Category Archives: customer service

If it is always “Day 1” at Amazon, it is Day 10 in Government

jeff_bezos_headshot11“I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me.  [So] what does Day 2 look like?”

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1 [at Amazon].”

So says Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon, soon to be a trillion dollar company, in his annual letter to Amazon’s stakeholders.

What are the lessons Government can learn from Bezos and Amazon?  But also, how is Government different from Amazon and other entrepreneurial private businesses?

Government is NOT at Day 2

The City of Seattle is at Day 53,830 (incorporated December 2, 1869) and the United States is at Day 87,948.   Governments have been around for dozens, hundreds of years.  They rarely go into “excruciating, painful, decline” and very very rarely die.   Are governments irrelevant?  Try getting a driver’s license or not paying your taxes.

But this longevity also leads to complacency, poor or indifferent customer service, and skepticism or outright hate by some citizens.   And governments are in competition – for industry, business, skilled and educated citizens, revenue and tax dollars.   Poorly operated governments drive away business and smart citizens, and they decline, even if they don’t die.

process-as-king-cartoonProcess as Servant, not King

Every private company and every government has bureaucracy, process, and procedures to do its business.  But in private enterprise or government, process is should not be the goal:  satisfied customers are the goal.

Jeff Bezos wants a customer-obsessed culture where Amazon employees “experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight”.

Almost always governments – and most large corporations – focus on the process of customer service, not the customer.  We make following procedures and abiding by policy take center stage, no matter what happens to our customers. The ugly episode where United Airlines recently had police drag a customer off a plane is a one example.  But government – and the Veteran’s Administration is a another example – makes process King.

This isn’t because individual employees aren’t committed to the mission – the VA is filled with thousands of dedicated employees (second only to the postal service in total numbers), working hard to take care of veterans.  But it also has bureaucrats for whom process is King, and too often they are in charge.

This lesson of keeping the focus on customers comes in tiny increments. I recently stayed at a Hilton Hotel which had a happy hour with free beer.  I arrived 15 minutes after the end of happy hour.  The bartender asked “were you here for happy hour”?  I honestly replied “no”.  She gave me a complimentary beer anyway.  In doing so, she made me a delighted customer.

In a more substantial example, I needed assistance on a social security and Medicare application.  I went to a local social security office and had to “take a number and wait in line” for more than 30 minutes.  But when I saw a counselor, she did not hurry me, asked me good questions, and gave me wise advice on choices with advantages and disadvantages of each.  Then she executed on my choice – she made it happen.  I walked away delighted by customer service, despite the wait.

We need to empower government employees to do the right thing, just like Amazon, Nordstrom and similar businesses do.

Embrace external trends

Technology for customer service innovates quickly.  Traditionally government has moved slowly and has been risk adverse.  This must change.

Computers have automated tasks which could be described with clear rules, if-then statements, and algorithms.  Think of an algorithm as a recipe where the inputs and outputs (ingredients) are described along with the steps (procedure) necessary to make the entree.

Private companies now embrace machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to power chatbots, text messaging, frequently-asked-questions and help desks.    IBM is harnessing its artificial intelligence engine Watson to revolutionize law firms, healthcare and help desks.   The City of New York is trying to use Watson to fix its aging 311 system.

Bezos points out several projects in which Amazon uses AI, including Amazon’s Prime Air delivery drones, its new futuristic grocery stores, and its virtual home assistant, Alexa.

Siri-cartoonVirtual digital assistants are proliferating in homes and businesses.  Burger King intentionally created  “TV commercials that cause Google’s voice-activated, artificial intelligence-driven Google Home speaker to start talking about the Whopper sandwich” (USA Today).  Amazon’s Alexa, invoked by its Echo devices in millions of homes, now will start appearing in many other devices including automobiles.

But few governments embrace these leading-edge technologies, preferring to force our customers to “telephone between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM” including the “our menu options have changed” phone tree, or to physically, actually show up at a government office to do business.

Public safety officers – law enforcement and firefighters – heavily use two-way radio, but are forced to sit at a keyboard to type reports or make routine queries like checking license plate numbers or verifying identities.  These are all tasks which could be automated with natural language processing and speech-to-text capabilities available in Alexa and similar products.

Governments need to adopt these high-value customer service technologies rapidly.

High-Velocity Decision Making

Most governments and large companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly.  In the case of governments, the decisions can be excruciatingly slow.  For some reason government employees love to play “gotcha”, trying to find every risk and every potential problem with a new idea, even if the chances of the issue materializing are one in a million.

