Tag Archives: MIX

– Thanks & Turkeys 2010

Apologies to the Virgina Tech Hokies for using their LogoThis week Chief Technology Officer Bill Schrier has a LOT for which to be thankful.   But I also have a few turkeys to carve.

My most significant thanks go to the phenomenal people who work in information technology in local government, especially here at the City of Seattle.    Most City and County CIOs, such as those who are the 60 members of MIX (the Metropolitan Information Exchange)  will agree with me and give thanks for their employees as well.  While some members of the public think government employees are 8 to 5 clock-watching bureaucrats, that’s decidedly NOT true of most employees, especially our technology workers.

This fact slammed home to me again this week – Seattle had a snowstorm.    Two inches.    Those of you in Chicago, Boston or Washington DC are probably laughing.  Two measly inches?  What’s the big deal?  But here in Seattle, because of the uniquenesses of our weather systems/geography and the rarity of snow in the lowlands, it was a real show-stopper.  Monday night many of my employees spent four, five or nine hours commuting home on jammed icy freeways.   I and several of my staff walked home five miles in the snowstorm (video of commuters walking across the West Bridge here).

In Seattle’s Department of Information Technology, we had staff who worked all night Monday, or slept at their workstations Monday night, or stayed in hotels downtown, or turned right around and came back to work Tuesday morning after the long commute home.    They did this because they know the work of a City government and the safety of the people of Seattle depend now, more than ever, on reliable technology:  websites, data networks, e-mail systems and much much more.   For these two hundred dedicated people working in the City of Seattle’s technology department, I give thanks.

(My colleagues elsewhere have similar stories, whether in Houston and Mobile, Alabama, who have suffered through hurricanes, or Los Angeles and Riverside who have suffered through earthquakes, or Chicago and Washington DC, with their snowstorms.)

As I attend conferences and talk to my counterparts across the country, I find similar dedication to keeping the public safe and our governments operational. As just one example, we have twenty cities and states around the nation who have authority from the FCC to build fourth generation wireless networks.  Over the past 11 months I’ve been working with officials from these twenty jurisdictions, as well as the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, the Public Safety Communications Research Program of the Department of Commerce, and Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications.   Every one of these agencies and the people involved have been working tirelessly to build a nationwide public safety network, a vision which sprung out of the September 11th World Trade Center disaster.     This year we’ve made real progress, despite a number of hurdles.  Now the first networks are under construction.   For all these dedicated government officials and technical staff, I give thanks.

I also give thanks to the many private companies who are doing extraordinary work with technology – Microsoft and Windows and Office, Google with Android and search, Apple with iPhones and iPads, IBM’s Smart Cities Challenge, and a few more who not only want to make money, but also want to use a significant part of that money make the planet a better place in which to live and work.

Finally, I give thanks for my elected officials – Mayor and City Council – and the department directors running City departments here in Seattle.     This year of the Great Recession they have faced terrible choices with budget shortfalls of $67 million in Seattle.  And precipitously falling tax revenues.  And urgent needs from the public for safety nets for our jobless citizens and the poor and homeless.   My own department’s budget was cut by over 17% and I’ve laid off over 10% of my workforce over the past two years.    These are all tough choices, and they are done in the glare of publicity with many competing demands by constituents for the ever-shrinking pot of money.  But we have a sustainable budget and services going into 2011.  Thank you to the officials who stepped up and made these tough choices.

Now on to the turkeys – at least the ones I’d like to carve and serve.

First are some of our technology vendors, a few of whom have ever increasing appetites for money.   Some of them are resorting to “compliance audits” to make sure we are paying for every last danged software license we are using.  One vendor even demanded to have access to every one of the 11,000 computers at the City of Seattle to see if their software was installed.   Others absolutely refuse to negotiate reduced pricing or flexible maintenance plans.  These few money-grubbing vendors get my “tech turkey” award.

Next there are a few of our public employee unions.   Many public employee unions here in the Seattle area realize we are in an unprecedented recession.   Those unions have willingly forgone raises which were in their contracts, understanding that few workers in the private sector get raises, and many private sector workers have lost their jobs and retirement money.   But a few public sector unions have held out for their contracted raises, which are far larger than inflation.  This, frankly, can make all city and county governments and our workers look greedy and foolish.  The public backlash was evident in our recent elections where few tax increases were passed and many revenue sources were cut.  These few unions get my turkey award as well.

