Karen Stewart

Karen Stewart image

Karen Stewart

Position: Chief Information Officer

Job title and employer:

CIO (Chief Information Officer) for the City of Maple Ridge


What does your job title mean?

A Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the company executive responsible for the management, implementation, and usability of information and computer technologies in support of the organization’s enterprise goals and mission. The CIO manages the information technology team and works with them to analyze how various technologies will benefit the organization or improve existing business processes. The CIO looks at the strategic direction of the organization and creates an Information Technology Strategic Plan to support the direction and create sustainability. The CIO will lead and mentor the team and other staff to implement a system(s) to realize the required benefits or improvements well into the future.

In the 1980s, the CIO position was more technical as companies maintained their internal computers, databases, and communications networks. The role has changed over the years because of the many advances in technology, such as cloud computing, wireless communications, big-data analytics, and mobile enablement. CIOs have become strategic advisors and thought leaders that strategically plan for the future, develop strategies and computer systems to keep their organization competitive and secure in a fast-changing global marketplace.

Background information:

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

 Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

Where do you live now?

 Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Where did you complete your training or education?

British Columbia Institute of Technology, Bachelor of Technology, Geomatics


What you do at work?

I manage the Information Technology (IT) team for the City of Maple Ridge. In this position, I am responsible for directing all Information Technology functions in the organization. I do this within the framework set by the corporate and Council strategic plans. I provide leadership, insight and strategic direction to the IT team. I support the City’s strategic direction and processes through technology.

I am a thought leader and innovator. This means that I bring in new ideas and ways of doing things. I use technology to improve communication, operations and decision-making. My goal is to improve the services provided by the City of Maple Ridge. This is done through the efficient use of information and geographic technologies, data and connected workflows. All this has to be carried out using the available budget. To do this I also provide advice and direction to staff throughout the city. I do this by making sure the Information Technology team and other business areas are in regular contact.

In my work, I use skills related to information technology and geographic information systems (GIS). I also use skills related to the management of people, resources and services. I use a variety of tools to review current processes and recommend technology upgrades. I also provide advice on planned initiatives to make sure the City gets the best from its technology assets.

I make decisions every day. My main tasks include recommending, developing and implementing approved information systems. I also lead the development of policies and strategies to support the City’s current and future business information and data needs. I am also responsible for directing the analysis and development of information systems requirements. To do this I have to keep up to date with technical innovations, and develop short, mid and long-term information services plans. When necessary, I also recommend hardware and software changes and upgrades. I work with the IT team and all of the City’s departments to review technology applications and business practices. The goal is to help city staff, the public and businesses improve what they do by making better use of the technology tools we have available.

A background in STEM helps me solve problems. These skills provide me with the knowledge, skills and ability to see the big picture. My STEM skills help me think logically about a problem and at the same time be creative in my solutions. I always start by asking “why”. I focus on the business process and required outcomes first. Then I investigate technology solutions that will provide the needed changes. Mostly, I have fun!

How does what you do affect people’s lives?

A career in Technology/GIS/Geomatics gives you the tools to help solve issues in your own community. These issues can relate to such things a health, zoning, services, greenways, crime, trash, traffic, and more. It allows you to bring data, technology, people and processes together to improve a community need. To be effective solving community needs there has to be collaboration across government agencies, citizen communities and businesses. GIS is a technology that improves this entire process. With the use of GIS, goals become actionable, real-world initiatives that create safe, well-run, livable, healthy, prosperous and sustainable communities. I believe there is nothing we can’t solve using technology as long as we can manage the people, data and processes required to implement the solution.


What motivates you in your career?

I love solving problems and innovating! I find it fascinating to look at the trends in Information Technology and how new innovations can be used to solve problems. I enjoy solving problems, creating efficiency using technology and helping people make data-driven decisions. This career is right for me because I am a creative thinker – a technical artist and problem solver. My career enables all of this. Technology can help us solve problems and create better ways of doing things. It can also help connect people and workflows. To do this, people, processes and business outcomes have to be considered holistically (i.e., as a group of interconnected parts).

