On March 11, the Seattle City Council confirmed Erin Devoto as the city’s new chief technology officer (CTO), following her appointment in January.
In May 2012, Devoto was named Seattle's acting CTO and director of the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) after CTO Bill Schrier retired from public service, becoming deputy director of the Center for Digital Government, an advisory and research organization operated by e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.
Prior to her appointment as acting CTO, Devoto had served as DoIT deputy director since 2007. As for her title change, Devoto said that won’t change her role in Seattle -- but it will allow her to continue working on projects the city has been concentrating on since her appointment last year.
While Devoto, pictured at left, has worked for the DoIT since 2007, her role as CTO means an expanded scope of responsibility as she oversees 192 employees and an annual budget of about $50 million. The department’s main technology assets include the city’s data centers, website, local TV channel, public safety network, cable franchises and fiber network.
Being the CTO of Seattle is similar to the role in other cities, Devoto said, with one exception. “We have a lot of good technology that’s been a part of our history, including Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon. So there is an expectation that may be higher for the city of Seattle and technology than maybe other jurisdictions across the country.”
And Seattle currently has several initiatives that Devoto said could lead the city to meet public expectations about innovation.
One of the bigger projects involves building out a fiber network to the city, she said. Following legislation that allowed Seattle to lease its excess fiber bandwidth, several companies showed interest in working with the city to offer fiber service, including Gigabit Squared, which is building a preliminary fiber network that's scheduled to bring gigabit speed Internet service to a dozen neighborhoods later this year. The project started after Seattle wanted to lay out fiber everywhere in the city, but found the project cost-prohibitive, Devoto said. The smaller-scale version of the project will begin rolling out this year, and Devoto predicted that fiber to the home could eventually become the norm in Seattle.
The city also is looking to upgrade its aging data centers. The city is looking at alternatives to traditional ways of dealing with old data centers, Devoto said. "We are looking at how we can do this in a different way, given that it’s 2013 and data centers are approached differently than they were in 1998,” she said. After Seattle’s data center had problems resulting from a power loss last year, the City Council agreed to allow DoIT to begin planning upgrades.
Devoto also said she wants to continue open data and mobile application efforts. “We’ve barely scratched the surface with that, but we are a lot further along than other jurisdictions in terms of providing data.seattle.gov and mobile.seattle.gov websites and applications,” she said, adding that despite the progress Seattle has made, it’s crucial to stay ahead of the innovation curve. It’s hard to keep ahead of technology, especially as the rate of change has increased over recent years, she said, but the city has done a good job of that so far.
“I like to think of myself as one of the newer breeds of CTOs or CIOs -- I don’t come from a programming background,” Devoto said, noting that she never planned to become a technologist, but believes her skill and experience as a manager will allow her to lead the city’s technical staff to great things. Before working for the DoIT, Devoto managed two large levy programs as director of development for the city parks department.
Aside from what Seattle has planned, it’s hard to predict the future, she said, but serving residents and maintaining strong business relationships will stay her department’s No. 1 priority.
Photo of Seattle CTO Erin Devoto courtesy of the King County Department of Information Technology