My final turkey award goes to those politicians who want to whip the public into a frenzy about supposed fraud and waste in government, or think we can continue tax cuts, increase defense spending, and balance the budget all at the same time.  How do they think public schools, parks, police and fire departments, child protective services, streets or public health are funded, or how do we pay the dedicated people who provide all those services?   I’ve blogged about this at length before, and will just leave these politicians with my tea-party-turkey award.

All in all, however, at this Thanksgiving of 2010, I’ve got a lot more reasons to give thanks than to carve!


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– Downtrends in City Tech

Assoc of City/County CIOs

Assoc of City/County CIOs

MIX, the Metropolitan Information Exchange, recently concluded our annual conference in Albuquerque. MIX is a group of about 55 CIOs of major cities and counties. The conference is always good, not just for its presentations, but particularly for the hallway and brainstorming conversations about issues and trends in local government information technology. In this blog I’ll highlight some of the 2009 “down” trends in local government, and in the next blog entry, later this week, I’ll write about the “up” trends.

Some trends or strategic directions seemed to be common to all our governments. These included the need for executive support and leadership, the desire of our cities and counties to be “high tech” to attract tech businesses for economic development, and the need for a voter ROI or “voter return on investment”.

The “voter ROI” is perhaps the most fascinating of these trends, although it is really not new – its always present in government. Voter ROI refers to the need for information technology projects to improve the operations of city government and to translate into votes at the ballot box for elected officials. Just as the ROI in a private business is measured by the profit of the company, the success of a government is measured by improved constituent/customer service, and THAT in turn is measured by the satisfaction in that government by voters who elect their mayors, county commissioners and city council members. Not every project has a voter ROI, but at least some of them must.

Executive support and leadership for IT projects is related to voter ROI. Strong Executive sponsorship is one of the two or three critical success factors in all IT projects everywhere, whether in government or private industry. As MIX members shared their success and failure project stories, we saw that a CFO who was interested and continually supporting a new financial management system, or a police chief supporting an upgraded radio system, or a City manager supporting a consolidation of IT staff, are the key factor in those projects’ success.

Some trends are downswing trends – initiatives or functions receiving less emphasis and less funding. These include budgets, staffing of IT units, disaster recovery, “big” projects, travel and training. Every local government has been hit by declining city/county revenues and consequent need to conserve and reduce.

Last Friday I presented the budget of my department – the Department of Information Technology at the City of Seattle, to the Seattle City Council. The video of that experience is online here, and the budget is online here. We’ll be reducing our $59 million budget by $3 million in 2010 and reducing our staffing by 12 full-time equivalent positions to 205 jobs.

Other local governments are experiencing similar difficulties. Steve Ferguson, the new CIO in San Jose, reports that City has experienced nine straight years of cuts and reductions, starting with the dot-com bust which hit Silicon Valley in 2001. Steve Reneker, CIO of Riverside reports his City cut its technology staffing from 72 to 55 people and scrapped a VoIP project. Joe Marcella in Las Vegas has reduced his IT shop from 100 staff to 72 since 2002, all by attrition, along with salary freezes for executives and most staff. Other MIX members have similar stories, especially in California and Arizona where government in general is in more dire circumstances.

Besides staff reductions, about half of the MIX members are freezing salaries (at least for management) and furloughing staff for 5 to 10 days a year, which is effectively a salary cut. Most of us are lengthening replacement cycles for desktop and server computers and network gear. We’ve renegotiated or are recompeting telecommunications and service contracts.

Particularly troubling are reductions in disaster planning. This is primarily due to simple lack of budget because disaster recovery is not an “immediate” need. Disaster planning is one of those extras you never need until, well, disaster strikes!

