Northwest IT savvy molds Seattle's priorities

Northwest IT savvy molds Seattle's priorities

Employees are the most significant resource Seattle has, city exec Chakoian says

By Donna Young

GCN Staff

When Marty Chakoian, Seattle's chief technology officer, packed up his van in 1970 and took a road trip from Chicago to Seattle, he didn't know his journey would lead him to a 28-year career in public service. The Chicago native had studied science and engineering at Purdue University for three years and later received a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois. But it was Chakoian's graduate work in English at the University of Washington that led him down the technology highway.

Chakoian began his career as a intern in the Seattle mayor's office, typing letters on an electric typewriter. Now he is the city's top information technology official in a region known for its technologically sophisticated residents.

Marty Chakoian, Seattle's CTO, works in one of North America's most technologically sophisticated regions.

Chakoian spoke with GCN/State & Local about why he is revved up about public service and what lies ahead on Seattle's wired roads.

CHAKOIAN: Seattle is an exciting city to work in public service, especially in the area of information technology. Everyone in the community is enthusiastic about every advancement the city makes. Seattle citizens are highly educated and very technology literate because of the tech market that exists here. The technology market also makes it challenging for the city to compete for employees. We view our employees as the most significant resource we have. Our department spends a lot of time making sure we meet the needs of our employees. But it is always an intense challenge to keep good people.

I've stayed in city government because I like knowing what we do is directly connected to people's lives. For instance, my neighbor was having trouble with her sewer. The city's geographic information system could show in detail exactly where her sewer lines run, right up to her house. I was able to see directly the services my department provides to the community.


Marty Chakoian

Chief Technology Officer

Matt Lampe

Director, Strategic Planning and Policy

Bill Schrier

Director, Operations

Rona Zevin

Director, Community Technology

Claire Henning

Director, Finance and Administration

Patty Kunitsugu

Director, Integrated Services


Source: Seattle Department of Information Technology

Our ArcView GIS [from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif.] helps all city agencies. The police use it to track residential burglaries and determine where we need to implement crime prevention programs, and to measure their effectiveness. The Water Department uses it where there is a reported problem with too much chlorine. They can geographically see which residents would be affected and where to shut off valves.

We have a Business Management Council with various subcommittees to advise and help make IT decisions. We collaborate with all city departments to help in the budget process. The department maintains and oversees the city's file servers, telephone network, radio system, the city Web site and the city-owned cable TV station.

My office is an operating fund department. We collect our revenue from other city agencies, but not always as a bill. Each department is set up on a cost allocation method based on a percentage formula. This way, we don't spend a lot of time doing internal accounting.

We are making an effort to standardize everything. We want more consistency within our systems. The city is consolidating most of its agencies into three buildings. One is an existing 60-story building that will house my department. We will have a facility where the servers will be stored, giving us a uniform data network throughout the facility. It will significantly improve our reliability and efficiency. We have several models of Compaq ProLiant servers. We are now primarily purchasing ProLiant DL380 servers.

Our Web site, at, is a priority for us right now. The city is working to move toward more service delivery on the Web. We want to take our permit system and be able to extend applications to the Web so citizens can obtain permits and licenses on the Internet.

Our site gets more than 7 million hits, 1.6 million page views, in almost 350,000 user sessions per month. We just won Best Local Government Web site at the 2000 Best of the Web awards.

Although Seattle is a city known for its technology, we still have problems with the digital divide. The city has a program in place to help areas of the community that don't have access to computers or the Internet. The Technology and Literacy Access Program is a volunteer program and is partially funded through the taxes we receive from cable television.

We are also working on our Law, Safety and Justice initiative to integrate our police, fire department, and court information systems. We might be replacing the system altogether.

Major divisionsMajor programs
Data Center and Network Services'Maintains the city's file servers and provides service help desk for all city agencies

Public Access Network and Cable TV Office'Oversees the programming and maintenance for public access television and regulates area cable providers

Telephone Network and Communication Shop'Provides telephone services for city agencies and supports radio communication for the emergency dispatch offices

Web Development and Maintenance'Oversees the city Web site and online services

Network consolidation'Working to standardize city systems to provide one uniform data network

Geographic information systems'Coordinates GIS for all city agencies

Electronic commerce and Web development'Creating online services for citizens through the city's Web site

Technology and Literacy Access Program'Operates a volunteer program that provides computers and online access in low-income neighborhoods

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