When I was the Chief Technology Officer at the City of Seattle, I would gladly take one enthusiastic, “can do”, positive, product manager looking at the “new idea” glass as half full instead of a dozen devil’s advocate employees who always want to see the glass half empty, or an engineer who would say “the glass doesn’t meet our specifications”.

Speed matters.   Many decisions are trivial and inconsequential.  They can be easily reversed.  Make them fast.   But the very worst outcome is to banish a decision to a committee or kick it upstairs for a more senior manager to make.

Governments are Not Businesses

However there are differences between governments and private businesses.

Governments cannot choose their customers – we need to accept all comers.  This includes those with special needs, low income, the senile, the mentally disturbed, the homeless and the technologically challenged.   This often means we will have a “real person” help desk as well as a chatbot.

Governments are in the eye of public scrutiny.  Amazon can hide most of its bad decisions (the very public failure of the Fire Phone is an obvious exception).  Government cannot.  Mistakes such as a $43 million budget overrun for the City of Seattle’s utility billing system make headlines and are featured on the 11:00 PM news.

Does this mean government should avoid big projects?   Not at all:  Governments must embrace modern cloud-based technologies, professional project management and agile development of software systems, delivering incremental value every 6 to 8 weeks.

ChieGovernments don’t fail, private businesses do.   The United State Government has been around since 1776.  The City of Seattle has been operating since 1869.  Governments don’t face the same competitive pressure as private businesses.   Nevertheless, governments do compete for economic development, industry and citizens to locate within their boundaries.   Successful governments boom, unsuccessful ones languish.

Governments are operated by elected officials, not CEOs.    Mayors, City Council members, County Executives, Governors, legislatures and other elected officials run our various governments.   But almost all governments have three branches – executive, legislative and judicial.  These branches check and balance each other, slowing decision making.    Elected officials also … well … need to run for re-election.   That increases their aversion to taking risks.   Amazon and many private businesses, run by a CEO and a relatively uninvolved Board of Directors, can be nimbler.

It is always Day 1 at Amazon.  If Day 2 is stasis and irrelevance, government should try to be at day 1.5.

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Filed under Alexa, artificial intelligence, customer service, future of technology

People Live Horizontally but Government Organizes in Silos

Silos

Silos

One of my biggest frustrations with government organizations is their “silos of excellence” approach.

Somehow each and every government department or organization thinks it is a business unto itself, with little relationship to other departments within the same government, much less other nearby such as cities, counties, states, and fire districts.  Many Police departments think and act like they are unique, with little relationship to other government functions.  So do electric utilities (Seattle City Light), water utilities, parks departments and so forth.

People don’t live that way.   We turn on the dishwasher which uses electricity from the power company and water from the water utility and then wastewater goes down the sewer to be managed by the wastewater utility.   Then we put our trash on the curb for the solid waste utility to remove.  We get in a car which has been licensed by the DMV to drive on streets maintained by the City  and also County Transportation Departments (DOT) and then onto freeways maintained by the State DOT.  We drive to parks which we expect to be clean and safe. If we crash into something we call 911 and expect the cops to show up and ticket the perpetrator who caused the crash and we want the fire department and paramedics there to extract us from our crushed vehicle.

More importantly, many significant societal problems cannot be addressed by just one government function.  Crime is the most obvious, which isn’t so much a police problem as it is a problem with poor schools, jobs economic inequality plus inadequate support for healthcare and food.  Environmental issues are another example, where keeping Puget Sound (or any other body of water) clean is a matter not just for the “Department of Ecology” or “Environmental Protection Agency”.  Electric utilities (which often burn coal or oil in their generators), water and wastewater utilities, parks and recreation and natural resource departments all need to cooperate.

Our lives are a seamless continuum.

Governments are organized by departments each with a specific function.   The Parks Department maintains the parks, the police department enforces the laws, the fire department has the paramedics to help with medical emergencies.  The DOT maintains the street with the water and sewer lines running underneath it and the electric power lines running overhead.

This makes sense because there are so many specialist jobs involved.  I don’t want firefighters wasting their time mowing the grass in parks or electrical lineworkers writing parking tickets.

Why can’t these departments work together to make the services more seamless and efficient?

logo_minneapolis_311

A City with 311

Example 1:   who do you call?  If you have an emergency, you call 911 almost everywhere in the United States.  Everyone knows that and we teach our kids to do it at an early age.  But for almost every other service there are a bewildering series of different numbers you depending on what service you want or what problem you have.   If you get chased by an angry dog do you call the police or the fire department or animal control?   If a streetlight is out do you call the streets/transportation department or the electric utility or someone else?