Budget crises are a logical time to consolidate IT in governments and save dollars through standardizing, and at least one of our cities, Tucson has done it and one large county is planning a consolidation. But MIX members are also concerned about “de facto decentralization”. As the resources and people of central IT departments are cut, service levels will drop, and the line departments (parks, utilities, police/sheriff, human services) tend to develop “shadow” technology support. Employees who should be doing policing or running community centers start doing technology support because they cannot get adequate support from the IT department. Individual employees or work units start buying their own cell phones or computers. Individually, such costs appear small, but those individual purchases don’t take advantage of the bulk buying power of a whole government, or the efficiencies of standardization.

In my next column I’ll talk about some of the technology trends which are on the “upswing” in local government, including public safety support, cloud computing, social media (blogging, twitter, facebook), the “greening of IT”, and with a new emphasis on online services, accountability and transparency.

P.S. I also have the honor of being President of MIX in 2009 – 2010.

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– MIXing Cities, Counties, Web 2.0

A Group of Local Government CIOs

MIX: A Group of Local Government CIOs

The Metropolitan Information Exchange (MIX), an association of City and County
CIOs, met in Seattle this week. MIX is a select group of 55 forward-thinking technology leaders. Their discussions about the future uses of technology in government have been quite enlightening.

For the most part, these are mid-sized cities and counties, almost all with populations of 100,000 or more. These Chief Information Officers (CIOs) share at least one passion: making information technology work in service to the government and people of their communities.

Many of these jurisdictions have award winning government websites – Las Vegas, Riverside, Wake County (North Carolina), King County (Washington) and Yuma County (Arizona) each were among the five top web portals in eRepublic’s 2008 competition. Others – such as Seattle and Tucson – have top municipal television channels.  Still others have cutting edge implementations of a wide variety of technologies, ranging from the 35,000-public-safety-radio network operated by Harris County (Texas) to the Second Life experiments of Nevada County (California) to the City-wide Wi-Fi network operated by Corpus Christi.

Web 2.0 was the subject of this conference. All of us working in government technology know Web 2.0 is leading edge. But Web 2.0 is really “icing” on our government technology “cakes”.

The core, first layer of IT in government is infrastructure – networks, computers, data centers. That infrastructure has to be rock solid and operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week because local government delivers service all day, every day.

The second layer of our “cake” is the applications, built upon the infrastructure, which provide efficiency and effectiveness for government. These applications include mapping, utility billing systems, financial management, computer-aided dispatch and many others.

The third layer of our IT “cake” is a wide variety of ways government employees and constituents use the technology to request and render services or provide information. These methods include interactive voice response systems, television channels and the websites of our jurisdictions.

Web 2.0 is the “icing” in one sense, because it is so leading edge (for government). In another sense, web 2.0 technologies are the essence of government. Web 2.0 is about collaboration. It is about social networks.  It is about building community.  And that – building community – is what government is all about – collaboration and making our communities stronger.

How are governments using Web 2.0 technology? I have a detailed set of examples here (and welcome feedback with more samples).  Some highlights:

  • Some elected officials are blogging, but only a few regularly write – Tim Burgess of Seattle and Walter Neary of Lakewood (Washington) are two examples.
  • Chicago Police is doing a great mashup and display of detailed crime statistics by address or ward, around schools and parks.
  • Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, is making extensive use of wikis to improve information sharing among county departments.
  • The Seattle Channel is doing podcasting and interactive television with its Ask-the-Mayor program for Mayor Greg Nickels – viewers can call or e-mail real-time and there are video-taped questions.
  • A very few governments have YouTube channels, e.g. Mountain View/Los
    Altos California, although constituent video of local government
    meetings appears to be a more popular use of YouTube, such as Somervell
    County, Texas.
  • Some cities and counties have Facebook or Myspace pages, e.g. Prince William County, Virginia, which uses MySpace for recruiting. MIX, itself, has a LinkedIn group.
  • But I’ve not seen local government effectively use social networking yet. Fertile ground for innovation!

In short, we in MIX – and other local government CIOs – are concentrating on keeping the core of information technology networks and systems running well in our governments.  And we are experimenting with a wide variety of Web 2.0 and similar technologies which we know will make government more collaborative and interactive.

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Filed under egovernment, eRepublic, future of technology, MIX, NATOA, seattle channel, web 2.0