“We do IT every day so we’re good with IT. We don’t do RFPs every day so that’s a challenge for us, making sure we stay within the confines of what’s the right and proper way to do this.”
Paul Haugan, Director of Innovation and Technology at the City of Auburn WA
Paul has over 26 years of experience in the IT industry. He’s currently the Director of Innovation and Technology at the City of Auburn WA, and previously served as the CIO of Johnson County KS, and CIO of the City of Lynwood WA.
Could you give us a little bit of background on yourself and your story and how you became the Director of Innovation and Technology in the City of Auburn?
Paul: Yeah. I got into technology back in the beginning, back when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were just kids out of college. I remember the Apple 2 and I remember the IBM PC of course, and MS-DOS. I was a kid myself. My brother and I began running several companies in the graphics industry. Did that for about 20 years. After 20 years of 16-hour days I decided there was more to life. I had seven-year-old and an eight-year-old daughter that didn’t get to see dad very much.
I went back to school, finished my degree. Immediately following that I went to work for the city of Fresno, managing their ERP applications, and did that for about three, three-and-a-half years. Had a blast. It was a lot of fun. Had an opportunity to come to Washington to take over IT for Lynnwood, which is north of Lake Washington.
Spent six years having the time of my life, and of course I was in the Pacific Northwest so you’ve got green and you’ve got sunshine, and you get rain, fresh air. And then I had an opportunity to take over the CIO in Johnson County, Kansas.
I did that for about two years, and it was an interesting experience. Wonderful staff. Wonderful, absolutely incredible staff I got to work with, but got kind of homesick. Opportunity came up to come back to Washington. Spent a couple of months consulting with the University of Oklahoma on HIPAA security and then the City of Auburn called me and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’ve been here the past 18 months having a ball.
Here at the City of Auburn, we’re just doing some really, really interesting things. I think we discovered we’re the first FAA approved municipal drone program in the country. We’ve got 15 pilots out there flying drones, doing all kinds of stuff on the environment services side of the house. We’ve got a team over in our police department doing accident re-creating. Yeah, we’re doing a lot of fun stuff.
Now we’re diving into IoT. We’ve got a pilot project coming up here on Main Street where we’re working with a company that’s going to be setting sensors to help us get our arms wrapped around the data that’s coming through. The parking, traffic, lights, road conditions, everything we can get in this industry. I mean I was at a conference here probably about two months ago where I was listed as one of the speakers talking about the 20 petabytes of data that were going to be created by outside objects by 2020.
Paul: I mean that’s just monstrous data and we’ve got to be ready for it, you know? This is one of those tidal waves where you have to be ready or it’s going to hit you hard. We’re trying to get our arms wrapped around that.
It sounds like you guys are doing some really innovative, groundbreaking stuff. What are some of the challenges you face to getting those projects up and running?
Paul: Well, you know, first off, we’ve got a great Mayor and a great Council, but one thing I discovered in IT is in IT you have to perform. You have to make a connection between technology and business and value. Value is the big key element. It’s the big key word for us. They give us millions of dollars to do IT and one of the questions I’ve challenged my staff with is what do you do on the street if somebody comes up and says, “Why are you spending this money on IT in Auburn?” What do you say to them? How do you explain the value? How do you explain how we’re making life better? How do you talk to efficiencies and effectiveness?
That has begun the culture change in IT around here that gets us to a point where when we come up with a crazy idea like drones we can go to council and say, “This is something that we want to do and here’s why,” and because we’ve got the credibility built up because we’re spending our money wisely, our projects are not technology for technology’s sake; they’re technology connected to the city’s strategic vision, it makes sense to them, and we keep them up to date on a regular basis and that’s why we’ve got the support.
Now, the other side of that though is now we have to perform. Now we have to do it, and we have been doing it. I have a young lady in here who is an amazing, amazing analyst who took the drone program and just ran with it. I mean just absolutely ran with it and we’re getting some really great results out of it now.
