Saad Bashir has led Ottawa's IT department since 2016 and previously served as director of economic development and innovation for the Canadian capital.
Mayor Jenny Durkan has nominated Saad Bashir to lead Seattle’s Information Technology Department as the city’s chief technology officer, she said Tuesday.
Bashir has led Ottawa’s IT department since 2016 and previously served as director of economic development and innovation for the Canadian capital.
In Seattle, if confirmed by the City Council, he’ll oversee an annual budget of more than $250 million and the equivalent of about 680 full-time employees.
Bashir will head up a department that’s been without a permanent director for 12 months and will be expected to help a city that’s struggled in recent times with certain large-scale technology projects despite serving as a global hub for tech companies.
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He’ll be paid $240,000 annually, according to the mayor’s office – about $60,000 more than his predecessor earned in 2017.
“It’s crucial to have a leader in our IT department that will ensure that our city keeps up with new developments and innovations, and I believe Saad is that leader,” Durkan said in a news conference at City Hall, praising Bashir for “streamlining processes, increasing productivity and enhancing agility” in Ottawa.
Bashir’s track record “empowering existing talent” also was important to the mayor, she said, describing her nominee as a team player.
Seattle’s IT department is about twice the size of Ottawa’s. But Durkan said Bashir has the right experience and personality to take the helm.
Before serving in government, he worked for companies such as Citibank and Canadian Pacific.
As Ottawa’s economic-development director, Bashir was a customer of that city’s IT services, and when he took over the IT department, he brought along a customer-centered ethos, Durkan said Tuesday.
Initially, Ottawa’s IT workers were “scared, confused and there was no sense of clear direction,” Bashir told the Ottawa Citizen in 2017. He set out to boost morale and, with many skilled workers nearing retirement, started a job-shadowing program.
Bashir said Seattle’s private tech-sector activity should keep the city “on its technology toes,” and he promised to “question and simplify every internal IT process, policy and structure” while re-imagining how the IT department does business.
“What we should not offer is red tape,” he said, also vowing to partner with local tech giants.
Consolidated under former Mayor Ed Murray, the IT department is one of the city’s least visible but most important agencies, responsible for managing telecommunications, data, computer and cybersecurity services for every other arm of government, from the police and fire departments to the waste and electric utilities.
Before the Murray administration, individual Seattle agencies maintained their own IT units, and the transition hasn’t been easy. In 2017, Crosscut reported the consolidation caused widespread confusion and frustration.
In 2016, Seattle’s new utility-billing system launched nearly a year late and about $34 million over budget.
Last year, the city’s new system for construction permits, inspections and complaints encountered dozens of problems, exacerbating backlogs.
Meanwhile, Seattle City Light has been installing new, advanced electric meters.
“We’ve seen some of these projects roll out not as successful as we’d like,” Durkan said. “We’re revamping, almost department by department, how we do business and interface with the public, and these projects are very difficult.”
Murray’s IT chief, Michael Mattmiller, resigned in January 2018, shortly after Durkan took office. He had worked at Microsoft and now is a government-affairs director there.
Seattle paid Mattmiller about $180,000 annually.
Tracye Cantrell has been serving as the IT department’s acting director.
More than 200 candidates applied to lead the department on a permanent basis and a Durkan-appointed search committee invited 10 to interview, said committee co-chair Sherry Williams, executive director of operations at the nonprofit Technology Access Foundation.
“We strongly believe that Mayor Durkan’s choice has what it takes to motivate and innovate the department for years to come,” Williams said.