Tag Archives: seattle channel

– 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.

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

– A Tech Thanksgiving

A Technology Thanksgiving Feast

As many of us sit down to the average American Thanksgiving 3000 calorie meal tomorrow, we’ll be in uncertain and frightening times. But I’m also counting my technology blessings, and here are a few:

1.  I’m thankful for the generosity of the people of Seattle. We’ve asked a lot of them over the years, and they have consistently voted to tax themselves to give our city and region an improved quality of life, for examples:

•   A completely re-built and remodeled Seattle Public Library system, a beautiful central library and 26 branches, including wi-fi in every branch and 1000 computers for public use, all financed with a $196 million levy. This week we have a wonderful new City Librarian in Susan Hildreth, coming to us from the California State Library.

•   A new light-rail line from downtown to the airport, set to open in 2009,  and a just-passed bond $17.9 billion measure to extend that line by 34 miles over the next 20 years

•   A $167 million fire facility levy which, although strapped for cash in times of rising costs, has already seen us build a new state-of-the-high-tech-art emergency operations center and fire alarm center  , a new fireboat and a joint training facility. The technology systems supporting Seattle Fire help them achieve an average four minute response time to calls, and you can even see those calls in real-time on our website.

•   Note: although I’ve highlighted the investments above, Seattle voters also have approved housing levies, parks levies and funding for other projects to improve our quality of life.

2.  I’m thankful for wonderful, dedicated, employees in the City of Seattle and especially those 600 folks who run our information technology across multiple departments. Throw out your old ideas about clock-watching government bureaucrats pushing paper from the in-box to the out-box. These high-tech folks run the electronic mail systems and internal phone network and electronic payment systems and customer service systems which make our City government a truly 24 hour-a-day, 7 day-a-week business. And we have some unique twists such as an online directory of almost all employees to help customers cut through the organization – not many other companies or governments have that: . I’ve blogged before about how diligently and competently these folks respond to disasters large and small, e.g. the 108 degree data center, , Dial Tone comes from God , and Nervous System of a City Government .

3.  I’m thankful for an award-winning City of Seattle web portal http://www.seattle.gov , twice winning the top city web portal from the Center for Digital government . And also for the Seattle Channel, winner of both Emmys and back-to-back 2007 and 2008 excellence in government programming awards from NATOA

4.  Finally, I’m thankful for great and supportive leadership such as Mayor Greg Nickels who recognizes the efficiency and effectiveness which technology brings to City government by proposing significant technology improvements even in the upcoming lean budget years. And Seattle’s City Council supported that vision by passing the technology portions of his 2009-10 budget with few changes – and those changes were improvements such as a Technology Matching Fund increase and a Citizen Engagement Portal.

Of course this sounds self-serving, because Greg’s my boss and the Council holds the purse strings. But there are hard, solid, initiatives in this budget: a new customer relationship management system, an Outlook/Exchange replacement for an aging e-mail system, an electronic parking guidance system, outage and asset management systems for Seattle City Light, and much more.

5. And, in terms of leadership, we techies can also turn to the federal government and see a new President who knows the importance of broadband and technology to the economy and to making the Federal Government more effective and in touch with people. Everyone in the United States can rejoice and give thanks for that.

You may think I’m a bit Pollyannaish in this blog, and I am, because it is a time to give thanks. But I promise my next blog will be a bit different, as I give you my Recipe for making Technology Turkeys.

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Filed under budget, government operations, NATOA, seattle channel, Seattle City Light, Seattle Fire Dept

– Emmys for Government TV?

A "Northwest" Emmy

A "Northwest" Emmy

Tonight (Sept. 14th) I watched The Daily Show receive an Emmy for Outstanding TV Series. Last night (Sept. 13th) I watched – in person – the Seattle Channel – Seattle City Government’s own Channel 21-  receive the national award for Excellence in Government Programming – essentially being named “Best Government TV Channel” for a large city.

Even more amazing, the Seattle Channel also consistently wins Emmy Awards.  What’s the catch here?  How can a broadcast of the Seattle City Council’s Finance and Budget Committee compete with Desperate Housewives or The Daily Show for an Emmy Award?

Well, unfortunately, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences doesn’t recognize government television stations as members or the Seattle City Council when making those awards for Outstanding Drama Series (or maybe it would be “Comedy” series).

View the Seattle Channel

View the Seattle Channel

But almost every City and County government has a television station or at least television programming. And many are members of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA – pronounced nah-toe-ah).  NATOA conducts a juried competition for city/county television programming each year in 63 categories.  NATOA’s annual conference just ended in Atlanta with its gala awards banquet Saturday night, September 13th.  The Seattle Channel (www.seattlechannel.org) took home six “first place” awards in those 63 categories, including that overall “Excellence in Government Programming” for stations with an operating budget over $500,000.  Remarkably, the Seattle Channel now has won this honor two years in a row, 2007 and 2008.

TV programming in many other outstanding cities such as Tucson, Carlsbad California, Aurora, Colorado, and Prince William County Virginia was also recognized. A complete list of the categories and nominations are on NATOA’s website here  and the list of the winners will be posted later this week on the NATOA website.

While the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences doesn’t recognize government programming, local chapters of the Academy do give their own Emmys each year. Government and public television stations do participate, and the Seattle Channel consistently brings back two or more Emmy awards from the Northwest Chapter each year.

Many smaller cities and counties only have the budget to broadcast meetings (“all meetings, all the time”)  But innovative governments find ways to budget for creative programming which highlights the issues in their communities.

The Seattle Channel has an outstanding news magazine, City Inside/Out, hosted by C. R. Douglas (won two first place 2008 NATOA awards).  C. R. drills down into the issues, and occasionally “grills” elected officials about their positions.  And the Seattle Channel has a whole series of programming – ArtZone – which highlights the music, visual and literary arts scene in Seattle.

And the coolest thing?   Not only is it all free, but it is all free online.   Anyone, anywhere in the world with an Internet connection can watch any of the Seattle Channel’s programming at any time.  Just go to www.seattlechannel.org and … well … “click”.

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Filed under NATOA, seattle channel, video

Seattle Channel’s Emmy Nominations

Seattle Channel Band - click for more photos from Rona ZevinOriginal Post:  19 April 2008
I attended the 2008 Emmy Awards nominations event Friday evening (April 18th).    Well, to be more precise, it was the nominations for the Emmy Awards of the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS).   Just like the national Emmy awards, but specifically for programming by television stations in the Northwest states.   I’m really proud of the Seattle Channel, which receive 17 nominations for various series and programming.   That’s twice as many as the Seattle Channel has received in any previous years.   Programming from many of the commercial stations (KING, KOMO, KIRO, KCTS etc.) and other public stations also received nominations.   The full list of nominees is on the NATAS Northwest Website here.   Almost as exciting, the Seattle Channel’s “band” blew the minds of the folks attending the events (see photo of the group, upper right).   That was phenomenally better than a couple of other bands I heard, who blew my eardrums!   All in all, a fun event.

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