Government Technology Top News
With roughly five weeks remaining before the Dec. 28 FirstNet opt-out deadline, some states are looking for alternatives to the nationwide first responder network. To date, 31 states and two territories have signed on.
But members of the FirstNet Colorado Governing Body (FNCGB) said they still have questions and will continue to compare FirstNet’s plan for their state with the promising joint proposal from a communications technology company and a global investment banking and financial services group.
The FNCGB, the public safety professionals charged with identifying potential partners and guiding Gov. John Hickenlooper’s final decision, issued an RFP for potential partners in March, should the state opt out and independently create its own portion of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN).
On Nov. 17, the FNCGB made a conditional award to the U.S.-based communications tech company Rivada Networks and the Australian financial services provider Macquarie Group.
Similarly, officials in New Hampshire approved their own no-cost, no-obligation contract with Rivada last year, according to its Statewide Interoperability Coordinator John T. Stevens, the state's single point of contact for FirstNet. The state is one of five in New England that has issued its own RFP to explore opting out of national network.
FNCGB members declined to discuss specifics about the Rivada-Mcquarie proposal that impressed them. But the group’s Vice Chairman Bob Fifer, the mayor of Arvada, Colo., said the two entities’ strengths complement each other, bolstering any weaknesses, and called it “a very viable option” to present to Hickenlooper.
Fifer said he liked the proposal’s “local focus” as an alternative to joining a nationwide endeavor spearheaded by outside entities. His personal opinion, the mayor added, is that an opt-out scenario could stimulate rural broadband penetration and tele-education.
“If that network expands and it is a local-driven network as opposed to a national network, that may give us that opportunity,” Fifer said.
FNCGB Chairman Eric Tade, the fire chief in Denver, said regardless of whether the state opts in or out, he’s confident significant communications improvements will result. But Tade said officials continue to be concerned about the “penalties or challenges” that could follow an opt-out decision.
“I think it’s unclear exactly how the states may or may not be penalized. Right now, I don’t know if we know of there to be any advantage to opting out,” Tade said, emphasizing his group continues to scrutinize opt-in and opt-out scenarios.
“I don’t believe there was anything that called out that you’re going to get a big hand-slap if you opt out,” Fifer said, adding that members are nevertheless concerned Colorado could face penalties to join FirstNet if its own network doesn't succeed.
Fifer also said he believes the duration of FirstNet’s 25-year contract with AT&T would violate Colorado’s state constitution. Regardless of whether Colorado opts in or out of FirstNet, Tade and others said coverage and access are among the key issues they hope a more robust network would address.
Board member Chad Day, sheriff in rural Yuma County on the eastern border with Kansas and Nebraska, said coverage is the defining issue regardless of whether Colorado opts in or out.
Day, a member of the FNCGB’s scoring committee which reviewed RFP submissions, said nothing particularly stood out to him about the Rivada-Macquarie proposal, and pronounced himself “not terribly impressed with any of the options.”
“The challenge that we have here is that there are no, I’ll say ‘well-known’ commercial carriers. It’s not that they’re not here, but the big commercial carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon — they just don’t provide usable coverage out here from a law enforcement or a first responder perspective,” Day said.
FNCGB board member Randy Lesher, chief of Thompson Valley Emergency Medical Services, said the state has generally good coverage along the Front Range of mountains, but that more remote areas with lower populations don’t always.
“For Colorado, that’s the biggest issue, period. A lot of our folks are rural people, and I think in the overall picture of things, they do get left out,” Lesher said.
Tade called coverage the primary question “because clearly, if there’s no coverage, there’s no accessibility, there’s no option.”
“Ultimately, if you want true interoperability, you need to have coverage everywhere and then accessibility and cost are important options,” he continued.
The Thompson Valley chief agreed, adding: “You’re only as good as the amount of money you have when it comes to this stuff. How far can you go, but controlling your own destiny?”
Members declined to discuss potential costs of an independent state network relative to joining FirstNet, but Fifer said doing so could mean leveraging city, county and regional transportation assets including local fiber.
“Putting it together could be costly. That’s something that we have to be aware of. You’ve got to connect it all and you’ve got to manage it and maintain it,” Fifer said.
The effect states will have on FirstNet and to a potentially national network if a significant number should opt out remains unclear, but officials said it will likely have an impact.
“I think that’s a question that nobody really has an answer to,” Tade said, adding that it’s uncertain whether opt-out states would work separately on their own networks, or partner with other opt-outs.
Both options raise interesting questions, Fifer said, noting that individual agencies in opt-in states aren’t obligated to join FirstNet themselves. Once a final decision is reached, officials must embark on a different journey.
“We now have to say, ‘What does this mean to me?’ Opt in or opt out, we’re going to have to go through an education process,” the vice chairman said.
Government technology leaders throughout the country have once again condemned a plan to repeal net neutrality regulations proposed by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai.
New York City Chief Technology Officer Miguel Gamiño is one of the loudest voices decrying the rollback, while Seattle’s IT Department has released an oppositional statement and technologists in city governments from Detroit to Cincinnati to Kansas City, Mo., have taken to Twitter to urge the FCC to reconsider. The effort is concentrated and fierce, and it's been going all year.
In July, mayors and technologists from 50 jurisdictions penned a letter advocating against the removal of net neutrality protections, and in September, tech leaders from six cities — New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Washington, D.C., and Boston — visited the nation’s capital to voice concerns over a potential rollback.
The efforts began in response to a statement then-FCC Commissioner Pai made in December 2016 suggesting a need to “fire up the weed whacker and remove” current net neutrality rules instituted under the Obama administration, which forbid carriers from intentionally slowing down Internet speeds or content delivery. Pai, who was appointed FCC chairman by President Donald Trump in January, argues that net neutrality limits the growth of private industry. Gov tech leaders say removing the rules weakens the egalitarian nature of the Internet, limiting creativity, innovation and free speech. Essentially, without net neutrality, they warn that massive Internet service providers could charge users more to see certain content or websites, reserving bandwidth for corporate partners or the highest bidder.
Opposition has accelerated following Pai's release of a specific plan Tuesday to dismantle net neutrality. The New York Times has reported that this plan is widely expected to be approved during a meeting on Dec. 14. That hasn’t stopped gov tech leaders from fighting.
“Net neutrality is necessary to protect Seattle’s consumers and ensure all Internet content is equally accessible,” Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller said in a Wednesday press release.
Mattmiller’s words are largely a summation of feelings shared by many of the CIOs, CTOs and CDOs who shape how local governments are using tech to make service more efficient.
Connecticut’s chief data officer ponders value of network for state CDOs
In a recent Medium post, Connecticut Chief Data Officer Tyler Kleykamp pondered the benefits of establishing a collaborative network of chief data officers who work in state governments, one that would be similar to the Civic Analytics Network, which serves in the same capacity for city CDOs.
As Kleykamp notes in his post, “there’s no blueprint for being a state chief data officer.” The position is a new one, both at the state and city government level. It was nearly non-existent as recently as five years ago. While the position has become more common, its relative youth suggests a collaborative network could help define the role, facilitate sharing of best practices and generally enable states to offer better and more efficient services to residents. That’s certainly what the Civic Analytics Network seems to be doing for cities, Kleykamp noted.
He was inspired to write the piece after attending the Summit on Data-Smart Government at Harvard University earlier this month, where the Civic Analytics Network held a day and a half of private meetings before making educational and illustrative presentations for a limited number of attendees from the public. One of Kleykamp’s key takeaways was that “it’s easier to be the first to have a job alongside a group of other first-timers than it is to do it alone.”
Philadelphia releases police complaints data set
The info was released as part of the Philadelphia Police Department’s accountability process, and it includes civilian complaints against police misconduct as well as details about the demographics of officers involved, the allegations, the department’s internal affairs investigations and subsequent findings.
The city's Office of Innovation and Technology has been somewhat prolific as of late in releasing open data and creating tools. In fact, it recently built a property info tool called Atlas that revamps searches and mapping, bringing together relevant info in a singular visual application. With Atlas, users can now get the history of permits, licenses and inspections for a given address; research real estate info such as values, zoning and document archives; view recent activity near an address such as crime and 311 service requests; and explore historical imagery.
Using open data to create tools like Atlas is a fast-rising trend in many cities. Whereas for years cities worked to release info en masse to foster transparency and facilitate civic tech projects, municipal governments are now seeking to make it easier for residents who aren’t tech or data savvy to improve their lives.
Philadelphia recently had a major success in this regard after roughly 3 million users viewed a simple visualization it created of the Philadelphia marathon, presumably without breaking a sweat, unlike the runners.
