CTO appointment advances out of committee

On Thursday the Council voted out of committee the confirmation of Saad Bashir as the city’s new CTO and head of the Seattle IT department. His confirmation comes up for final vote on March 18th.

In reading through Bashir’s written answers to the questions posed to him by the Council members, one quickly comes to the conclusion that he is a big fan of bulleted lists.  He outlines nine specific goals as CTO:

  1. Focus – perfect clarity on dynamic business deliverables
  2. Outcome-Driven – align every big and small effort to business outcomes
  3. Nimble – a living IT organization that moves at the pace of business
  4. Employee Focus – create an environment for employees that builds on trust and provide professional development to best serve this City
  5. Client-Centric – think client first when making big and small IT decisions
  6. Transparency – proactively share usage of IT human and financial resources with all stakeholders
  7. Collaborative – co-create solutions with end users and strategic private sector partnerships
  8. Digital Equity – aim to provide a range of digital solutions respecting variety of stakeholder needs
  9. Privacy – create awareness and adhere to all privacy associated policies and guidelines

In answer to a question on the major challenges facing the IT department, he listed nine “urgent opportunities”:

  1. Alignment: Bashir says that there is a “mismatch of stakeholder expectations” within client departments, and that even within the IT department itself there is a “divergence of views” of its own mandate and vision.
  2. Process: he says that “an over-engineered process environment” has slowed down the department, and that the governance structures around IT can be streamlined and strengthened.
  3. Structure: he wants to change the IT department’s internal organization from “orthodox IT functions” to an “agile formation” that can form “small deliver focused, cross-functional and diverse teams.”
  4. Skills: He says that Seattle IT must pursue an “all hands on deck” approach to “tackle real people liability issues” where staff members’ skills are obsolete.
  5. Resources: Bashir wants to overhaul the way IT work is budgeted.
  6. Technology: HE advocates for a “disciplined and thoughtful approach” to legacy technology, modernization, and new technology innovations.
  7. Security: He sees keeping up with “a daily changing security landscape” as essential, including raising cyber awareness..
  8. Compliance: Saying that compliance to legislation is “essential” in the public sector, he states that the department must review and strengthen all compliance-related work continuously.
  9. Communication: Bashir wants to change how Seattle IT informs its stakeholders, as well as how communication flows back into the department.

Bashir also states that there is “no question that the general employee morale at Seattle II can be improved — and has another list of actions he wants to take to address that.

He says that he does not support a full municipal broadband infrastructure deployment, for a variety of reasons, favoring instead public-private partnerships and leveraging relationships with telecom and cable providers to advance low-income plans and programming.

In the committee meeting on Tuesday, Council members dug deeper into some of his written answer. Council member Herbold noted that Bashir had mentioned the use of chatbots, and asked him to comment on what the consequences might be for the “good jobs” that the city offers to its workforce. Bashir responded that he saw customer service chatbots as a way to take care of routine questions, “not the fun ones,” so that the human customer service personnel could focus on the non-routine ones — and emphasized that chatbots are not a workforce-reduction mechanism.

Council President Harrell asked Bashir to elaborate on the morale problems in the IT department. He said that he already has spoken to many employees. He met some who has already “given up,” which he found sad, and other who are taking a “wait and see” approach, in particular waiting to see if skills development efforts reach them. Bashir believed that if he could turn them, the department would see a “sea change” in morale. He also stated his belief that morale is affected when people feel that they are not being heard, and he is trying to make Seattle IT a safe place for people to talk.

Harrell also asked him about one of the lessons he had listed as a learning from his prior jobs: “avoiding 5-10 year long and $100M+ transformation plans and instead thinking of 18-month planning sprints.” Bashir said that trying to predict where technology will be in five years is a guessing game, which tells him that they shouldn’t be trying to paint a long-term picture and make it sound accurate. He also said that IT is in the service business and shouldn’t be telling other departments how to run their business — and that because many departments don’t know where their own business is going, that makes it even more dangerous for the IT department to set long-term visions. Further, he noted that governments tend to be on 4-5 year political cycles, so if a service group makes a 5-year transformation plan that is intended to last for 20 years, they can’t be sure that it will even survive the next political cycle.

Bashir’s nomination was voted out of committee unanimously, and heads to the full City Council meeting on March 18th for final approval (it missed the Thursday midday cutoff for this Monday’s agenda). As is the Council’s custom, Harrell is drafting a “letter of expectations” to accompany the final confirmation.