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Hazing Seattle's new CTO

The guy didn't even have his City Hall key card yet, but that didn't stop us from tossing him the city's toughest question.
Michael Mattmiller, the new CTO of the City of Seattle.

Michael Mattmiller, the new CTO of the City of Seattle.

Michael Mattmiller doesn’t seem like a man who fights cops. Mild-mannered and smart, one doesn’t envision him waging war against telecom companies. But we wanted to gauge his openness to these ideas.

Today Mayor Ed Murray named Mattmiller Seattle’s Chief Technology Officer, after a year-plus as a senior strategist at Microsoft, and seven years as a manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers in D.C. Starting June 23rd, he'll be taking over from interim CTO Sabra Schneider.

It's a move that will leave him in charge of Seattle’s information technology (IT) department and infrastructure, including "the city's main data center, Seattle.gov website, The Seattle Channel, the city's fiber network, the city's data and telephone network, the Public Safety Radio network, cable franchises and technology oversight and planning," according to Murray's announcement.

If you’re unsure how to take that news, you’re not alone. When invited to interview him, I had very little idea what we’d talk about.

Sure, there’s the fact Seattle is a world-class tech hub, yet Kansas City has faster, cheaper Internet than us. A lot of cities do. There’s the fact that citywide, high-speed Internet has been championed by multiple mayors, yet still seems far away. The latest effort sputtered out earlier this year, which was also the last time Erin Devoto, Seattle’s previous CTO, was mentioned regularly in the news. Outside those subjects, I was stumped.

Flying blind, I therefore touched base with tech experts throughout the city, with backgrounds in both the private and public sector. The request: brainstorm some of the hardest questions possible for Mattmiller, the stuff he won’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole. It’s his first day. Let’s just haze him.

Was this callous, considering the guy hadn’t stepped into his new office at this point? Perhaps. Might City Hall think twice before granting me further access? Maybe.

But to be fair, Mattmiller handled himself well and was a sport throughout, even when he was clearly itching to hang up the call (“Sorry, phone problems on our end! Just email us the rest of your questions!”) And given his lack of public sector background, maybe it’s constructive to throw him into the deep end a bit.

Whatever the case, he’s got this going for him: His media interactions will only get easier from here on out.

LET’S DISCUSS THE POLICE

The Seattle Police Department’s “existing capacities to track, analyze and use data are, at best, weak.” This according to the federal monitor tasked with overseeing reforms at the department, as part of an agreement with the Department of Justice.

“The data produced by the IT Department has been error-ridden and inadequate,” their last report said, adding that it was “alarming” the department couldn’t “manage the risk of unconstitutional conduct” among officers (couldn’t track their pattern of misconduct), or provide relevant data to investigators and decisionmakers. In short, the police’s crappy IT undermines the Justice Department’s required reforms.  

However, SPD’s main data systems aren’t influenced by the CTO’s office. The police operate an independent system. Does Mattmiller believe we should rethink that arrangement, given their poor performance in this area?

“Having not started yet, I’m focused on getting up to speed on my department,” said Mattmiller, in a phrase that will become familiar. “We’ll have to have a conversation at a later time, or maybe I’ll connect you with whoever’s portfolio that would fall in.”

But as the city’s IT chief, do you believe you should have a seat at the table in reforming the police’s IT?

“Certainly, I’d expect to weigh in on those conversations,” he said. “The SPD has their own IT organization, similar to other…um, projects. They have projects in place right now to look at those questions.”

LET’S DISCUSS POWERFUL TELECOMS

About this time last year, the city was attempting to bring low-cost, ultra-speed Internet to residential customers citywide. The idea was to gradually develop the unused fiber cable beneath Seattle, in a private-public partnership with a DC-based company named Gigabit Squared. In theory, this would increase Internet competition in the city, push down costs and drive quality up.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 12, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm glad that security issues with the cloud are on his radar. That is really the biggest inhibitor to adoption to the public environment. It's not really something that can be "fixed." This applies to "private" clouds too. The NSA knows all about how to exploit that...

It also touches on privacy and reliability issues. What you may save in costs, you lose in risks and extra effort to maintain it. If the cloud goes down, EVERYTHING stops. Having redundant clouds is not really feasible like redundant servers.

Clouds for public and personal use are better deployed for backup and disaster/emergency operations. Not production uses.

That also applies to Office 360, which is cloud based. If the city goes to that platform, they will certainly come to regret it.

Marksp

Posted Thu, Jun 12, 9:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Agree.

Posted Fri, Jun 13, 6:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle should not outsource storage of our public records to private businesses.

pmocek

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