Code for America adds Sacramento County to food assistance app
One of Code for America’s major focuses as of late has been GetCalFresh, a free nonprofit service to help eligible Californians apply for the state’s food stamps program. Ddevelopers announced this week that they have expanded the breadth of the service’s availability to Sacramento County.
Adding Sacramento is significant for a few reasons. It brings the total number of California counties using GetCalFresh up to 21 out of a total 58, and while Los Angeles County is not yet eligible, most of the state’s other major population centers are, including San Francisco and San Diego. Sacramento is also a significant add because one of Code for America’s goals in developing GetCalFresh is to make sure that everyone who qualifies for food assistance gets it, and the group estimates that 87,000 Californians in Sacramento County are entitled to help but have not signed up for the program.
Code for America, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group, is partnering with the state government to develop GetCalFresh, the initial version of which was built more than two years ago. The platform facilitates easy and mobile access to CalFresh, California’s food assistance program, sometimes known nationally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). With GetCalFresh, it takes an applicant about eight minutes to apply for the program, a vast improvement over the previous average of 45 minutes.
Newly launched 500 Cities Data Challenge asks for cross-sector project ideas
A pair of philanthropic organizations is offering $1 million grants to 10 projects that seek to do cross-sector work combining the 500 Cities data set with digital tools in order to improve health outcomes in communities.
The money will be distributed as part of what has been dubbed the 500 Cities Data Challenge, launched by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The 500 Cities data set includes info from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and provides city and census tract-level small area estimates for chronic disease risk factors, clinical prevention services and other health outcomes for the 500 largest cities in the United States. The stated goal of the competition is to encourage local governments and other community stakeholders to dig into the 500 Cities data set and then develop innovative and analytical solutions to address social factors that influence health, factors such as housing, education and transportation.
On the competition’s Web page, organizers strongly encourage submissions to focus on rural and low-to-moderate income communities. The deadline to submit interest in participating is Dec. 1.
Neighborly has always been idealistic. It was founded, in so many words, to help citizens invest in municipal bonds that help the communities they live in.
But now the platform wants to go after the big fish too — with artificial intelligence, future plans for blockchain and other changes to the way it does business.
The company has launched a new effort called Neighborly Investments, which for the time being is focusing on people and organizations with lots of money — multi-family offices, ultra-high net worth individuals, community banks and the like. Coming in to lead the effort is Christine Todd, who spent 22 years at the asset management firm Standish Mellon, serving as the company’s president for about four years and managing $30 billion in municipal bonds.
“The thing that we realized midway in is the vast majority of the capital is managed by really smart people who have entrusted their money to professional money managers,” said Jase Wilson, chief executive officer of the company.
They’re people with lots of money to invest, which means that they need to be able to make large buys at once. The problem with the way Neighborly was built was that it’s focused on individual municipal bond projects.
For now, Neighborly Investments functions pretty similarly to the regular Neighborly experience, except that its users will interact with it from a dashboard without going directly to the platform itself. In that way, they will be able to use the platform for vetting bonds according to Neighborly’s standards, which emphasize impact. Neighborly’s listings include both municipal bonds from the larger market and those that local governments have generated directly using the company’s platform.
“They have a read-only view of what goes into their portfolio and they can follow the story of the impact they’re having,” Wilson said.
Because Investments’ target users are people who invest large pools of money, it will offer some functionality meant to help those people more quickly process information about bonds.
“For them to go in and do even a $5 million buy on a single municipal bond offering is tough, because the way the market looks today is every project has 300 pages of documents to read,” he said.
So the company has developed machine reading functionality, incorporating machine learning algorithms, to help users identify the most important points in those documents. Artificial intelligence will also help the company learn more about correlations between different aspects of bonds, creditworthiness and the impact that those bonds end up having.
The technology and user experience will be a competitive advantage for Neighborly against similar services for investment managers, Todd said.
“There will be surprising elements in fundamentals and impact that AI will surface that humans might not otherwise know,” she said. “We will be able to scan the official statements and the documents to quickly get an understanding of the impact of each project rather than having human beings spend countless hours turning pages digging through that lengthy document.”
The platform also offers the ability to apply several filters — geographic, project type, bond type, etc. So a community bank could search for municipal bonds in its state, and could then narrow it down to bonds for park projects and then set terms for the types of bonds it wanted to see. The idea is to deliver bonds that meet the investor’s definition of positive impact.
Todd said she thinks the platform can make a big change in a couple of ways. One is in changing the way people think about making an impact with their money. Many, she said, turn to philanthropy in an attempt to make the world better — but the world of savings and investment, she said, can have positive impacts too. A municipal bond might build a library, or a park, or help improve transportation for the people who need it the most.
Second, she hopes to influence how people think about infrastructure. The vast majority of public infrastructure projects in the country in the past two centuries have been funded by bonds, she said. And if President Donald Trump wants to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure in 10 years, a promise he campaigned on, he would do well to look at the $400 billion-per-year municipal bond market.
“What we’d like to see is the municipal market be not only part of the plan, but the cornerstone of that plan,” Todd said.
In the future, Wilson said the company wants to offer bond packaging through Investments as well. Just like in the larger securities markets, where large lots of assets get bundled together into packages for investors to buy, Neighborly wants to bring together bonds that have been vetted according to its criteria and offer them en masse to big investors.
“That’s on the road map,” he said.
The company is also planning to eventually work blockchain into its system — “cloudsourcing,” as Todd said, transactional data and other information so as to better create an environment of transparency and speed up internal processes.
Todd said she’s excited about the prospect of jumping in with the company early on.
“I would say that my transition from Standish to Neighborly is very fortunate,” she said. “Opportunities like these don’t come along very often, where one’s own experience and mission aligns so well with an opportunity to grow a younger firm and make a sign impact in doing so.”
Neighborly wrapped up a $25 million Series A round in May. According to Wilson, the company has facilitated $100 million in bond investments this year, which was its first full year of offering investment capabilities to users.
Realizing that the longer work crews occupy the public right-of-way, the greater the cost, and potential for accidents and delays for residents, two of the nation’s more urban cities are using an application that lets them partner with private industry to save time and money as they plan construction projects.
The app, dotMaps, was first used by Chicago in 2015, then deployed in Seattle in August, and is reportedly being rolled out in two other U.S. cities. Its development has also informed the creation of another asset management and work order distribution tool, Atom, which debuted in January, according to a representative of the software company behind both.
It’s a creation of Los Angeles-area software company SADA Systems, which has considerable competition in this space.
Waze’s Connected Citizens Program also makes use of municipal data to educate agencies and residents about incidents, road closures, construction and special events. Redlands-based Esri too offers production mapping solutions aimed at managing workflows.
Microsoft and Google, in turn, partner with companies including Esri, and integrate with a variety of solutions.
SADA Systems is also close to Google, but its dotMaps integrates with Microsoft and Esri mapping solutions as well, to create a visualization that looks familiar and intuitive, said Patrick Skoglund, SADA System's Google Maps Practice lead.
Its performance is also layered, with a workflow that’s customizable by city but revolves around a map, letting users filter data via mapping, dashboard and calendar tools to display locations, moratoriums, special events and permitting.
The app tracks project information, which can be entered by public-sector staffers or private industry officials at, for example, utility companies — whose clearance and visibility levels can be set by the agency.
Then, when a “conflict” emerges — such as two entities with plans to build or dig in the same spot at the same time — the cloud-based app notifies all involved and suggests a conflict resolution. Officials have the ability to watch it all, and where needed, urge those involved to work it out. Skoglund compared its ease of use to Uber and Google Maps.
“There’s always been a common need of ‘Why doesn’t this exist in the enterprise space,’” he said. “So, how do we take that same set of adopted user experiences and put that into an enterprise-based solution for the state and local market?”
COLLABORATION IN CHICAGO
The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) created its Project Coordination Office (PCO) in 2012 with private-sector collaboration, during a time of record infrastructure build, according to George Keck, a program manager at Collins Engineers Inc., and the PCO.
Wanting to do more to coordinate construction than was possible with spreadsheets and a database, the city ultimately chose SADA’s solution for its ability to work with existing workflows, avoid repetitive code writing and build out reporting at the touch of a button.
“It’s the ease of use, the powerfulness of the tool, the ability to cross-collaborate with multiple utilities. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of permits and thousands of projects and special events that we’re coordinating,” Keck said, comparing dotMaps’ look, feel and search functionality to Gmail.
Specific areas of visualization include building and street closure permits, bus stops, zoning, parcel data and tax increment financing districts.
The city migrated agencies including its transportation, building and cultural affairs departments to dotMaps and has since been joined by the Illinois Department of Transportation and representatives of 26 different utilities.
Total user numbers have climbed from about a dozen initially to around 800, Keck said. On the public side, this includes everyone from commissioners to aldermen.