Many major cities have cut through this crap by implementing 311 as a non-emergency number.  But most counties, cities and states have not done so.  311 is far from ubiquitous.  Seattle, for all its high tech reputation, is woefully behind in this, forcing people to squint through pages and pages of telephone numbers in six point font to get a non-emergency service.

Example 2:  information technology (near and dear to my heart). Does each department need to be buying its own desktop computers and software, and hiring its own employees to maintain them?   Does every individual department need its own financial management system and personnel management software?  The answer is clearly no – there’s nothing unique about the computers used in the water utility as distinct from the parks department.   In fact, there’s no real reason government employees need to even perform these functions.  Some major cities such as Minneapolis and Chicago and Riverside have outsourced most of this work to private providers.

This department-by-department approach leads to many absurdities, such as employees in a city garage installing light bars on a police cruiser, then having the cruiser driven to a radio shop for installation of two-way radios and brackets to hold a computer and then having it driven to a police computer shop where the computer is installed and software loaded.

Certain information technology is unique to departments – a Building Department has a construction licensing and permitting software whereas Parks will have software to manage recreation classes and allow citizens to sign-up.    But there’s also a lot of “enterprise” software such as budgeting and financial management and document storage which should be purchased and maintained separately, not department-by department.

All of this lack of trusting another department to do information technology, accounting, finance, human resources or similar functions leads to inefficiency and waste of taxpayer money.

So why do cities and counties set themselves up to operate vertically as independent departments?

One culprit is a department’s own view of itself as an independent entity with its own customers and customer service.  A public works department may become so self-centered that it thinks it needs its own customer call center and walk-in service center for customers and its own website with its own unique logo and brand.

Turf Wars

Turf Wars

Such a situation arises when department directors and senior staff are long-term employees who have outlasted many elected officials and collected significant positional power.

Another way this comes about is long-term employees in an IT unit or call center who have convinced their managers of their own importance – the department can’t function without their personal presence and unique experience.  Then these employees fight over turf – “this is MY department’s responsibilities, not yours”.  Government managers count their importance by the number of employees they manage and the amount of budget they control.  And the jealously guard and defend that turf.

But citizens rarely care about such crap.   They typically know who the mayor is and may also know their council member, and they want good service from their government, irrespective of the department lines.     Smart Mayors and city/county managers realize this, and set up strong, well-managed central services which are cross-departmental. Strong mayors confront departmental fiefdoms and employee self-importance, understanding citizen service trumps all that.   In smaller jurisdictions the city or county will partner with neighboring cities or counties to jointly offer better services with more efficiency.   Multi-city or county cooperation requires gutsy elected officials who are willing to give up a measure of control in return for better services.

But all of this – implementing a 311 service or consolidating a technology function – requires strong elected officials with a vision of citizen-centric customer service.

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Filed under 311, customer service, employees, government, government operations, management of technology

Nobody Elected Me

Nobody Elected MeOne of my philosophies, working as a senior level public official in a local or state government, is that the boss – the elected official – is always right.   

Most State, City, County and other non-federal CIOs either work for a city/county manager or for a Governor or Mayor.   That official is the “boss”.     We give the boss our best advice, but if they decide to do something different, then I invoke “nobody elected me”.    In other words the elected official is responsible to the citizens and constituents of the city, county or state.    And that elected official will receive a report card every two or four years in the form of an election.   If the electorate doesn’t like the way the government is running, they’ll make their wishes known at the ballot box  The Mayor or Governor was elected to make the decisions, not me.

I’ve got two reasons for writing this blog post.   The first one is to try and reflect upon the stupidity of what happened in New Jersey in September.  The second reason is to demonstrate how “nobody elected me” plays out in information technology.

Nobody Elected Me and New Jersey

ChrisChristieOne potential issue with the “nobody elected me” philosophy is ethics.   If I recommended a course of action, and my boss decided to do something different – and his decision was – in my opinion – either unethical or illegal, what would I do?    There is really only one answer to this quandary:   it is my duty to resign.  (I won’t address the issue of “going public”, e.g. Edward Snowden, as that is a difficult and thorny subject.)

Such instances are, thankfully, far and few between.  One of my heroes is Bill Ruckelshaus, who resigned as deputy United States Attorney General.   He resigned rather than carry out an order from then-President Richard Nixon to fire the special prosecutor in the Watergate affair.