How do you do it? You’ve got to do the work, man. You’ve just got to do the work. You’ve got to be transparent. You’ve got to communicate. You’ve got to be able to connect the value equation. I know we’re going to be talking about procurement here in a bit, that’s another piece of it. So much value can be captured during your procurement processes and if you’re not watching them correctly, you’re not doing them correctly. If you don’t have trusted and proven methods for doing it, it can get you in trouble and we don’t want to do that. For us it’s all about connecting value and then communicating that to the people that get the value.
How has procurement worked inside the City of Auburn as compared to Johnson County, Lynnwood and other places you’ve worked in the past?
Paul: We’ve had much more defined processes in Johnson County. Johnson County was a much bigger organization, 4,000 employees. It was roughly a billion dollar budget so there were much more defined procurement practices in place.
In the City of Lynnwood, we actually had a Procurement Department. It was actually a division of Finance, that handled procurement for us for anything above just your regular day-to-day operating, which was wonderful in my experience because our procurement management was a true pro, true professionals. You really understood procurement and she understood the differences in the departments that had to do procurements and the differences between how they needed to do it and the timelines they operated it on.
For example, if you’re in Procurement and you’re doing capital projects, a lot of those laws come down from the state, come down from the feds depending on the funding source and you have to work within those timelines, so that was a tedious, long, defined process. For someone in IT, it would drive them crazy. We didn’t deal with capital projects. We dealt with computer replacements. That was software. We dealt with consultants and as we all know IT evolves and changes on a regular basis, sometimes very quickly. We needed to be very responsive, and Marty and her team understood that and worked very closely with us to make sure we stayed within our procurement guidelines but were able to drastically reduce the timeframe of the procurement. That was in my estimation the best solution.
Here at the City of Auburn, we don’t have a procurement department. We do that all inside our own departments and my assistant director and my finance analyst, who also do the drone programs, are our checkpoints on all procurement requirements.
To make sure that we stay within guidelines and that we continue to be responsive and not caught up in the bureaucracy, so and that’s also linked to the budget, the perfect person to kind of be that linchpin, making sure that we stay on the right path.
Once we have the RFP in a final draft form we send it to our legal group. They vet it for any legal issues and look at the boilerplate and make sure we’re okay on there. I will usually run it by our risk manager over in HR to make sure they don’t see any red flags. From there, we run the entire RFP. It is not, I will tell you, the most efficient way to do it.
I would prefer not to be, especially when you get into RFPs which brings along with it a series of legal liability issues and transparency issues and public records issues, and we’re IT people. We’re not procurement experts. We’re IT people. That would probably be my concern.
Yeah, you have to make sure there aren’t any errors in the way that you’re running your process that could result in a lawsuit. What are some of the other kind of challenges?
We have to make sure it’s distributed properly. We have to make sure there’s a broad enough plane of companies that can bid on it. Because we’re going out to the public we of course come under the Office of Civil Rights requirements. We have to be colorblind and gender-blind. It has to be a blank process as much as possible, which personally I agree with. I think it’s a wonderful way to do it. It’s a difficult thing to do if it’s not what you’re doing every day.
We do IT every day so we’re good with IT. We don’t do RFPs every day so that’s a challenge for us, making sure we stay within the confines of what’s the right and proper way to do this.
If you could change something about the process what would it be?
Paul: Gosh, if we could make one single change it would be having a procurement officer or a procurement officer and a couple of staff to be the ones that actually did a procurement. If I had my one wish that would be it.
Secondarily, following that would be a set of defined procurement policies, procedures, methodologies, a centralized list somewhere of where you post your RFPs to that meet the criteria of the Office of Civil Rights. Those are the things that would make life so much easier.
A central database of vendors based on specific technology verticals; as a perfect example, IoT. Some companies out there have got to be putting together IoT management platforms.
You do a search on that right now and you don’t see much but I’m not sure it’s because there’s not very many people doing it or it’s because nobody really knows how to define this yet.
Having a central repository of companies that you can touch base with to talk capabilities and costs and methodologies in purchasing would be a tremendous help to us. I don’t like to have to have my staff go out and do a blank search every time we start something.