Chicago hasn’t done an independent analysis to determine savings attributable to dotMaps, but estimates its PCO has generated a savings of more than $100 million — a portion of which would be linked to dotMaps.
Keck said the agency works with parties involved in construction to ensure the financial burden of rebuilding and repaving the right-of-way is evenly shared when multiple utilities are involved. He credited dotMaps with facilitating this process.
The program manager said he thinks dotMaps can scale down for smaller sized jurisdictions, but in Chicago’s case, it has proved capable of enabling communication with the state DOT via the overlay of street surfacing progress data and the city’s pavement condition index.
COORDINATION IN SEATTLE
Like Chicago, Seattle is experiencing record development, and has 79 tower cranes currently aloft — believed to be more than any other city in North America except Toronto. In 2015, voters also approved the $930 million, nine-year Levy to Move Seattle, which will generate funding to improve traveler safety, maintain streets and bridges and invest in reliable, affordable travel options.
Seeking a way to better coordinate all of that activity, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Director Scott Kubly, a former CDOT managing deputy commissioner, brought dotMaps to Seattle’s attention.
Heather Marx, manager of SDOT’s project and construction coordination office, said the application was chosen following an RFP based on cost and performance. Implementation, including internal and external costs, was around $1 million, which included internal project management resources for 11 months.
With the solution in place, SDOT is able to look in on construction taking place in three hubs around the city, planning anywhere from six months to five years out — while scheduling work around major events.
Where previously public and private partners had to update SDOT’s database through spreadsheet uploads, now the agency works with SADA to use spatial analysis to find areas of intense time and right-of-way conflicts before they become costly in terms of time and money.
“If you have to dig a 20-foot hole and you have to dig a three-foot hole, dig the 20-foot hole first,” Marx said, praising the simplicity and beauty of the visualization. “Now, every project manager can and does enter their own data and update their own data. And many project managers will also resolve their own conflict.”
By using dotMaps, partners achieved a combined savings of more than $780,000 during September and October, nearly $500,000 of that realized by SDOT. In a statement, Kubly praised the resulting communications improvements, but also the tool's service “as a valuable mechanism to minimize the effects of road work on the public.”
“One of the beautiful things about the whole system is that as more and more cities use it, the functionality is just going to get richer and richer at a product level. I think SADA learned a lot from working with Chicago, and so we got to benefit from that,” Marx said.
The sound — and smell — of thousands of idling trucks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach could be fading if a new pilot project to convert them to part-time electric vehicles sticks. A one-mile-long test site, known as the eHighway, has been established near the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, to test three big-rigs equipped with electric-hybrid motors and the sort of extendable arm that connects the trucks to an overhead power supply. The vehicles are powered via a Siemens overhead catenary system, much in the same way that electric city buses and trains receive power. “The system is expected to lower fossil fuel consumption, reduce truck operating costs, substantially reduce smog-forming, toxic and CO2 emissions, and help accommodate the growing reliance on freight transportation,” Siemens spokesperson Annie Satow said. “The aim of this specific project is to demonstrate the eHighway system applied in truck operation on public roads in an urban U.S. setting and to further prepare applications for larger scale initiatives in the future.” The project, which is set to run through the end of the year, is a joint effort by Siemens and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), which oversees air quality improvement projects in Southern California, an area with a long history of high smog and pollutant levels. According to Siemens, trucks, like the kind that operate in ports daily, are the leading cause of smog-forming emissions in the region. “This project will help us evaluate the feasibility of a zero-emission cargo movement system using overhead catenary wires,” said Wayne Nastri, SCAQMD’s executive officer, in a statement. “This demonstration could lead to the deployment of eHighway systems that will reduce pollution and benefit public health for residents living near the ports.” The $13.5 million project is funded by $2.5 million from SCAQMD, as well as other sources which include the California Energy Commission; L.A. Metro; Port of Long Beach; and a settlement from China Shipping. The Port of Los Angeles — located next to the sprawling Port of Long Beach, in San Pedro Bay — reported record clean air gains in 2016, surpassing its 2020 goal for reducing emissions at the port. Much of the improvement came from reducing ship emissions, the port reported.
Nitrous oxide emissions from trucks are on target to be reduced 74 percent to 91 percent by 2025, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP). Nitrous oxide — the lion's share of truck emissions — has been reduced 71 percent from 2005 to 2016, according to Port of Los Angeles statistics. Many of the ports' dirtiest trucks serving the port terminals were phased out in 2008 and replaced with trucks meeting 2007 EPA standards.
The port is already moving forward with a strategy to convert drayage trucks — heavy-duty trucks intended to move goods short distances from ships to warehouses — to near-zero or zero-emission vehicles.
“Today, there is a fleet of approximately 17,000 drayage trucks available to service the Ports, and 55 percent of the trucks are 2007 EPA-compliant and the remaining 45 percent are 2010 EPA-compliant,” said Phillip Sanfield, director of media relations at the Port of Los Angeles, in an email. It's not entirely clear how much CO2 or other pollutants might be reduced through the use of electric-hybrid trucks, port officials said, as a formal study has not been done. Siemens anticipates roughly 6 million tons of CO2 could be cut in California if the state were to electrify freight travel. And the electric-hybrid trucks like those on California's eHighway test site are said to be twice as efficient as conventional diesel engines.
After the breach of credit reporting firm Equifax was made public Sept. 7, exposing the personal information of more than 145 million Americans, many state tech leaders saw it as an opportunity to bring attention to the importance of cybersecurity.
At the annual National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) conference in early October, Texas CIO Todd Kimbriel told Government Technology that the Equifax incident, and similar cyberevents such as the breach on global consulting firm Deloitte, don’t impact his state’s cyberstrategy, but “they certainly shine a light on the continuing need and importance of cybersecurity and security of citizen data.”
Kimbriel explained that his agency makes securing citizens’ personal information a No. 1 priority, noting that the state’s consolidated data center already adheres to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) standards, and that Texas is working on a small blockchain pilot to track cybersecurity readiness across state agencies.
Where he sees these headline-grabbing breaches impacting the public sector, however, is in terms of how different government levels securely address citizen identity. In this video, Kimbriel suggests that relying on a single federal identifier — the Social Security number — may not be the most reliable way for state governments to manage resident data.
New Orleans’ Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA) has named Melissa Schigoda as its new director, following the departure of former director Oliver Wise, whose last day with the city government was Friday, Nov. 17.
Schigoda was previously a senior performance manager on the OPA team, which for the past seven years has launched a number of successful data projects aimed at helping the city government improve efficiency, track performance and provide better services to residents. Schigoda led the development of Results NOLA, which tracks the city’s progress toward the mayor’s biggest policy objectives. In 2016, the International City/County Management Association recognized Results NOLA for its contributions to improving the management of local government.
Schigoda also coordinated the Data Governance Committee, partnered with the police department to revamp its ComSTAT program and helped to bring evidence-based analytical approaches to projects throughout the city.
Wise left the city for a position with Socrata — one of the most prominent open data companies in gov tech — as digital government principal, which he will begin Dec. 1.
Section 508 Gets an Update: New Web Accessibility Guidelines for Government Sites Take Effect in January
Updates for Section 508 accessibility legislation go into effect in January, creating new specifications for how federal agencies must make websites and other digital information channels navigable for users with disabilities, and experts say these requirements are poised to become the new standard for state and local governments as well.
Section 508 is a 2001 amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, designed to help sweeping accessibility legislation keep pace with the rapidly evolving nature of technology. Early this year, lawmakers passed a long-awaited refresh of Section 508 that goes into effect Jan. 18. The exact updates are complex and nuanced, but at a basic level they stipulate that federal government websites must be accessible for people with hearing and sight disabilities using screen readers and other assistive tech. The requirements also note that content should be accessible for people with cognitive, language and learning disabilities, while requiring adherence to WCAG 2.0 standards, a set of guidelines used throughout the world.
Advocates have praised the updates, while also noting that lawmakers must be diligent in continuing to make tweaks as new technologies become common. In an email conversation, Brian Charlson, the director of technology at the Carroll Center for the Blind, wrote that Section 508 updates mark the government’s most comprehensive tech accessibility legislation to date.
“By incorporating the WCAG 2.0 guidelines into the 508 standards, we are getting the best and latest thinking of hundreds of accessibility experts all over the world, as well as harmonizing internationally with those countries who have also adopted the WCAG 2.0 guidelines in their accessibility efforts,” wrote Charlson.
Dave Schleppenbach, vice president of research and development with the accessibility advocacy group See Write Hear, said in a phone conversation that not being able to keep up with updates has been an ongoing problem in terms of making tech accessible for users with disabilities. There is continual discord between people who create and edit content, the massive companies that issue updates to the most common Web browsers, and the much smaller companies that make assistive tech.
