A native New Yorker, Polycom's Government Expert Alphonzo Albright has survived major disasters including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. These experiences have shaped how he views each and every day, and gives us insight into why he's so passionate about helping governments around the globe understand how technology can help with disaster recovery and business continuity.
What was your career path to Polycom? It’s been quite a journey. But I think each step I’ve taken has made me into the person, and professional I am now. When I was a freshman in college, I worked as an EMT (emergency medical technician) ambulance driver during the summer months for a private company in Long Beach, New York. I worked the 4am-1pm shift doing some of the same work as the ER, but with an eighth of the room, fewer people and at 70mph. It's a wonderful experience that gave me the opportunity to meet all kinds of people. Helping others is a passion that I've taken with me throughout my career.
After the summer, I went back to school in Pennsylvania at Lincoln University where I studied Criminal Law and Computer Science. My first job out of college was as a probation officer trainee for the City of New York, Department of Probation. My next assignment in the department was working in the Field Service Unit as a warrant officer, knocking on doors and arresting or citing subjects. I moved up the ladder quickly and was appointed Branch Chief and then Executive Director of all alternative and detention schools for the City of New York. These were day-treatment schools for court-appointed juvenile youth.
As the executive director, I designed ATDATA, the first automated case management system for juvenile operations. It measured and tracked program accountability, and automatically delivered information to the courts and other agencies to establish protocols for improving communication. It also expedited the creation and distribution of reports, which the judges could use to assess whether the juveniles were ready for release.
This project caught the eye of then NYC Commissioner of Corrections and Probation, Professor Martin F. Horn (see the webinar featuring Professor Martin Horn). He appointed me the Chief Information Officer for NYC Department of Probation and Corrections. As the CIO, I oversaw operations, management, re-engineering, strategic and tactical planning, development, evaluation and coordination for the Office of Information Technology help desk. I was responsible for the entire re-engineering of the department of probation and corrections case management system, a $9M project. I won four awards for that case management system. Two acknowledged how the system allowed for data exchanges so that other branches of law enforcement could access data all around the state. The third was for Manager of the Year and the fourth was from the Project Management Institute. In 2006, the city of New York invested in me and sent me to Harvard University’s JFK School of Government where I studied executive government, senior executives in state and local government, driving government performance, collaboration initiatives, and crisis management.
Fast forward, I was promoted to Deputy Commissioner of Administration and Intelligence of the City of New York, Department of Probation. I oversaw the Office of Information Technology, fiscal and budget, personnel and human resources, facility and fleet management, management analysis and planning, compstat unit and the intelligence division. I was briefly appointed to 1st Deputy Commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “First Deputy Commissioner Exchange,” a three-week management exercise in which the first deputy of every City agency was assigned to a different agency with a goal to improve inter-agency knowledge and communication, foster collaboration and improve services for New Yorkers. I returned to my post with probation and corrections for a number of years, and was later recruited by Polycom to support the government space.
All of these steps in my life led me to here. Through my journey, I learned a love for technology, for making a difference and for helping people. That’s why I’m at Polycom today.
As a resident of New York, you’ve braved through both the 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy events. Can you talk about some of your roles and experiences? September 11th was a devastating time. It was time when we were just starting to think about things like working from home. Suddenly, our city stopped. Chaos ensued and many businesses were trying to pick up the pieces. I knew people who died that day. It was terribly tragic. And for me personally, it made me think a lot more about the importance of business continuity. I was an executive assistant to the Deputy Commissioner of Operations NYC Department of Probation at the time. My responsibilities included coordinating business continuity across 19 locations, working with the Mayors Office of Operations and Office of Emergency Management for the City of New York. Prior to 9/11, there weren’t plans in place for this type of response. We developed plans because of 9/11, including emergency contact lists, emergency evacuation plans, meeting locations, and appointing team leaders. We started teleworking way back then. It wasn’t done over video as we do today, but we had a plan in place and specialized units so that people could work from home.
