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S4 E2: Service Modernization at City of Seattle with Dan Lewis and Robb Landis

In today’s podcast, we will talk about the struggles of transitioning from an on-premise to a cloud collaboration environment.

With our guests, Dan Lewis, Director of Service Modernization in the City of Seattle, and Robb Landis, solution architect, we will dive into the strategies adopted by a government organization to leverage Microsoft 365 into their various lines of businesses and how these strategies helped them be proactive in telework when the pandemic hit.

Let’s discover how a champion program of 12 participants has grown to have 14,000 members!

In this episode:

Modernizing IT in the City of Tech Giants

Seattle is home to some of the large tech companies, and the city does work with them in certain capacities and network innovative ideas with the other companies in the private sector. But believe it or not, that has had no direct correlation to the pace of modernization at the City of Seattle. In fact, I would say it’s almost been more of a challenge because there are plenty of places for technical resources to go find a job in the private sector versus the public sector. A lot of the time within our workforce we have some really high caliber folks, but they’re typically the individuals that you find who have decided to commit a portion of their career to public service.

Kickstarting the modernization with Microsoft 365

When I joined the city, it was specifically because I had started working with them and saw that they were heading towards Office 365. They had gotten Exchange, SharePoint and were starting to look at OneDrive, but everything was still the old way—it was still on-prem, even the SharePoint environments and file storage. So the tools were there, the platform was there, but none of the things had been put in place to make it a success. No governance, no skills training and learning programs, no user groups, no communication plans, nor any fully operational staff. But our solutions architect here, Robb Landis, was dedicated to the effort.

When we looked at the vision, we had a realization of what was to come ahead in modernization and organic adoption. So we started focusing on our support model, our strategy model, what is our operations, and really just focusing on making sure that we were in a position to support the platform, but at the same time to get the education and training that was going to be so vital to our success out there.

On having a core group of experts handling the adoption

A year and a half ago, the department got a new Chief Technology Officer, Saad Bashir. Under his leadership, he gave his staff the resources and empowerment it needed to go forth. So a new division was established –the digital workplace division – and it became a full division.

The Microsoft 365 stack itself quickly expanded, as we’re all happy it did. And so with that division, we were able to consolidate our resources and specifically then create a unified strategy for how we were going to support it and what we were trying to achieve. We developed success metrics and weighed them to see if our efforts were being rewarded. So, it was really important to see the model mature, stick to what we knew worked best, and made sure the organization adopted those best practices.

Accelerated pilot

We personally got caught in a pickle in regard to COVID because we’re in government tenants, so Teams had not been deployed to our tenant ‘til last year. So during that time, we had to quickly go into pilot mode.

When we rolled out Teams, we started off with the 39 departments that the city has. And all of them have different requirements, specifically around preservation, retention of records, and security. We started off with using Microsoft forms as an intake step, then we used power automate to collect the information in the forms to automate a provisioning process. We were adopting Teams so quickly that a lot of retention settings were applied later on. We also had a very robust champions program with over a thousand members distributed through those 39 departments, so we had lead experts available to answer questions and support the adoption.

Rolling out Microsoft 365 collaboration capability across different business lines

Our OneDrive and SharePoint adoption had been leveraged a lot more for project-based workflows. And we were showing how, from a small collaboration even within your core team, you can have this persistent file sharing and all the conversations and meetings all in one place. And I know that concept is pretty intuitive for a lot of people who are in the industry, but when you’re working with construction teams and with city light who is trading power, we try to make parallels on how this might work with frontline workers, as well as back-office staff. We had to make the correlations across all lines of business, which has been the challenge.

The digital workplace champions program

There are so many different components in local government, finance, fire, police, and all the human services work. So prior to COVID, we had started a digital workplace champions program and built out a champions program that had basically about 300 participants.

We were a small team compared to a workforce of about 10,000+ who, all at the same time, started using these tools. So we established some remote work office hours to answer questions. In just a few months, our champions program grew to thousands of members. All throughout the city, we had thousands of champions who took the learning and sharing them with their colleagues. From there, they were able to leverage the tools to do their work better and easier. Through these office hours, from 12 participants, we now have had over 14,000 session participants to date.

On information governance

With the large amount of fast adoption we were doing, we had to make sure that we were doing things the right way. Luckily, the solutions Robb and the team set up were correct. We also had several initiatives in play to improve our efforts in protecting our data. One is shifting our SharePoint governance model. It’s not just about SharePoint now, we have OneDrive and Teams and the whole stack, so we wanted to adjust our governance model. We’re looking at incorporating more business stakeholders, including our city court’s office, who’s over our city records program. We’ve put in a lot of effort into the security and compliance center.

Also, with the increase in adoption of files going to OneDrive from file shares, we’ve been deploying Azure information protection to classify and protect the data as well as data loss prevention policy use for traffic coming in and going out. We’re planning on applying that to our team workloads as well. So that’s how we make sure that we protect our data and keep them secure.

Success stories

Our city often has council meetings where boards, commissioners, and groups meet with people and communities on a regular basis. But now, with COVID, all that came to a stop. The flow of connecting with the community has changed and was a huge challenge for us. So leveraging Teams for live events and other collaboration technologies, we’ve had been able to automatically transcribe and have multiple languages available so that people can join these meetings remotely.

We also make sure to have multiple tools for the different needs of our various userbase. What’s interesting is that, with Teams and its specific capabilities such as chatbots and bot automation among others, the workload of the support desk has been reduced. They can now focus on operations and strategic planning, which is really cool.

Updating governance model for the modern workplace

Just recently, we acquired AvePoint’s governance model. We no longer want to do things manually, so we are going to leverage the governance tools to preset governance policies. Our resources are dwindling from a budget standpoint, so it seemed more imperative that we’re automating the critical pieces of our operations, and governance is such a critical piece of making sure that we’re doing things accordingly.


Today’s takeaway from Dan and Robb:

At the end of the day, it is all about removing IT from the conversation. The people won’t care about the intricacies of what happened in the past; their only goal is to achieve their work quickly. Our job as IT is to provide tools to make that happen and make sure those things are handled consistently.”


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