What this means is that a city government, for example, makes a site compliant and in line with a set of specifications. That same week, however, Google or Microsoft might issue a Web browser update, which a smaller company that makes screen reading software does not account for, nullifying the city government’s work to stay up-to-date with specifications and rendering its site unusable for the disabled.
“There’s a lot that has to go right for this to work, and it’s kind of a fragile process,” Schleppenbach said. “So, what you often see is an agency that will spend money on compliance and still have usability issues.”
This can create a legal gray area because the agency followed specs and requirements, but the Web browser’s discord with the screen reader means its website still isn’t usable. Schleppenbach said this is, however, an issue companies in the accessibility space are aware of and working to correct. Another challenge is that people with disabilities are often unable to report problems with using a website because they would need a better grasp of said website to do so.
There is, however, guidance in this area available for municipal and state governments, which experts say may have some of their own localized laws to factor in, but are, for the most part, likely to take cues from the federal government and follow requirements laid out by Section 508.
When the government in Fresno County, Calif., for example, recently launched a new website, it did so with the help of Vision, a software and consulting company in the gov tech space that helped them train the 160 public servants who will be editing Web content with Section 508 accessibility in mind. This meant making sure photos with vital information got alt tags on the backend that could be deciphered by a screen reader, adding transcripts or subtitles to videos, and writing in a way that could be easily understood by users with learning disabilities, people older than 65, or parents who don’t speak English and so have their children read and translate vital government information for them.
“The whole concept for getting our content editors trained in more than just the actual content management system tool was new to us,” said Daniel Moore, information technology manager for Fresno County.
Prior to the redesign process, Fresno County did a quick scan of its old home page to gauge past accessibility consideration and found that about half of the images on the home page were missing tags for screen readers.
To help local governments in similar situations, Vision is offering a free four-part Web series titled 18 Minutes to Get You Ready for January 18, which is open to all governments, not just Vision clients.
“Having a website that’s accessible is critical,” said Martin Lind, vice president of services and business development for Vision. “It’s a relatively easy thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Vision is far from the only company providing accessibility evaluations and trainings. SeeWriteHear, among other groups, also has a vast set of resources to help governments and other interested agencies become compliant.
It’s that time of year again. Holiday shoppers get ready, set ... SURF!
The global masses are already scouring the Internet for end-of-the-year deals and discounts, and opportunities for savings now begin with pre-Thanksgiving Day sales that lead into Black Friday and Cyber Monday and even the entire month of December.
Because the Thanksgiving holiday falls on Nov. 23, this is one of the longest Christmas shopping seasons in recent years, and the strong economy is leading prognosticators to predict that more presents will be under the tree.
More surprising, many experts (like Deloitte Consulting) are predicting more online sales than in-store sales this holiday season. The reasons that many consumers prefer online shopping to in-store experiences vary, but here are a few items to consider from the Deloitte article:
Ease of searching High-quality/trusted products Variety of products/styles available Availability of hard-to-find/unique products Variety of delivery options
However, a third of shoppers note that it’s important for retailers to have both online and physical shopping options, according to Deloitte.
So assuming that you will do at least some shopping online, here’s what you need to know. I am offering top tips from a variety of sources, and wrapping up this piece with my — “top tip” from the dozens of sources that I examined.
Finding Deals from Marie Claire
To start, check out this informative article on Online Christmas Shopping Hacks
The article ends with this advice below. (Honey is a browser plug-in that tells you if you are getting the best price, read the article for more details.)
To summarize, if you want your money to stretch a little further this Christmas (and have some left over to treat yourself):
Get Honey. Put Nov. 22 in your diary. Don’t wait until December to start Christmas shopping. November is the key month for discounts. And finally, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the top day for discounts, while Sundays are best avoided.
Really Good Online Fraud Awareness Article to Read
Here are David Papp’s 12 quick fraud awareness tips to remember when online shopping:
The best way to get your attention is with a “stunning” price, so be wary of things that are too good to be true The best scams don’t look like scams Usually the scammers don’t get reviews Safe payment systems take hard work, and a new website might not have put in the effort Look for a “real” owner Watch out for making purchases over public or open Wi-Fi SSL protects your connection, but doesn’t protect you from who you connect to Review your online account settings Keep personal information personal Develop good password habits; change them often and use unique ones that are hard to guess Ensure the website address makes sense Consider a low-limit credit card
BizCommunity.com Offers This Advice:
Firstly, stick to brands and businesses that you know well, and have a good reputation. ...
Shop only on secure websites. “Look for https: rather than http: at the front of the URL.
Over and above secure sites, Brown advises shoppers to be vigilant in terms of the connection they are shopping over. “Public Wi-Fi is a notorious means for cyber-criminals to carry out man-in-the-middle attacks.
Good idea to use secure payment services such as PayPal, and if this isn’t an option, credit cards rather than debit cards to purchase goods online.
In addition, he says to be aware of the old maxim, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
We Live Security Online Tips:
Stick with trusted brands that have a strong reputation Use credit cards and secure payment services instead of debit cards Look out for https URL and the padlock symbol Be wary of dodgy offers that are too good to be true Opt for your mobile phone network over public Wi-Fi
Advice for Small Businesses to Protect Your Data
Symantec Holiday Shopping Tips Video
National Cybersecurity Alliance’s Holiday Online Shopping Tips
KEEP CLEAN MACHINES: Before searching for that perfect gift, be sure that all Web-connected devices — including PCs, smartphones and tablets — are free from malware and infections by running only the most current versions of software and apps.
LOCK DOWN YOUR LOGIN: One of the most critical things you can do in preparation for the online shopping season is to fortify your online accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device. …
CONDUCT RESEARCH: When using a new website for your holiday purchases, read reviews and see if other customers have had positive or negative experiences with the site.
WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT: Links in emails, social media posts and text messages are often how cybercriminals try to steal your information or infect your devices.
MONEY. VALUE IT. PROTECT IT.: When making a purchase online, be alert to the kinds of information being collected to complete the transaction. Make sure you think it is necessary for the vendor to request that information. Remember that you only need to fill out required fields at checkout.
NAVIGATING THE DIGITAL MARKETPLACE WHILE ON THE GO: GET SAVVY ABOUT WI-FI. ...
HOTSPOTSSECURE YOUR DEVICES: Use strong passwords or touch ID features to lock your devices. These security measures can help protect your information if your devices are lost or stolen and keep prying eyes out.
THINK BEFORE YOU APP: Information about you, such as the games you like to play, your contacts list, where you shop and your location, has value — just like money. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and how it’s collected through apps.
NOW YOU SEE ME, NOW YOU DON’T: Some stores and other locations look for devices with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth turned on to track your movements while you are within range. Disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when they’re not in use.
RESOURCES U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (DHS): DHS encourages shoppers to take special precautions when shopping and banking online. Check out the Mobile Banking and Payments tip card and other resources at www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect.
Final Resources and Top Tip
This safe holiday shopping topic is certainly not new. I don’t blog on this safe holiday shopping topic every year, but here are a few of my past blogs, and most tips still apply.
I do find it very interesting how the “acceptable use” practices at work have evolved in the public and private sectors as far as holiday shopping — especially on Cyber Monday. Things were certainly different back in 2010 when I was chief technology officer (CTO) for the state of Michigan.
Question to ponder: What does this trend tell us about the future of online life?
Finally, I offer my top holiday shopping advice, and it doesn’t involve your PC or smartphone.
Whatever you buy, and wherever you buy it, closely examine those credit card statements. Did you make that charge? If not, you can usually get your money back if you act promptly.
Happy Thanksgiving! And Black Friday and Cyber Monday too.
Nearly two months after the departure of its technology leader, Washington state is beginning to fill the vacancies on its tech bench with the appointment of a new acting director for the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO).
Longtime state technology official Sue Langen is Washington’s new OCIO acting director, the state announced on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Her first day in her new role was Thursday, Nov. 16.
The OCIO provides oversight to WaTech, the state’s technology agency, and its projects, as well as tech initiatives at other agencies.
The state of Washington is a federated IT environment but the OCIO advises state agencies on their tech initiatives. It also advises the Legislature, and is home to the state’s Technology Business Management and GIS programs.
Former OCIO Director Rob St. John, who is now the state’s acting CIO, said in a statement he is “excited for the opportunity” to work with Langen in her new role.
“I am confident the OCIO will continue to excel and serve its customers and the state under her watch,” St. John said.
Langen, a 25-year state employee who rose to CIO of the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) before joining the OCIO in February 2015 as senior policy and enterprise system advisor, said part of her mission will center on generating financial efficiencies in technology.
“Part of the big task from the state Legislature is around how we spend our money as a state entity and ways that the OCIO ensures that the state is spending with maximum benefit. And so part of what we hope to do in the next year or so is improve the enterprise architecture that we have in the state, that will perhaps give guidance to state agencies,” said Langen.
Her office will also work with the team spearheading implementation of a new Enterprise Resource Planning system statewide; and continue to improve the state’s Technology Business Management system, which scrutinizes the cost of business related to technology.
In an article the state produced internally documenting her appointment, Langen said a key role for the OCIO is “to earn the trust of the authorizing environment and support agencies with their success.”
The acting director also said she intends to improve communications, evaluate the OCIO’s tech needs and work to improve the state’s approach to technology portfolio management.
Evaluating and addressing the OCIO’s technology needs, she noted, “could be things that eventually could end up benefiting agencies,” but currently, “it’s us being able to answer questions and being able to collect data and analyze that data in our function.”
As for IT portfolio management, while the general concept hasn’t changed, the state’s model is “older,” Langen said, and so it’s time to re-examine things like priorities, the demarcation between state agencies and the enterprise, and types of data collected.
“It’s kind of a once-in-a-generation question. To rethink anything about how we conduct business in the OCIO or the agencies. When you used to do these 10-year waterfall projects, that’s not where we are any more. So, do you use the same processes, do you use the same things?” Langen said.
An example is the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), the statute that enables the OCIO. It has changed, according to Langen, but the OCIO’s policy is still based on older material, “and so there have been programs and expectations that may not necessarily be reflected,” she said.
Washington state will begin a nationwide search by year’s end to identify a permanent replacement for CIO Michael Cockrill, who left on Oct. 20 to join a nonprofit research group.
A newly released report from Accenture and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) digs into an important shift occurring in how some public-sector IT projects are designed and implemented. Government leaders are gradually turning to agile IT delivery to seize emerging digital opportunities to work smarter within stretched budgets and to accommodate citizen expectations for modern government.
Agile delivery methods over the past two decades have taken deep root in the private sector. Agile entails development of software and digital services through short, iterative development cycles, in contrast to the more traditional long single-cycle "waterfall" approach to IT projects still prevalent in government (plan, budget, build, test, deploy). But times are changing, with NASCIO's annual survey of state CIOs showing the shift to agile development is a rising priority in state government.
Our interviews with leaders in government found that many increasingly see the waterfall approach as no longer fit for purpose, especially for timely development of modern, citizen-focused digital services. State CIOs and other officials surveyed earlier this year agreed strongly (98 percent) that agile is an effective approach for state government. They believe it helps improve project outcomes and user satisfaction and avoid large IT project failures and delays.
Given such favorable views of agile delivery, and growing demand from citizens for leading-edge digital public services, why isn’t agile delivery growing faster in government? Our research found 57 percent of respondents are using agile delivery on less than 20 percent of IT projects. Half of the state government officials surveyed said their organization's culture does not support agile. Three-fourths point to their "legacy" IT and lack of training and knowledge impeding adoption of agile, and nearly as many (70 percent) also said their procurement system does not accommodate agile.
Clearly, some evolution of government organizations is required to implement agile IT delivery and gain the benefits. One government leader said the hardest part of agile is the "psychology," speaking to the difficulty of retooling bureaucracy to be, in some important respects, more nimble and flexible, and less hierarchical.
Agile Survey Highlights*
Agile Viewed Favorably / Percent Agree
Effective for state government / 98% Improves customer satisfaction / 71% Helps prevent wasted dollars from ineffective projects / 78%
Agile Not Yet Widespread / Percent Agree
Using agile for more than three years / 31% Not using agile at all / 19% Using agile on less than 20% of projects / 57%
Top Barriers to Agile / Percent Agree
Legacy solutions impete agile / 77% Lack of agile training/knowledge / 75% Procurement not set up for agile / 70%
*State officials surveyed 2016-2017; 53 responses from 34 states.
Agile requires structural, operational and behavioral changes, effectively a retooling of an organization's "DNA," with leadership, managers and staff all engaged in creating the environment for success. Public-sector leaders told us that shifting to agile required their organizations to rethink enterprise functions, break down organizational silos, shift mindsets from command and control to collaboration, and prioritize the need for design sessions to repeatedly tap the views of end users and program managers.
There are a number of critical success factors for agile IT delivery in government. Predominant is executive leadership. According to the research, agile delivery success in state government commonly features a "champion," a leader committed to the agile process. Along with internal managers and staff who need to be rallied and mobilized for agile delivery to flourish, the champion may well need to enlist support from authorizing agencies, elected officials and legislative committees.
Agile team training is crucial but most appropriately approached as one dimension of a broader strategic enablement and evolution of organizational competencies. That is critical for agile IT delivery to flourish and deliver on the promises of digital government.
State CIOs see agile IT delivery growing fast in state government over the next few years, with a third believing agile will become predominant, and half believing agile and waterfall will be used roughly equally. Such predictions may well be tempered by the need for essentially organizationwide changes going far beyond the bounds of past IT planning and management.
The ability of most government organizations to deliver IT projects in an agile manner at scale will hinge on integrating their IT delivery approach with deliberate and focused strategies for growing into agile organizations. Agile IT delivery is part of the solution to build truly digital government, but will be most successfully deployed in tandem with broader organizational change management fostering the increased feedback-driven adaption, collaboration, transparency, accountability, and creativity and innovation that increasingly digital citizens are demanding of their public services.
Keir Buckhurst is a managing director of Accenture.
Wise’s last day is Friday, Nov. 17, and he is scheduled to start at Socrata on Dec. 1 as digital government principal. Wise’s official title in New Orleans was director of performance and accountability, a role in which he essentially functioned as chief data officer. Wise is among the early pioneers in using data and analytics to improve local government services.
He started in New Orleans in 2010, a time when not a single American city had a chief data officer. This has changed, and although the position remains infrequent, it is now firmly entrenched in city halls ranging from Chicago to Boston to Louisville, Ky. All of that is a way of showing that when Wise got to New Orleans, there was barely even a rough template available for how local government should use data. New Orleans at that time was also in a state of chaos, facing significant internal challenges such as massive budget deficits and low staff morale. Wise worked to help Mayor Mitch Landrieu change this.
“We started from scratch here,” Wise said during a phone conversation with Government Technology on his last day at the city. “We walked in and the IT systems were in total disarray, the budget was being overrun, there was no tracking record of any performance whatsoever, and the idea of using data to promote accountability and transparency was just anathema to the organization at that time. I’m very proud of all we’ve accomplished, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.”
One of Wise’s first tasks was helping deal with widespread blight — nearly 30 percent of New Orleans’ housing was thought to be abandoned or impaired. As the city sought to remove 10,000 blighted homes by 2014, Wise and his team created the “blight stat” program that tracked results. He has subsequently spread similar data-driven analytical approaches to other work.
Another notable creation was a predictive fire risk tool that has since gone national, and Wise also led the development of a performance management system called Results Nola that tracks progress toward the mayor’s biggest policy objectives.
He also created a toolkit to spur departmental engagement around data, which includes presentation tools, an analytics typology, a website and a form that internal departments can use to express interest in data projects. Dubbed NOLAlytics, this last effort is a fitting example of the legacy Wise leaves in New Orleans.
“It’s been an incredibly exciting time to: one, be working in cities, and two, be working in data,” Wise said. “The paradigm shift of urbanization and the rise of big data is just transforming everything. It’s been a very exciting time to be in a role where you can be at the intersection of those two currents.”
Wise, who was featured as one of Government Technology Magazine’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers, said that philanthropy has been vital to the rise of data work in city halls, specifically pointing to Bloomberg’s What Works Cities, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Living Cities for creating a national buzz for the fledging practice of using data to improve municipal government.
Wise said working with Socrata appeals to him because it will allow him to build on his experience using data to drive policy agendas. He said he is also excited to contribute to the company’s strategic direction, using data for transparency and making sure government has the tools, services and capacities it needs to continue innovation.
Several attendees at Code for America’s (CfA) first Brigade Congress reflected on the experience this week, blogging about the event and the ideas it gave them for moving forward in civic tech.
The Brigade Congress happened last month in Philadelphia, drawing members of Code for America (CfA) brigades from across the globe. Code for America is a nonpartisan and nonprofit group that works on tech projects to make governmental services simpler and easier to use for constituents. Its brigades are a national alliance of organizers, technologists and designers, all of whom volunteer time for civic tech projects that support CfA’s mission within their own communities.
Dubbing the three-day event an “unconference,” organizers from CfA welcomed participants to share stories about projects that have worked and projects that have failed, as well as thoughts on how lessons learned could lead to future wins. Members from brigades in Toronto and San Jose, Calif., reflected this week via posts on medium, as did CfA founder and Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka.