As any reader probably knows, staff members of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered the closure of all-but-one traffic lane on an approach to the George Washington Bridge in early September, 2013.  Governor Christie was conducting a campaign for re-election, and the closure was apparently ordered to “punish” the Mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

If you were an employee of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and you were actually ordered to set up the traffic cones and shut down traffic for no apparent reason, what should you do?   Refuse to obey the order?    On what grounds?

I can’t judge the employees of the Port Authority because I don’t know what they (or their supervisors or their managers or their directors) were thinking as the traffic cones went into place and all hell broke loose for three days of traffic on that bridge.    Perhaps they invoked “Nobody Elected Me” or “the boss is always right”.   Perhaps they feared to question the order in order to preserve their jobs.    Somebody in New Jersey government, however, should have been asking questions in September, not now in January, 2014.

Nobody Elected Me and Information Technology

“Nobody elected me” is useful when explaining otherwise inexplicable decisions to technology department employees.

For many IT employees, the “right” decision often appears to be obvious.    Many such employees don’t see the nuances of political reality (especially when it comes to funding).

311-wordmap-NYCA few years ago, when I was CTO of the City of Seattle, I reported to Mayor Greg Nickels.   Mayor Nickels and I and a third department head – responsible for the central customer service at the City – jointly decided a 311 system was needed in Seattle.

311 seems enormously logical to me.   What phone number do you call if you see a fire or are having a bicycle accident (like I did) – 911, of course.   But what number do you call if you want to report a backed-up sewer or you want to complain about taxi service or your cable bill?    In some forward-thinking cities like Chicago and New York and Louisville that number is 311.    But in Seattle you search through six pages of 8 point font in the phone book (if you even have a phone book) or search a website (if you have Internet access) to find some incomprehensible number.    That sort of stupidity made no sense to me as CTO and it made no sense to Mayor Nickels.

Alas, the Seattle City Council didn’t see it quite that way, and rejected Mayor Nickels’ proposal because they didn’t see a need equal to the $9 million cost to implement.

I’m convinced the problem in Seattle was lack of Council member districts.   All nine Seattle City council members are full-time members and all are elected at large.   In that situation citizens don’t know which council member to call to complain about something, so they end up calling the Mayor.    The Mayor and his staff “feel the pain” of citizen complaints and see the need for a 311 number and system.  City council members don’t

But the electorate has spoken.   Two months ago, in November, 2013, they voted to start electing council members by district.    When that law takes effect in two years, council members will start feeling the pain of citizens in their district complaining and will, I think, be much more supportive of 311.

Yup, nobody elected me, but there’s always an alternative path to the goal.

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Filed under 311, customer service, elections, ethics

– Improving Govt Health with a Fiber Diet

Louisiana Immersive Tech Enteprise - click to see more

Louisiana Immersive Tech Enterprise

I was honored to be in Lafayette, Louisiana, this past week for Fiber-Fete. Lafayette is just finishing a City-owned fiber optic network which reaches every home and business. Fiber-Fete was an international gathering to celebrate the innovative work led by Parish President (Mayor) Joey Durel and his team of people from business, non-profits, education, healthcare and government.

Lafayette’s fiber network boasts speeds of 10 megabits per second, both ways, to every home and business in the City, for $29 a month, and 50 megabits both ways for $58. Speeds of 100 megabits or even a gigabit per second are possible very soon. The FCC’s recently released national broadband plan set a goal for much of the United States to achieve such speeds by 2020. But Lafayette virtually has it now, in 2010.

During the conference, one of our breakout groups brainstormed a set of ideas for using this network to improve government and governing. Here are a few of our ideas.

A Mini-Connect Communication Device. The telephone is almost ubiquitous in American homes, with 95% or more of homes having a phone. Land-line penetration is dropping now, of course, as many people use only their cell phones or use voice-over-Internet connections via their computers. An essential device for future premises certainly seems to be a mini-comm, possibly modeled after the mini-tel which was widely deployed in France a few years ago. The mini-comm would be a voice telephone, videophone with a small screen, and potentially have connections for a TV and keyboard to allow it to be used as a web browser to connect to the fiber network. Such a device needs to be cheap and probably subsidized so every home, regardless of income, has one.

The mini-comm has many potential applications beyond phone, videophone and web browser. It would have batteries so it would function even during extended power outages due to natural disasters. It could be activated by government preceding or during such disasters to alert residents to an oncoming hurricane, or the need to evacuate, with further instructions on what to do. It might even have a wi-fi connection so that students who bring laptops home from school (school-issued laptops for all students are another great idea) have connectivity at home.

