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Seattle Begins Three-Year IT Consolidation

Over the next three years, Seattle will consolidate its disparate IT departments into a new agency, called Seattle IT, and city officials expect big things from the change.

Seattle is at the start of a three-year transition toward a consolidated IT office. Announced by Mayor Ed Murray in May, the city is working to create a single office, called the Seattle Information Technology Department (Seattle IT), that is designed to circumvent the shortcomings of the city's current siloed IT agency arrangement.

Seattle IT will officially come into existence on April 6, 2016, and the city will gradually knead its resources into the new agency until the end of 2018, at which time it hopes to be working with technology more diligently, more efficiently and more securely.

Right now, Seattle is wasting some of the talent of its estimated 700 IT professionals, said Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller — and this consolidation will change that.

"We've made a commitment that there will be no layoffs as a result of the consolidation effort," Mattmiller said. "We recognize as a city that we've made a level of investment in IT professionals, and we would like to see that investment fully realized by creating capacity. If we have several teams working on the same thing today, we can bring those teams together, and if we have spare capacity, then there's more projects that we can have people work on."

Some of the waste spread across Seattle's IT departments today is through duplicated efforts. Sometimes IT departments within separate city departments create custom solutions for their agencies when a single solution for the city would be ideal, Mattmiller said. Other times, resources are squandered trying to rig a solution to work with a system for which it wasn't originally intended.

In 2016, the city will begin by bringing together infrastructure services like networks, storage and computing. In 2017, application development, GIS support and Web services will be brought into the fray; and in 2018, applications operations and support will be added to a central Seattle IT, completing the consolidation, according to the city's planned timeline.

The city composed several transition teams to plan how best to pursue the consolidation, including a finance team to think about timekeeping and cost, and a culture team to mold the values of the new organization. With the help of funding from the mayor's budget amounting to just a hair under $1.5 million, the city will also get some help from outside consultants on managing the change and with the administration of necessary training. Though there's a clear timeline for all this, Mattmiller said they're not rushing anything.

"Our strategy No. 1 is to do no harm to departments," Mattmiller said. "If we're not ready to integrate a team or deliver a new service, we're going to keep it status quo, working on the same projects they're working on today and for the same managers. But in a gradual deliberate process, we're going to bring people together by having those people delivering a service come together and set requirements, validate those requirements and in time, begin to operate in a new and consistent model."

When a department head wants some new technology to do something, Mattmiller explained that he won't waste time thinking about how many server cores he needs to finagle to make it happen, but he can bring his problem to a central location and be provided with strategic assistance.

In addition to gained efficiency, the city's expectations for this consolidation are that Seattle IT will be better equipped to handle the protection of citizen data against an evolving cybersecurity threat landscape and enable their workers a chance to evolve their skillsets, rather than get locked into a specialization required by a smaller agency.

"The big thing to me is ultimately better service to the public," Mattmiller said. "When we look across technology today, it's inconsistent. Once we're consolidated ... we'll be much more nimble in being able to turn out new solutions that keep up with technology that the public can use to engage with their government, and our city departments are going to get that level of support they need that as they make those decisions."

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.