Pahlka noted that the event was CfA’s first, but not last, Brigade Congress in a lengthy post that elaborated on a presentation she gave. While Pahlka’s writing was deep and nuanced, a pair of central questions seemed to guide her thinking: How did CfA get to this point and where does it go from here?
The group was established back in 2009 and has remained dynamic, taking evolutionary steps such as aggressively growing its brigades back in 2012 before restructuring last year in the midst of funding challenges. Pahlka goes on to discuss the history of the group, the precision of the language used to describe its core principals, and her desire to continue an ongoing discussion with members of the brigades.
Members of Code for San Jose identified common themes that emerged at the event, such as how to build sustainable leadership, how to improve gender equity in brigades and how to attract and include non-coders.
The San Jose post then ended with a quote from Pahlka: “We can save us. Efficiency in government is absolutely a matter of social justice.”
NYC Economic Development Corporation to create city’s first cybersecurity accelerator
The NYC Economic Development Corporation has released an RFP seeking proposals from academia and the private sector to partner with the city on a range of initiatives — all of which seek to position New York as a leader in cybersecurity jobs and innovation.
Dubbed Cyber NYC, the new effort seeks to foster community and cross-sector collaboration in cybersecurity, grow New York’s pool of cybersecurity talent and spark related innovations. The most tangible request is for a new cybercenter that would serve as the city’s first physical hub for cybersecurity, a space that would host community programs as well as a startup accelerator with a focus on scaling related startups, while at the same time giving entrepreneurs access to potential customers, investors, mentors and other resources.
Other priorities within the RFP include strengthening partnerships through an applied learning initiative to compliment the city’s upcoming cybersecurity boot camps, and an academic innovation exchange capable of pairing ideas with funding.
“Cybersecurity presents both a threat and opportunity to New York City,” said James Patchett, the president and CEO of the NYC Economic Development Corporation in a press release. “The [Mayor Bill] de Blasio Administration is investing in cybersecurity to both fuel innovation, and to create new, accessible pathways to jobs in the industry. We’re looking for big-thinking proposals to help us become the global capital of cybersecurity and to create thousands of good jobs for New Yorkers.”
A key goal of this effort is growing New York’s cybersecurity industry and thereby supporting de Blasio’s existing New York Works plan, which was announced in June and aspires to create 100,000 good jobs in the city over the next decade.
Startup in Residence Program unveils challenges for first nationwide cohort
The San Francisco-born Startup in Residence Program (STiR), which announced this week that it would be expanding to 12 cities across the country in 2018, has now opened applications for its next class.
Along with the announcement, program organizers have posted a list of 37 challenges compiled by public servants. As part of the application process, startups will review this list and choose obstacles that their work can help local governments overcome. The challenges cover a wide range of subject matter, from parking management to data security to resident engagement. If a startup is selected to participate, it will then spend 16 weeks collaborating with public servants and building projects that serve the community while at the same time giving the startup a product to potentially sell to agencies in other jurisdictions. The application for next year’s program, which begins in January, will remain open until Dec. 10.
To help interested startups, program organizers will also be hosting a webinar for prospective applicants on Nov. 30, during which attendees will hear from past participants such as Yeti and Appledore, which will detail how the program helped them break into the gov tech market.
The Startup in Residence program was created in 2014 as a pilot in San Francisco. In 2016, it expanded to three other cities in Northern California: Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento. Houston and Washington, D.C., are the most noteworthy of the participants added for this year.
While the size and scope of the program are larger, the focus remains the same: make it easier for tech startups to break into government while helping to solve public problems with private-sector innovation. This type of mutually beneficial cooperation has long been a problem, albeit one that STiR has a growing track record of solving.
Harvard’s Ash Center restructures flagship award program
The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School is restructuring one of its flagship programs, the Innovations in American Government Awards.
In a press release, organizers said the award program will now seek applicants that are “focused on a single, intractable problem in American society today.” In addition, there will now be a streamlined application and evaluation process, and the award will be offered annually. The focus of this year’s award will be initiatives aimed at improving economic and social mobility. Applications are due by Jan. 12.
Billed by the group as “the nation’s preeminent program devoted to recognizing and promoting excellence in the public sector,” the Ash Center’s Innovation in American Government Awards offers a $50,000 top prize, and it is open to programs from all levels of government within the United States. The award was created in 1985 and has since fielded more than 27,000 applications and subsequently recognized nearly 500 government initiatives.
Past winners have spanned a wide range of services provided by the public sector, from the municipal budget process to economic development, and honorees have come from across the country, with recent winners such as the state of California, the city of New York, and King County, Wash.
Cincinnati launches new reported crime dashboard
CincyInsights, which is Cincinnati’s public-facing open data portal, has created a new dashboard dubbed Reported Crime, which visualizes police data by neighborhood, date/time and demographics.
The city’s data people collaborated with the police department on the new portal, which draws from the Cincinnati Police Department’s records management system, a depository for agencywide data about law enforcement operations. Through this map, users can access information about anything classified as reported crime, a designation that does not include service calls, arrest info, final case determinations, or other broad incident data.
This platform seems likely to draw significant interest from the public, as crime has been identified as the most popular type of open data. This interface allows residents of Cincinnati to search crime records by street, which will no doubt be a popular function. In other words, someone who lives on Oak Street can type in their address and see all reported crimes on Oak Street. Data will be updated daily.
The Reported Crime dashboard joins CincyInsights' other public safety data efforts, which include a police calls service dashboard and another dashboard that visualizes shootings. Cincinnati is one of many major American cities working hard to create tools that make the public more likely to engage with open data. In fact, Chief Data Officer Brandon Crowley spoke about the work taking place in his city at a gathering of municipal CDOs at Harvard University earlier this month.
Philadelphia picks Department of Revenue and Homeless Services as first agencies for design lab
Philadelphia’s PHL Participatory Design Lab, which uses human-centered design methods to make it easier for the public to interact with municipal agencies, announced this week that officials had selected the first two departments to benefit from its work: the Office of Homeless Services and the Department of Revenue.
The lab plans to use social science and service design techniques to help residents use the homeless services department’s intake system and the revenue department’s owner-occupied payment agreement, which helps homeowners who are behind on real estate taxes and provides protection from enforcement. Officials noted in a press release that both departments help ease the city’s housing crisis.
The design lab was made possible by a $338,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Knight Cities Challenge, which Philadelphia won earlier this year. The money is projected to support an 18-month design lab initiative. Service designer Devika Menon of Baltimore and social scientist Nathaniel Olin of Washington, D.C., have been hired as the lab’s fellows and are moving to Philadelphia this month, where they will work with other team members and community stakeholders.
The press release announcing the selection of the departments noted that Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is broadly committed to using data-driven practices and evidence-based approaches to drive sustainable outcomes — an increasingly common priority in major American cities. Using citizen-centric design and engagement techniques is also something governments at all levels have been more frequently working toward as of late, with many public servants saying citizens now expect a level of functionality and service to rival that of private companies like Amazon.
Tulsa, Okla. seeks data analytics specialists
The data people are coming, infiltrating city governments across the country like a horde of analytical, pragmatic invaders. They are pretty good with numbers and devoted to public service, perhaps even hell-bent on helping municipal agencies make better, data-driven decisions.
The latest jurisdiction to be overrun is Tulsa, Okla., which is now looking to hire a data analytics specialist to work within the city government’s office of performance, strategy and innovation. An ideal candidate will be excited to recognize the data requirements of various internal departments and other enterprise units, producing and maintaining data dashboards “to distinguish opportunities for improvement and to enhance efficiency,” among other tasks.
Earlier this month, the Civic Analytics Network, a group of municipal chief data officers who have already successfully enshrined themselves in city halls from Boston to San Diego, met at Harvard University for a conference to discuss the growing impact of the work they do. Your town could be next, potentially using predictive analytics to identify potholes before they happen — provided, of course, that available data over a sustained time period shows it would benefit from such work after being compared to a control set.
Each year, the Digital Cities Survey looks at IT efforts in cities large and small where local government is using tech to improve its services across the board. This year, the Center for Digital Government* and Government Technology are highlighting 63 cities for their efforts in data transparency, broadband expansion, mobile services and more. This infographic illustrates key trends in cities across the country, as well as what they see on the horizon.
For our full analysis of this year’s winners, who will be honored at a special awards ceremony during the National League of Cities’ annual conference in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Nov. 16, check out the story and interactive map.
*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.
Less than a month after the departure of its chief information officer, Maricopa County, Ariz., found a permanent replacement: Ed Winfield, the former CIO of Wayne County, Mich.
Winfield, who was named one of Government Technology's 2016 Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers, won’t start the new position until January, but he accepted the job around the end of October — less than 30 days after the former CIO, David Stevens, left for the IT company Valor Global.