Video and Web via TV. Ideally, every television set in a home will eventually be internet-enabled with a built-in video camera and web browser. Certainly the latest generation of set-top boxes for cable TV have such functions built in.

Video 311 and 911. With the devices above, anyone who calls 911 with an emergency or 311 for non-emergency access to government services could also activate a two-way video function. For 911, this means the 911 center could view a burglary in progress or domestic violence situation, and help the responding police officers understand what is happening. For medical emergencies the 911 center might be able to activate monitoring devices and understand the known health issues of the caller, thereby better directing care over the mini-comm or to responding emergency medical personnel. Residents might be able to transact a variety of business over the phone/data link, including consultation about potential building plans and permits, more accurate understanding of utility billing issues (especially if smartgrid or automated water/gas/electric metering infrastructure is in place). And even for routine calls or complaints, we could put a “face” on government via a live video chat with a customer service agent.

Public health nurse or Probation Officer virtual visits. Public health officers, human services and probation officers often have an obligation to check upon or visit clients. With the mini-comm or other two way video devices, such visits might be conducted over the network. This would be especially useful if people are quarantined for pandemic flu or other diseases. But it could includes home health monitoring for seniors, and monitoring of people on probation or any reason, but especially for alcohol or drug abuse and sex offenses.

Enhancing public meetings. Public meetings of city/county councils and other public boards or commissions are almost unchanged from 250 years ago. To attend such a meeting, people travel to the meeting room, wait in line, and speak for a closely-timed two or three minutes. Essentially the public meeting becomes a series of usually un-related mini-speeches. With a fiber network, there are some opportunities to enhance such meetings. At a minimum, people who are unable to travel due to work or childcare or disabilities could participate remotely. But using tools such as Google moderator or Ideascale or Microsoft’s Town Hall, participants could also submit questions remotely, and then rank them. The top ranked (“crowdsourced”) questions could then be asked. Indeed, with high-quality video, the people who submitted the highest ranking questions could ask the question her/himself. Meetings could also be enhanced as viewers are able to see PowerPoint or video presentations, or link to web-based documents, at the same time they are watching the meeting.

Virtual Neighborhoods to visualize redesigning a town or do community or neighborhood planning. Lafayette has Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE), where innovative uses for 3D imaging are on development and display. Using these technologies along with some existing data such as Google Maps “bird’s eye view”, Microsoft’s Photosynth and digital orthophotograhy, we could create virtual representations of neighborhoods. Neighborhood planning groups could use these technologies to visualize how their neighborhood would appear with certain changes such as a new apartment building, or a boulevard, or different proposed configurations for a park.

These are just a few of the ideas we brainstormed for government use of such high speed networks. Other Fiber-Fete workgroups addressed uses for education, libraries, utilities, energy, business and much more.

Several facts are certain. Lafayette is the center of innovative Cajun culture plus great Cajun food and music. And this mid-sized city in Louisiana, is leading the nation with this innovative network. In ten years, the applications developed and tested there will be used throughout the nation.

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Filed under broadband, cable, community technology, customer service, fiber, internet, Uncategorized, video

– Bleeding Edge Government

Click on image to see the City of Seattle's online services

Click to see the Seattle's online services

Why does government lag so far behind private business in the application of new technology to customer service, constituent service and government operations? Examples:
•   At the City of Seattle, for example, you can pay bills with a credit card or bank account, but the City’s website won’t “remember” the information – each month and for each bill you have to completely enter all the information again.
•   We print a million pages of utility bills (electricity, water, solid waste) and then mail them out each month, but there’s no option to receive bills electronically, as offered by most private utilities.
•   You can watch a City Council meeting via www.seattlechannel.org and you can actually pull up and watch any City Council committee meeting since 2003 there as well. But, in this age of You Tube, you need to download Real Player software in order to watch our meetings!
•   In an era when many private companies totally automate purchasing and hiring processes, City agencies still use paper documents and pen-and-ink signatures for most of this work.
Yet the City of Seattle is a leading adopter of technology, winning “best municipal web portal awards” in 2001 and 2006, and “top municipal TV station” in 2007. We are on the leading edge! Of government.
But clearly we’re NOT on the leading edge of what our customers and constituents use when dealing with their insurance companies, banks, and when they do their shopping on the web and Internet.
What gives with government’s apparent position on the “tailing” edge?
Well, first of all, we’re NOT on the “tailing” edge. Although many national or statewide private companies have robust retailing and transaction presence on the web, few mid-size or smaller businesses have much other than a “shopping cart”.
Next, we have to be careful. Damned careful. We are shepherds of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars. We have many “feet on the street” services to fund with those dollars – cops, firefighters, paramedics, parks, potholes, inspections, public health. We cannot afford costly experiments with technology. We need to let the private sector test and prove technologies. This also whets the appetite of consumers/constituents. Only then should we adopt new high tech. Plus, once a technology like web payments comes into mainstream use in banks and financial institutions, it will be cheaper for government to implement.
Finally, we have to be careful, damned careful. We are shepherds of personal information on hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people. You – the customer – have a choice of a bank or an insurance company. If you give such an institution your name, date of birth, social security number and credit card number, and they misuse it or lose it, not only must they make it right, but you can choose a different place to do business. Government is held to a much higher standard because it compels constituents to turn over their personal information. And constituents have a very powerful voice when their government makes mistakes: a little event called “re-election”.
I want the City of Seattle to be on the “leading edge” of the mainstream adopters of technology. NOT the cutting edge or bleeding edge. We’ll let large private businesses break the ice of new high tech, and we’ll follow right on their “tails”!