It’s nice to know we’ve got a starting point because we’re funded here to take care of technology and to bring things to market, which for us is our customers, not do to R&D on items that we shouldn’t have to do R&D on.
In lieu of hiring a procurement team, do you have any plans in place or approaches to help solve those issues?
Paul: It would, and right now I’ve got a team here that’s working on updating our practices and procedures internally for IT and we’ve made sure that we’ve got subject matter for procurement in there. We’re trying not to centralize procurement to a point where it becomes a bottleneck. We want staff to be able to go out and take care of things that need to be taken care of; they just need the guidelines to know how to do it. If I’ve got a technician out there and they need to go run by the store and pick up a keyboard, I don’t want them to have to come here and place an order. I want them to go to the store and buy a keyboard. But we’ve got to have the practices in place and the procedures so that they know with a fair level of confidence that they’re doing the right thing in the right way.
We’ve got that under way. We’re probably about 25% through the process now. I think that’s going to have a great impact on our staff. It’s going to take a lot of pressure off of them. Our larger procurement stuff, when we’re buying 150 or 200 computers, we’ve still got to go through a specific process and that’s defined by City Code so we don’t have much leniency there. That’s fine. That’s fine.
It is enabling staff to go out and take care of things that need to be taken care of, that’s one of the big things for us.
What are some of the obstacles that you’ve encountered in that process of trying to standardize IT procurements?
Paul: Well, what I was just talking about is probably one of the biggest challenges. In many ways Auburn is very progressive. It’s very progressive on a lot of things. Yet so many cities are doing processes that have been around for 100 years. There’s a lot of institutional beliefs and behaviors that have a tendency to hang on. In my group, in IT here, we are centralized IT. We manage IT for the entire city. We have no shadow IT we have to worry about, which is great on the operational side but it is a larger burden capacity-wise to be able to get issues taken care of. So one of our goals here is to enable staff and empower staff to go out and make those decisions, and that runs counter to a lot of the old school institutional beliefs, so that has been a challenge.
Having long conversations with the executive team about why we’re doing this, what the impact is, educating them as to the impact it’s going to have on them, talking to our HR Department, helping to break down some of those old barriers of you have to stand behind your software developer and count the number of lines of code, which is what they used to do back in the 90s. We don’t operate like that any more. Having those conversations and it’s more important for me to understand that our customers are being care of and projects are getting done and how staff do that is up to them to a large extent. Do I have a staff that doesn’t mind working 16 hours a day and then wants to take a day off? That’s one of the new things that we’re talking about here.
In the beginning the institutional behaviors and habits, start to move them aside and to look at new ways of doing things that may be more effective, and may give staff the opportunity to get a little more out of doing the work; instead of just coming in and doing work, actually enjoying what they’re doing.
Those are some of the challenges. Of course the other challenge is staff themselves and getting them to understand and adopt a new culture. I do have an expectation that they’re going to go out and be more invested in their clients and I’ve going to give them some authority that goes with that, and that’s a new thing for them. It’s a little heady on one side; it’s a little scary on the other.
It’s changing culture both internally and externally. It’s making sure that we are still staying within state-established guidelines. I’m not handing staff new signature authorities to go out and buy $50,000 worth of stuff. That’s not what I’m doing, but it is telling them that they can go out and do some things to help take care of the customers themselves. That’s a lot that we are continuing to draw.
If there were one or two pieces of advice that you wanted to share with other technology leaders in similar positions, what would they be?
Paul: Make sure that you are a leader to your staff. Provide your staff with leadership: coach them, and mentor them. They will do amazing things, absolutely amazing things for you if you give them the opportunity to do amazing things. That’s probably the top piece of advice I could give.
Second, don’t lose your fire. Don’t lose your fire. You know, there’s a reason we got into IT, hang on to it. It will keep you going through the dark times. We got into IT because it challenged us, it evolved, it changed. We never got bored, and even though we are now in positions of leadership and we have other issues we’ve got to deal with, like politics sometimes, don’t forget why you got into the business. It’s still the best damned business you can be in across the board.