Maricopa is the fourth-largest county in the U.S. by population, and was the fastest-growing in the country from 2016-17. So, playing CIO to the county is a big role.
“The opportunity of getting to be CIO for a county of that stature is very appealing,” Winfield said.
Winfield is used to the responsibility. He spent four years, 2012-2016, as CIO of Wayne County, home to Detroit and the 19th-most populous county in the nation. While there, he led a movement to upgrade from legacy systems to the cloud and cut costs in the economically-challenged area. He also worked to set up better data analysis for state services and operations so that leaders could run them more efficiently.
He declined to comment on the reason for leaving Wayne County.
Because Winfield has months until he begins the new role with Maricopa, he didn’t have many details yet for his plans and the county’s goals. But he said he sees three responsibilities as being most important in county IT leadership: ensuring daily operational stability, serving workers internally and engaging citizens externally.
“We have to make sure the systems are operating on a daily basis, and that people can do their jobs and that citizens who come to their jobs and their offices, their systems will be operational and they can do what they need to do,” he said.
Richard McHattie, who is serving as interim CIO until Winfield officially takes on the position, said Winfield is involved in the late stages of the county’s budget priority-setting process for the next fiscal year.
That will include decisions on cloud adoption, McHattie said.
“We’ve done some cloud implementations but we’re looking to formulate our official strategy on that,” he said.
It will also include some decisions as to how to best capitalize on some of the recent major work the county’s IT staff have done. It is in the final stages of an “infrastructure refresh” focused on data center consolidation and bandwidth upgrades. That has helped support a new website, made with CivicPlus, with greater emphasis on an ability to deliver services digitally.
“I think he’s coming in during a very exciting time for the county,” McHattie said.
Even in some of the most tech-friendly corners of the country, officials stress there’s no harm in starting small when it comes to trying out smart city ideas.
Cary, N.C. — nestled in the state’s much-lauded Research Triangle — is doing just that. The municipality is trying out smart city projects first at its “living lab” located in the city hall complex.
“When we started thinking about how to utilize these smart technologies, we really came to the decision that we should leverage our own campus as a lab, which allows us (to) test out the technologies and prove them out before we deploy them on a much larger scale,” said Nicole Raimundo, Cary's chief information officer. “So we want to make sure that we’re using taxpayer dollars in the best way that we can."
The living lab projects include a community center parking lot outfitted with sensors to tell city officials when a parking space is occupied and for how long. The data, which feeds into Cisco’s Kinetic for Cities platform, is analyzed so the city can deploy the appropriate kinds of parking, when it’s needed.
“We have handicap spots over there that we like to monitor,” Raimundo said. “It’s important for us to understand that utilization. And as it reaches that threshold we can then obviously go over and add temporary parking spaces, especially around the handicap parking space, to make sure that we are providing the best service possible to our citizens and that we are continuing to meet the needs, especially as our community ages."
The city is also equipping new streetlighting in the campus with sensors and other mechanisms to allow the lights to be studied and remotely controlled.
“We’ll be able to track exactly that energy usage. And we’ll also be able to control them … which is great because we have folks coming through that area all the time,” Raimundo said.
The Kinetic platform, which displays data on a dashboard through an assortment of graphics, makes that easier, aids the process.
“The platform is actually a tool for cities to use as they deploy smart cities solutions,” said Larry Payne, vice president of U.S. public sector sales for Cisco. “And there are multiple types of data inputs that are coming from different sensors and other devices. And so those sensors and devices, they all have different pieces of information that they’re transmitting and sending in."
Cisco Kinetic, recently renamed and relaunched after Cisco upgraded the platform’s safety and security features, is in place with 38 cities in the U.S. and worldwide. Deploying in a living lab such as in Cary helps the company tweak its own system, Payne said.
"(Parking is) a problem that citizens are complaining about and discussing, and we think this is going to be an interesting way for us to kind of learn from Cary,” said Payne. “So again, it’s all about improving citizen experiences.”
What Cary learns from studying parking needs at the community center will help the city determine its parking requirements in a new public library, which will include a parking structure, said Raimundo.
“And for us, this is a way to look at the utilization, check out the technology, and say, ‘OK, this is going to be the right fit to build into the new parking deck,’” she added.
Often, said Payne, cities want to launch smart technologies but are faced with funding hurdles. Cisco is introducing a new financing program called City Infrastructure Financing Acceleration. The company has $1 billion set aside in debt and equity financing, offered through the subsidiary Cisco Capital.
“What this does is it just makes it easier, it makes it faster and more affordable for a city to adopt these technologies,” said Payne. “It’s a range of solutions. Everything from traditional loans and leases all the way to a revenue-share option.
“There’s always going to be multiple challenges,” he added. “But the financing one will always be there. And this helps cities.”
Cary is not using Cisco financing, however Raimundo stressed that financing and cost were some of the reasons the city is exploring many of the smart city ideas on a campus-level scale first.
Indications are that 2018 will be a formative year for both FirstNet, authorized by Congress in 2012, and Verizon, which announced plans to build a private network for public safety communications in August.
Though neither network will be fully built out next year, both are expected to become operational, and representatives on both sides said the next 13 months will be critical.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR FIRSTNET
Twenty-nine states have decided to opt in to FirstNet ahead of the Dec. 28 deadline, which essentially implements the FirstNet/AT&T build-out plans submitted to each state. FirstNet aims to complete its core network in March 2018 and will ultimately be available across 56 states and territories, with a complete build-out of network infrastructure around 2020.
FirstNet currently offers priority communication to users on its existing network, and will provide the ability to pre-empt non-emergency users by the end of 2017. FirstNet SIM cards, which connect users’ cellphones to the network, are now available, and the FirstNet applications store opened on Oct. 1.
But the core network, according to Dave Buchanan, FirstNet director of consultation, will provide perhaps the most important offering to public safety: a dedicated channel for public safety with end-to-end encryption and data transmission across the network.
Buchanan linked interoperability and the ability to offer data connectivity as key FirstNet attributes that enable a greater degree of data-based communication — allowing first responders to share, for example, calls for service records that might previously have been siloed by different communications and legacy storage systems.
“This is police car to fire truck to sheriff’s deputy to ambulance. Being able to share data from individual devices. That data, now we have the ability through FirstNet to get it into the hands of the people doing these jobs in real time. And get the data from those people in the field back to people who need it most,” Buchanan said.
A FirstNet source close to ongoing planning and preparations declined to speak on the record but characterized 2018 as something of a “starting point year.”
Developing applications, the source said, will be key to FirstNet’s future, noting that “the future use of FirstNet is heavily dependent on good applications being available in the FirstNet app store.”
VERIZON ARRIVES ON-SCENE
Verizon, a dominant force in the public safety sector that controls 75 percent of that market according to some estimates, announced its intention on Wednesday, Aug. 16, to build a secure, segregated, private network for public safety users powered by its existing 4G LTE capability.
States wouldn’t have to opt out of FirstNet to use Verizon, according to Michael Maiorana, senior vice president of Public Sector for Verizon Enterprise Solutions, but can “come and go as they please.” Nor would Verizon's network require financial commitments from states to support deployment or access to any federal funding provided to FirstNet.
Like FirstNet, Verizon already offers priority communications to first responders. Maiorana said the company is in the “throes of engineering” the separate public safety network and plans to launch it in 2018.
He said Verizon is also developing “a host of other solutions,” including devices capable of operating within the nationwide first responder 700 Megahertz spectrum.
Unlike AT&T, the winning bidder to become the FirstNet provider, Maiorana said Verizon decided not to bid because it believed it already had the “spectrum depth” and “portfolio” it needed to provide quality public safety coverage.
“It will enable us to deliver these specific applications like pre-emption, like mission-critical, push-to-talk, other applications that we will be able to segment from our commercial traffic and commercial users for this customer alone,” Maiorana said.
COMPETITION, CO-EXISTENCE NOT UNEXPECTED
Not surprisingly for two large communications networks powered by nationwide providers, Verizon and FirstNet are prepared to co-exist, representatives say.
Both have essentially “the same set of tools that you would use to deliver the network” Maiorana said, adding that Verizon sees “a meaningful opportunity” to work with FirstNet and AT&T to accelerate “their mission to serve public safety.”
But in a July filing, Verizon asked the Federal Communications Commission to inform states that FirstNet wasn’t their only option for a dedicated public safety wireless network.
On Tuesday, Oct. 31, the company offered its perspective on “Oversight of FirstNet: States Perspective” in a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and again urged a “state-centric” instead of a “one-size-fits-all approach.”
In order for FirstNet’s opt-out option “to be meaningful,” Verizon wrote, FirstNet “must allow states to pick their own commercial partner, or partners, and to establish their own public-private partnership” similar to FirstNet. States, Verizon said, should not be required to use FirstNet’s core network.