11 years later during Hurricane Sandy, I was at ground zero of the flooding and power outages. It was the worst disaster that I’ve lived through. 9/11 impacted me because I worked in the city, but Sandy reached home. I lost the ground floor of my house to the storm. The entire city of Long Beach was more than 2 feet of water at the lowest level. We had 17 days of no lights, electricity, or heat – and this was in November. It was bone cold and people were suffering and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of how bad it was. It was tough. My love of supporting my community brought me to the local ice skating rink where we immediately started taking in perishables, food and clothing. During that time, my day job didn’t stop either. My desk was my dashboard, my conference table was the passenger seat and my file cabinet was my trunk. I worked out of my car and used mobile videoconferencing – for 17 days!
The collaboration among the city of Long Beach government officials, first responders and citizens was absolutely tremendous, though, and incited a lot of discussions about how a video-enabled emergency command center could support disasters in the future.
In November, Buffalo, NY residents looked out their windows and saw a major snowstorm. What is the effect on businesses when major storms occur? Sadly, the impacts of these storms have a HUGE effect on businesses. It’s unsafe. Everything just stops in its place and businesses really are forced to ride it out. Transportation shuts down, so people can’t get to their work locations. When you look at business continuity and the need to plan ahead, that’s what it boils down to. We have a great opportunity to prepare now. If it happened once, it will happen again and shame on us if we’re not prepared. What happened in Buffalo is something that happens in other places and other countries every year. We need to be better prepared. That’s the bottom line.
When it comes to business continuity, what are the top three tips businesses should be thinking about? The first thing is corporate governance, meaning having the leadership in place where decisions will be made and handed down to certain individuals, and those individuals should be prepared to handle their respective roles. Nothing starts without corporate governance.
The second is looking at your business continuity as a retail store sells its inventory. If you walked into a retail store today, chances are, you’d see a winter blowout sale and spring apparel. It’s like seeing back-to-school supplies on sale in June! You have to think ahead – far, far ahead. If the recent snowstorms in Buffalo only had you thinking about a solution now, you’re too late. At this juncture, you need to think about having something in place ahead of our next hurricane season, TODAY.
The third I’d call: “penny dumb, dollar wise.” Preparation will save you money. Spend wisely and do your research. Before Sandy hit, emergency power generators in my area were between $300-$400. The day after Sandy hit, generators were $1700 – and you had to pay by cash. As with retail stores, you can get bargains “out of season.” When a crisis occurs, business continuity solution prices will go up – as they did with the generators. If you purchase in the time of crisis management, you will pay more.
We’ve talked about business continuity, but what about the students? Does Polycom have the power to eliminate snow days? Absolutely. As the winter season intensifies and many parts of the country have already seen their first snow, government education administrations and schools are preparing for snow days. Last year, many schools missed a week or more of school due to the weather conditions, and many educators are looking for a way to eliminate snow days.
Schools could leverage Polycom video services during the winter months so that students could use video to join a teacher for a lesson. Several of our customers are using it in this fashion. It’s already happening in rural Alaska, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Ohio and other districts across the U.S. Many have already implemented this idea and have successfully continued using it with little opposition from students. There is also a cost benefit here too. You wouldn’t need the gas being used by the buses, which only increases during a snowstorm, and doing more video could reduce carbon emissions. Most importantly, the biggest reward is child safety, since they wouldn’t need to leave home.
From a global perspective, no matter where someone lives, weather issues can affect ways of life, and using Polycom solutions for business continuity could help.
What do you like to do in your free time? Since 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, I think and pray. My family is my first thought in the morning and the last in the night. Having somewhere to go home to and someone to love is a blessing.
On weekends you'll often find me playing basketball (I played in high school and college) or football. I also particpate in several organizations that support youth, advocacy and technology including:
The Chain - Founding Member
Project Excellence in Motion for after school children - Board Member
Public Safety Commission - Board Member
Commission for Underage Drinking - Board Member
Nassau County Corrections Visitation Advisory Board - Board Member
Oiada International, INC - Board Member
Local Development Corporation - Vice President
Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center - Member
International Corrections and Prisons Association Technology Committee – Member
For more stories about how Polycom has helped with Emergency Services, see the video and written case studies for: