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Seattle in Search of Smart City Coordinator to Drive Collaboration, Consistency in Deployments

Seattle's smart city coordinator will be someone who can help smart initiatives both internally and with outside partners, including the MetroLab Network and the University of Washington.

Seattle is on the hunt for someone to help manage its smart city programs.

Last week, the city posted a classified for a Smart City Coordinator to help oversee its overarching strategy, help departments coordinate smart city programs, and be the smart city point person for stakeholders and other partners.

“We’re creating the smart cities coordinator role to help drive collaboration across these stakeholders and to make sure we have basic consistency in our smart cities deployment,” Seattle Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller told Government Technology.

Seattle has been pursuing smart city programs for years now, he said, but what the city seeks now is someone who understands how the technologies are rapidly evolving. One of Mattmiller's favorite projects, Seattle RainWatch, is in need of some help and guidance. RainWatch is composed of a network of sensors that monitor precipitation and give the city some idea of where sudden downpours might cause flooding. The network provides the city with “hyperlocal weather information” and leads to alerts being sent out.

Because the cost of sensors are quickly decreasing, Mattmiller said there is a clear opportunity to add more to create a more robust network — but security remains integral for any technology deployment. “We must have the public’s trust in how we collect and use their data.”

Seattle already has several smart city projects underway in the Department of Transportation, the Fire Department, Seattle City Light, and public utilities. The application defines "smart cities" as communities where sensors are deployed to gather data, and the decisions are data-driven to improve the lives of their public. Other departments have plans to implement several new smart projects in the coming years.

The city also just wrapped up an RFI looking for ideas on how to provide high-speed Wi-Fi to every member of the community. While a majority of the city’s residents have access, roughly 15 percent still lack it. “There is a bit of crossover,” said Mattmiller, noting that the RFI included a question regarding how the proposal would enable smart city applications.

Most of the responsibilities, however, will be working across city departments to make sure all current smart city initiatives are following best practices and coordinating with one another while following city rules and regulations. Housed in the Seattle Information Technology Department (Seattle IT) the next smart city coordinator will also serve as a resource for upcoming projects. According to the application, the coordinator will “help city departments envision ‘the art of the possible’ with regard to Smart City technologies.”

The other primary responsibility will be to work with partners both within the city and without. Mattmiller said whomever is chosen will work closely with Candace Faber, the city’s civic tech advocate, and Open Data Program Manager David Doyle.

“Not only do we want to keep the community informed of what we are trying to do,” Mattmiller said, but officials also need to “make sure the data we collect is available for the public.”

The coordinator will also be tasked with “managing and growing the relationship with the MetroLab Network,” he said.

The network was started under former President Barack Obama as a way to bring universities and cities together. Universities provide the research and legwork, while cities help run experiments and serve as proving grounds. In January, Seattle hosted a MetroLab event that brought together representatives from 20 cities and 24 different universities where participants shared experiences and techniques — something that will be one of the new coordinator's responsibilities, as will becoming familiar with projects in the network and how Seattle could apply to technology to its own needs.

“Collaboration is the new competition,” Mattmiller said, citing a Harvard Business Review article.

The position is temporary for three years, and by the end of that time, Mattmiller said he is hoping for three things:

  • The community has helped to build and continues to support the smart city programs. “If we don't have our community understanding what we're trying to achieve. … We won't be successful,” he said.
  • City departments are being helped in reaching goals by “deploying solutions that work for them.”
  • Residents' quality of life is improved.
“We are looking for candidates who want to engage in service," Matmiller said, "who want to think about how technology benefits communities and has a passion for collaboration."

More information is available here; applications are being accepted through April 11.

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.