P.S. You-Tube video (also known as MPEG4 or “flash”) is coming to www.seattlechannel.org at the end of August. Electronic billing – replacing paper, retaining of bank accounts and credit card info is coming to the City of Seattle early in 2009.

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Filed under customer service, egovernment, seattle channel

– Nervous System of a City Government

Nervous System of Government?  Click for more ...

Nervous System of Government? Click for more ...

Original post:  28 May 2008
I often say information technology in any organization is like the human nervous system.
You never think about your nervous system, do you? Gee, how many times have your breathed in the since you started to read this blog entry? Have you made sure that your heart is beating lately? Oh – and that mouse under your left (or right) hand – the one you’ve been using your index finger to click a button and surf to this page (or maybe, at this point, away from it!). Has that index finger responded to your brain? All of this occurs for each of us, of course, thousands and tens of thousands of times a day.
Until it doesn’t … maybe your heart skips a beat. Or perhaps you get a cold and breathing isn’t so easy for a few days. You never notice your nervous system until that really small of amount of time (for most of us) that it DOESN’T WORK!
Information technology is the same – in many senses it is the lifeblood of City government. What is government, except taking care of people – doing for the people of Seattle what they cannot do on their own, easily, as individuals or even in small groups: clean parks, clean water through the tap (and the unclean water down the drain). In the case of Seattle, electricity at the flick of a switch. A cop when you need one and a firefighter or EMT sometimes too.
How do you get all this service? Typically you call on the phone – 911 or 311 or 206-684-3000 (for a cheap thrill, give that one a try). Often, nowadays, you surf the web or send an e-mail. And all of this requires phone systems and computer servers and software.
And how do City employees coordinate their responses to your requests? Well, they use radio systems to dispatch police calls or fires or public utility crews. We use an internal phone system to call each other. We use desktop computers and utility billing systems and work management systems. And e-mail is ubiquitous to the tune of a million messages a week.  Oh … and Peoplesoft Financial Management system to track the cost and a payroll system to keep us paid.
And no one notices, until something doesn’t work.
As my telephone services operations manager – Stephanie Venrick – says, “dial-tone comes from God”.
Naw, it actually comes from the City of Seattle’s Department of Information Technology.
And that dial tone is there, 99.99% of the time.

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Filed under customer service, people, Seattle DoIT

Blogging Customer Service

Scouring Blogs - click imae for more

Scouring Blogs - click imae for more

Original post: 28 April 2008
“Stormy Times for Comcast” is the title of an article in today’s Seattle Times, written by Bob Fernandez of The Philadelphia Inquirer, hometown newspaper at the Headquarters of Empire Comcast (the article is here).   Fernandez writes about Frank Eliason, a Comcast manager whose job is to watch blogs with complaints about customer service, e.g. comcastmustdie.com, contact the complaining customers and try to solve the problems.  A noble (if, in the case of Comcast, often fruitless) endeavor.  Both the blogging and the job performed by Eliason are a powerful application of Web 2.0 technology.   What a great idea!
Gee, could we apply this to City government?   Should we create a blog which allows the residents of Seattle to talk about their experiences – positive and negative – with our water (which is pretty good stuff) or electrical serivce, or pothole-filling service or (heaven forbid, because they work for me) our cable-customer complaint line?  Fascinating thought …

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Filed under cable, customer service