Seattle Hires Interim CTO, Focuses on Broadband and Microsoft 365 Pilot

After the cancellation of the city's fiber rollout and the departure of Chief Technology Officer Erin Devoto, the city has found a temporary replacement to head technology efforts.

by / April 11, 2014

On April 7, the city of Seattle hired Sabra Schneider as its new interim CTO. Schneider replaces Erin Devoto, who resigned in March and took a position in the Kirkland, Wash., Public Works Department.

Schneider (pictured at left, image via Twitter), has worked for local government for more than 10 years, previously serving as the city’s director of electronic communications and working for three years managing a 48-person team that runs the city’s Web presence. Prior to that, she was webmaster for King County.

It is not been clear if the city is interested in finding another person for the position or whether Schneider’s role could become permanent. The position will require her to oversee a technology agency with a budget of more than $79 million and about 200 employees. Schneider said that whatever her role turns out to be, she is excited to help support the mayor’s vision for the city and the many technology projects already underway, including data center consolidation, a cloud services deployment, and a long-term broadband strategy.

“We’re definitely not stopping while we’re in transition,” she said.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wants a more competitive environment for broadband providers, and Schneider says she hopes to be part of that effort.

“Seattle needs a high speed internet infrastructure that meets the demands of our high tech industry and which allows our citizens to innovate without worrying about whether their connection will suddenly drop because their service provider has decided to throttle a service they depend on,” Murray said in a statement. “In short, we need a high-speed Internet option that rivals any in the country.”

The mayor explained some of the issues around broadband in the city, which include possibly changing the Seattle Department of Transportation’s “director’s rule,” which makes it nearly impossible for any provider but Comcast to build out their networks in the city.

The city also is considering “granting Internet companies access to utility poles at little or no charge, so that building more infrastructure is not cost prohibitive,” Murray wrote. 

Another possibility still open to Seattle is that the city would build its own broadband network if the marketplace cannot provide a solution that offers a great improvement in service for citizens, he wrote. The city’s most recent effort to build a city-wide fiber network was cancelled after problems with contractor Gigabit Squared.

Murray ended his blog post by saying he looks forward to  “appointing a permanent Chief Technology Officer in the near future and working with him or her to secure Seattle’s position as a leader in technology once again.”

In addition to broadband efforts, Schneider said she will assist with the city’s data center consolidation efforts, which will serve as the backbone for many other services provided by the city in the long term. The city will consolidate 17 data centers into two.

“We are definitely architecting that data center to allow increased flexibility for the city so we can embrace new and possibly different services as they mature and as it makes sense. As part of that effort we’re standing up a private cloud that many city departments will be able to utilize,” she said.

The city is now piloting a Microsoft Office365 project that will move many of the city’s core applications onto the cloud, including Outlook, Sharepoint and some Office services, Schneider said. “We know that will transform how some city employees work and how we can collaborate with each other,” she added.

With such a strong background in Web and communications, Schneider commented that her approach to government is often focused on a strong community engagement. This focus goes hand in hand with another project now underway in the city that will attempt to bring neighborhood-based news and mobile services, she said. The idea is that residents of individual neighborhoods will be able to see news and events that apply to their part of the city.

The city’s TV channel, the Seattle Channel, is also piloting a new show, called Techcetera, to help support the Office of Economic Development’s start-up initiative. “We’re also planning to use Techcetera to promote information that might help the least connected residents, so promoting where they can find Internet access, where they can find training, grant information for community centers to help bridge the digital divide in Seattle,” she said.

The city is also now planning to participate in the national day of civic hacking, which is an event that occurs between May 31 and June 1. Seattle will participate on May 31 and hold an event in City Hall.

The Emerald City has had great leadership, Schneider said, and all the CTOs she has worked under have been highly committed to resident involvement and keeping the public well-informed of the city’s doings -- and that will continue under Mayor Murray and his team.

“I hope to increase that work,” she said, “and certainly because that’s my background, a lot of my interests are, ‘How do we get residents more connected and reach them better?’"

Colin Wood former staff writer

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

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