’s soccer. He oversaw a track club for about 200 athletes for five years, as well as the Kicker Soccer Club in the Santa Ynez Valley.

He remembers encouraging conversations with Coach Russell Smelley and has monthly lunches with Roy Millender, a retired economics and business professor. “Westmont expanded my perspective and worldview,” he says. “The professors challenged me to grow as a person and think more broadly. They helped me become who I am today.

“My faith is important to me, and in everything I do, whether it’s work or running youth sports or leading boards, I try to live out my faith and lead with integrity, humility and an attitude of serving others.”

Chris and his wife, Jennifer, and their three daughters live in Buellton.