Working in local government and making an impact in the community is personally rewarding to me. In 2019 I won the ASAP Award for Innovation at the City of Abbotsford. In 2012 I received a Service Award from URISA for my dedication and faithful service to URISA. In 2011 I received an award of appreciation for sitting on the board of directors for URISA. In 2005 our URISA BC Chapter won an outstanding chapter award. In 2004 I received an excellence in leadership award from URISA BC. I have also presented at various conferences, trade shows and meetings to advance the use of GIS and technology, including at Women in Public Works and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities events.


How did you get to where you are today?

I did not expect to get into this field when I was in high school. When I was in high school, I wanted to become a marine biologist. Instead, I started out in the Arts (Graphics and Communication) and then moved into Geomatics. I was fascinated by the analytical capabilities of the technology. I graduated from BCIT with a Bachelor of Technology Geomatics Degree.

Instead of an apprenticeship or internship I completed a practicum. My career started out in utilities with BC Gas. Then I moved into local government and then to the private sector. I came back to local government as the Senior Manager of Geomatics for the City of Abbotsford. Now, I am the CIO (Chief Information Officer) for the City of Maple Ridge, which I am absolutely thrilled about!

My career has had a few twists and turns. I did not think about the fact that the industry I chose was male dominated when I started out. It proved to have some challenges. However, I have always been determined to succeed. I did not let the fact that I was one of very few women in this industry hold me back. As CIO for the City of Maple Ridge, I hope to inspire many young people to thrive on innovation, solve issues using technology, while keeping people, processes, data and the big picture in mind. Keep it holistic!


What activities do you enjoy outside of work?

I love to travel and see how people work, live and play in other countries. It is great to meet and experience how the local people live. I like to take jewelry that I made (handmade in Canada) and give it to a local to say ‘thanks’ for the kindness they show. Over the course of my career, I have volunteered for numerous trade associations (e.g., URISA, URISA BC, MISA BC, GITA, PWABC) as well as Toastmasters. I also belonged to a semi-professional acting troupe that raised money for different charities. We raised over $200K during a span of 14 years of volunteering. I love hiking, walking, cycling and weather permitting – snorkeling. I have also been known to do some welding and silversmithing from time to time.


What advice would you give to a young person interested in a similar career?

I would say go for it! There is so much opportunity in this field. If you love problem-solving, technology, making the world a better place and creating sustainability then a career in Geomatics/GIS/Information Technology could be for you. To be successful you should make sure to get an advanced diploma or degree in Geomatics/GIS. Having your Applied Science Technologist (AScT) designation is helpful for career placement. I also have a Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) designation, which I believe is valuable to have in this field. Belonging to various trade associations and getting involved is helpful to grow your network. People love to help people and you never know when you may need a mentor. Always start with why? Do not take anything personal. Learn from your mistakes. Be compassionate. Have integrity. Be trustworthy and support your team. Always focus on continuous improvement.


As a female professional, how can you influence the advancement of women in engineering and technology?

As a female professional, you can influence the advancement of women in engineering and technology by being professional, supportive, staying on top of trends. By making sure you become a thought leader other people will trust your opinions and the solutions you provide, which will in turn help influence advancement of other women in engineering and technology. You can also become a mentor to other women and if you are in a position to do so work with Coop, Practicums, Interns and apprentices to ensure they have the best start they can to gain experience and advance their careers. I have never said no to speaking and presenting across the country. I have also written blogs and white papers to help spread my knowledge. I believe that the more women sharing knowledge the more will aspire to do the same.


When I was in high school, I enjoyed…


Computer Science

Foods and Nutrition

Foreign languages



Home Economics/Family Studies

Industrial Arts / Shop Programs

Literature and English language arts


Physical Education/Health




When I was in high school, I was someone who…

Brought people together

Liked helping people

Organized activities for my friends

Enjoyed working with my hands

Was motivated by success

Engaged in volunteer activities

Liked reading

Felt at home in the outside, natural environment

Was really creative

Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades

Wasn’t sure what I wanted to do

Liked to design or build things

Engaged in activities such as fishing, berry picking and hunting


ASTTBC thanks Let’s Talk Science for their partnership in developing this career profile. Let’s Talk Science – a leading partner in Canadian education – is a national charitable organization committed to inspiring and empowering Canadian youth to develop the skills they need to participate and thrive in an ever-changing world. To accomplish this, Let’s Talk Science offers a comprehensive suite of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) based programs to support youth, educators, and volunteers across Canada. For more information about Let’s Talk Science, visit letstalkscience.ca.

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