– Politics and Technology

Mayor Greg Nickels

Mayor Greg Nickels

On Friday August 21st, Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle conceded defeat in our 2009 primary election. In an eight-way race for Mayor, he came in third. Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn, both running their first races for elected office, received more votes than Greg in the August 18th primary.  The general election is November 3rd.  Come January 1st 2010, there will be a new Mayor in Seattle.  As CIO and a Department Director, I work directly for the Mayor.  On January 1st, either I’ll have a new boss, or Seattle will have a new CTO/CIO and I’ll have a lot of free time on my hands.

“Technology is driven by the business need.”   That’s a mantra for CIOs everywhere, whether we work in government , the private sector or at a non-profit.  As a CIO you can work in banking or manufacturing or a federal government agency or in a foundation or at a hospital.  In every case, the primary purpose of your business is not technology, but rather creating a product or delivering a service.  You, as CIO, use technology to make the organization more effective and efficient at its business, to give it a competitive edge.  It’s a wonderful job, CIO. You get learn and understand the business.  In my case, that’s permitting and utilities, emergency management and firefighting, entertainment (Seattle Center, parks) and policing, transportation and land use – all the products and services of the City government of Seattle.

And, as CIO, you are deeply involved in technology, which is full of innovation and constant change as IT moves ever forward.  And the CIO gets to marry the two, bringing the wonders of technology to the business of governing. 

Leaders change everywhere, and often suddenly.  Companies are bought and sold.  Non-profits expand and contract.  Businesses are born and die.  But only in government are your leaders elected, and do you get to watch the fascinating process of political campaigns, the ebb and flow of debates and public forums, the expose’ of news stories and endless mudslinging and chanting of blogs and newspapers and websites.  I have to admit that the vigorous debate and entertainment value of the political process is a significant portion the compensation I receive as Chief Technology Officer in Seattle. 

As Seattle’s CTO/CIO, I’ve not been one who believes technology and politics are separate.  I do NOT believe technology is “above” or “outside” politics.  As a private citizen, outside my job and away from my official duties, I’ve been involved in that political process.  I’ve engaged with candidates for many different offices, exploring a bit of their philosophies about the intersections of politics and governing and technology. 

The march of day-to-day business of Seattle’s City government and the use of technology in government will continue unchanged through this transition between Mayors.  The e-mail will keep flowing, the Seattle Channel will keep broadcasting.  The customer service systems will churn out utility bills and the financial management systems will process receipts and payments and general ledger entries.  We’ll continue stringing fiber optic cable and expanding the intelligent transportation system.  The service desk will answer calls for tech help and there will be dial tone when employees pick up their telephone sets.  The IVR (interactive voice response) will still process phone calls for help from constituents and the website www.seattle.gov will continue to expand and grow with services and information.  

If anything, our challenge continues to be the $72.5 million dollar general fund budget deficit.  Our water and electric utilities face financial challenges as great as the generally funded departments.  The Department of Information Technology will be smaller next year in both budget and staffing.  In developing that budget, I’ve tried to preserve core services plus a little staffing and funding for harnessing the ever-changing landscape of technology for the City’s use. 

Leadership – political leadership from Mayors and Governors and Presidents – does make a difference.  From a technology perspective, we are seeing that in Washington DC today, with a massive thrust towards transparency and accountability via the Internet and web.  We have a President who embraces change by using a BlackBerry and pushing his government to use Web 2.0 tools, blogs and online policy forums.

 Very recently, Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, who chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, laid out a vision for embracing similar change in Seattle.   In Seattle, our website www.seattle.gov has twice won “top municipal web portal” (2001, 2006), our municipal TV channel 21 has twice received top honors for municipal television programming for a City our size (2007, 2008) and regularly receives Emmy awards.  We’ve embraced blogs, with an announcement this week of CityLink, multiple blogs on City department sites, linked together into a blog roll-up.  We have police and fire and other departments tweeting the latest news.   We are on the verge of municipal broadband (Mayor Nickels was NATOA’s Broadband 2008 Broadband Hero of the Year).   We have mashups showing Fire 911 calls, transportation traveler’s information and My Neighborhood Map.   We are wrapping up a ten-year, $20 million replacement of Law-Safety-Justice technology systems which has and brought new computer-aided-dispatch systems, computers and cameras to police and fire vehicles, and an integrated police-law-court system.   This year we will finish a wholesale upgrade of the entire City government to Microsoft’s Office 2007, Active Directory and the latest version of Exchange/Outlook.  There are many other accomplishments I could mention.   They are the direct result of having smart city employees, good managers, and enlightened leadership in our departments.

But these investments are also the result of having a City Council and a Mayor who see the value of technology and support its application to the business of government.   It does make a difference who is elected.   Those who want to see government more efficient and effective, and who want to apply technology to improve government, and to make it more accountable and transparent, need to be involved in the political process of electing leaders who will make that happen. 

In Seattle, over the next 50 days, that’s what I’ll be doing.

1 Comment

Filed under blog, elections, management of technology, seattle channel, web 2.0

One response to “– Politics and Technology

  1. Pingback: – A Chicken in Every Pot « the Chief Seattle Geek blog

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