“We don’t want to see a situation where onerous conditions are put forth on a state to make it very difficult for them to achieve choice and open competition. We want an even playing field is, I guess, what we can say,” Maiorana said, adding that Verizon believes “we can cohabitate together and offer choice.”
Buchanan said the opt-in, opt-out deadline “doesn’t mandate” states become FirstNet customers, but merely make a decision “about who’s going to operate, maintain, upgrade the network in that state.”
“There is no obligation to the state to become a customer if they opt in and there’s no obligation to a public safety entity to become a FirstNet customer,” Buchanan said, characterizing FirstNet as “merely another option."
New and refurbished infrastructure — whether it’s a road, a bridge, a rail line — should be developed with a vision for the future, one that includes multiple layers of smart cities technologies, say public and industry experts. “If you’re going to rebuild the street, put the right sensors in it so we can make better decisions later. We need to build infrastructure for the future, for the next 50 years, not for the last 20,” said Brian Pallasch, managing director of government relations and infrastructure with the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Any piece of infrastructure that is going to be incentivized at the local or state level from the feds should include the word ‘smart’ in it,” agreed Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer for Kansas City, Mo., speaking on a panel discussion during the Digitizing Infrastructure: Building a Smart Future symposium in Washington, D.C., Nov. 14. The talk also brought together policymakers like Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R–W.V., and Rep. Stacey Plaskett, D–U.S. Virgin Islands, and centered on the state of outdated American infrastructure and how innovation should play a part in what is believed to be a nearly $2 trillion maintenance backlog. Innovation should be top-of-mind not only for the technology itself, but how infrastructure projects are envisioned and designed. That means thinking creatively, and forming public-private partnerships, said Bennett. “Given the fact that any investment we make in a city has to live as long as the bond which supports it. You’re not going to do that with digital infrastructure for a 20-year bond. So, we have to do it with a public-private partnership, in order to meet that 18-month, 36-month exchange point,” Bennett said. Kansas City is a leader in the nation when it comes to weaving smart technologies throughout the city’s fabric. It boasts “the smartest 54 blocks in the United States,” consisting of an area from about the riverfront to downtown’s Union Station. This $20 million project is largely a digital infrastructure project formed through a partnership with Cisco and Sprint. “Everything is sensored in that particular space,” said Bennett. “We do traffic monitoring. We do pedestrian monitoring to influence our development efforts,” he explained. “And then we’ve got an analysis platform on top of that, which helps us synchronize city operations.” Bennett and others on the panel say the federal government could incentive more innovation projects, in part, by “lessening maybe some regulations,” said Pallasch. “But the reality is the federal government has not come to the table with enough money for about a generation of infrastructure building,” said Pallasch, who seemed to echo the collective sentiment when thinking of the hurdles to digital infrastructure. But the federal government’s leadership in innovation infrastructure doesn’t have to be just money. The government can set standards, which can then be multiplied over in cities across the country. “We can all play on the same playing field, in terms of what data we’re going to collect at the macro-level, so that industry can come to us with sensors or technologies that apply not just to Kansas City, but to also to St. Louis, also to Louisville, also to Birmingham, also to San Diego, Austin and New York, would be incredibly helpful,” said Bennett. “The other thing they can do is invest in a lot of these technologies that connect us physically,” Bennett said, offering examples like taking the time, effort and money to install fiber on a rail line from Chicago to Dallas. Elected officials still need to buy-in to smart cities infrastructure, said Pallasch, offering another sometimes challenge. “I think with a lot of this kind of infrastructure, there’s a kind of ‘fear factor’ a little bit, from a local government standpoint,” Pallasch added, offering up images of some of the antipathy the public has about sharing their data. Another hurdle may lie in an unwillingness on the part of local governments to partner outside of their own silos. “The politicization of innovation is probably the biggest impediment to making progress,” said Bennett. “When we came up with the public-private partnership, the city was absolutely the minority partner, to these 54 blocks." “There were folks at the local level and the state level who didn’t want the city to be that far out on the edge,” he added. “That is something where it takes a mindset change, where the city seems itself as part of the ecosystem, and not defining the ecosystem.” And finally, the federal government needs to know when to stay out of the way. “Now, the one thing I would ask the federal government not to do is, please don’t pre-empt us,” said Bennett. “We have folks that come and tell us how much to charge vendors to use our (utility) poles … Please, federal government, get out of my city, when it comes to telling us how to run it. We got this.”
Modernizing the government workforce brings up the same questions over and over: How do you get new talent to come to the public sector? Once they’re in the door, what will motivate them to stay?
The Indiana Office of Technology is trying something new to change things up in the way employees work together, hopefully becoming more efficient and effective in the process. At the annual National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) conference in Austin, Texas, this October, CIO Dewand Neely explained to Government Technology the thinking behind taking all staff out of offices, putting them together on one open floor, and the benefits and drawbacks that have come with it.
While there has been some pushback from veteran employees, Neely said, nearly everyone is open to the experiment. Plus, literally tearing down walls has increased the space the department has, and Neely can now fit 270 staff on one floor, almost 100 more than in their former setup.
When asked how the predicted impending retirement wave will affect his agency, Neely was optimistic. “We were all kind of afraid here the last couple of years,” he said. “I’ve run the numbers: I have about 30 percent of my 300 folks that are eligible [to retire] right now, but they’ve been eligible though for the last couple years too, and they’re still sticking around.”
And since that workforce loss is more gradual than he’d anticipated, it's easier to plan for, and there’s more room, so to speak, to explore the boundaries of how a state IT agency can and should operate.
Optibus took just three years to create artificial intelligence-powered software that optimizes transit operations, sign clients on multiple continents and grow its customer base to more than 200. It’s grown fast, and now the company has $12 million it wants to use to build up its product.
The Series A round, which follows a $1 million seed round in 2015, will also support sales and marketing growth, but as it announced the round the company emphasized product development.
Right now, the company’s focus is on providing software that offers transit agencies real-time situational awareness as well as optimization suggestions for things like routes, timing and asset management. For example, Optibus might be able to help decide where to locate bus depots or use one vehicle where two might have operated before. Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Amos Haggiag said that might help an agency run all its services, with no routing or scheduling changes, using 190 vehicles instead of 200. It could also offer scenarios for different schedules and routes.
The company’s mantra is moving its customer agencies from a static paradigm to a dynamic one, where data can constantly provide paths to the most efficient way of running a system.
“It’s not something you run once, it’s basically all the time optimizing the system,” Haggiag said.
For a company whose product is already founded in the cloud and machine learning — two cutting-edge technologies, especially for the public sector — it’s hard to tell what more product development might look like. A press release from the company says that it plans on creating “an integrated citywide operating system” for all types of transportation that will predict passenger demand, though Haggiag said he could not offer more specific details.
But his vision of the future is ambitious. In so many words, Haggiag thinks public transportation agencies can bring people back from personal vehicle use — and now, ride-sharing — to mass transportation.
“To do that you have to create a new type of transportation that doesn’t exist today,” Haggiag said.
He did specify that Optibus isn’t looking to get into the on-demand transit game, where some agencies are looking to follow the lead of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft by sending vehicles out to pick up riders where they are instead of at fixed stops. Rather, Haggiag said, he wants to build on the existing world of public transport and make it more dynamic, more efficient, more data-driven and overall better for riders.
Machine learning algorithms like the ones Optibus uses have come into vogue in recent years, offering transportation agencies a slew of new ideas for how they might catch up with, and then keep ahead of, their challenges. Much in the way science uses modeling to find the likeliest scenarios in a given event, machine learning can use historical data to automatically identify what a change in a system might mean for the rest of the system. And because it is automated, it can use massive quantities of data to identify correlations and patterns where humans might not think to look.
In transit and transportation, that could mean a lot of things. It could mean assessing how much time a piece of physical infrastructure has left before it will need to be replaced. It could help predict traffic congestion and even accidents. It could help urban planners and traffic engineers better understand how the different projects they’re considering would impact transportation, or simply figure out which projects are most urgently needed.
It’s a fast-growing field, and Optibus has managed to grow faster than most. Haggiag attributed that to the way the company structured its product and business strategy. The product was built for quick integration and implementation in days or weeks. And the nature of optimization means that the company’s business case tends to be better the larger an agency is — the same percentage of savings applied to a larger pool of expenditures is a bigger deal.
And Optibus has, in fact, signed some very big clients — in the U.S., they include agencies in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas.
“We are trying to offer our clients, which are the transit agencies and operators, a much more dynamic service that will be able to take them into the next generation of transportation,” Haggiag said.
The Series A round was led by Israeli venture capital firm Pitango, with participation from Verizon Ventures and Sir Ronald Cohen.