But beyond those high-profile events, state and local governments made steady progress. They embraced innovation through civic technology initiatives. They grew more sophisticated in their use of social media, cloud computing and predictive analytics. They filled gaps in cybersecurity. They explored how robotics may fit into the everyday tasks of running public agencies and programs.
Here’s our take on how it all fits together.
Coming to an agency near you: Robots!
How do you measure how much innovation took place during a year? What qualifies as emerging technology? 2013 has certainly seen its share of new gizmos: Google Glass, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, the iPhone 5s (OK, that’s really not new or innovative but, hey, gold case!) and a new generation of video game consoles. In the pages of this magazine, much ink has been spilt to tell the stories of emerging technology with the potential to truly impact lives.
Robotics is one technology that’s generated speculation for decades. In many ways 2013 could be considered the “year of the robot.”
Palo Alto, Calif., CIO Jonathan Reichental sees the potential of robots in government. In the future, he expects robotics to start replacing person-to-person interactions for services rendered in city halls and state agencies.
“The sense of a robot going around doing a task — we’ll see some of that, but I think we’ll see it be less overt,” Reichental said. “The mechanics and intelligence will be built into everyday tasks.”
A different sort of robot, but a robot nonetheless, matured greatly in 2013 — the 3-D printer. Although 3-D printing is still new and no one yet knows the technology’s full potential, that hasn’t stopped people from imagining.
Rob White, chief innovation officer for Davis, Calif., told us “If 3-D printing were a stock, I would absolutely buy, and in fact, I would try to figure out how I could become an early investor.”
From clothing and food supplements to human organs, 3-D printers could someday localize the manufacture of almost everything — which won’t just change how local and state governments do business, but also alter how everyone gets the things they need and want.
“We’re only just now touching on what it can do,” White said. “The reality is that I don’t think most of us know where it will really go.”
The ultimate robot, presently at least, is the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV. The UAV field got a boost this year when the University of Nevada, Reno, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas announced that they may begin offering education in drone technology, much like the University of North Dakota (UND) has done since 2009, becoming the first major university to do so.
Ben Trapnell is an associate professor at the UND’s Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. He said education in drone technology will be vital to the burgeoning commercial/civil drone market. “It just seemed logical to bridge the gap between the engineer and operator to develop the leaders of an emerging civil UAV industry.”
Perhaps 2013 brought cyborgs closer to reality as well. Google Glass was showcased at the annual Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials conference in Anaheim, Calif., with demonstrations illustrating how the device could serve real-time information, hands-free, to public safety officials using their interoperability communications platform. In another demonstration, a company illustrated how Google Glass and its network could allow video or a map to be shared during a mock school shooting — modern-day Robocops.
Year of the robot or not, was 2013 a banner year of innovation and emerging technology? As Government Technology contributing writer Adam Stone put it, “Innovation isn’t necessarily a dramatic change. Rather, it’s something transformative. It may be a new way of thinking, a new way of managing processes or a new use for technology that no one had foreseen.”
If you accept that definition, then 2013 had innovation in spades. — Chad Vander Veen
The future will be focused
“CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.” With that tweet, the Boston Police Department announced news that the nation was anxiously waiting for, while at the same time further solidifying Twitter — and social media in general — as a vital communications platform. The importance of using social media to interact with residents has been drilled into public officials’ minds. This year saw governments move to specialized and in some cases, sophisticated uses of the networking platforms.
No longer viewed solely as an outbound tool for messages, governments are joining social media conversations to aid situational awareness during emergencies and get feedback on everyday services. The American Red Cross’ digital operations center, for example, displays a running stream of social media mentions based on keywords of interest.
“Every morning during a disaster, we produce a report that is distributed widely, with graphs and data points, so everybody is on the same page as to what the affected public is saying,” Wendy Harman, social strategy director for the American Red Cross, said earlier this year. “We know what people are going through, we know where there are pockets of need and we know what to watch out for during the course of a day of responding.”
And for everyday uses, agencies can search for mentions of their departments to collect unsolicited, and potentially brutally honest, feedback from citizens. They aren’t the only source for public opinion, but comments made on social media sites can help capture feedback from individuals who haven’t been engaged by standard communication methods.
Outside of situational awareness, social media has moved toward specialized platforms that focus on taking two-way communication to the next level within specific communities. It’s been said that 28 percent of Americans don’t know any of their neighbors by name, and while it may seem counterintuitive to go online instead of swinging by the house next door to say hello, social media is helping reduce that percentage. Platforms like Nextdoor connect neighbors (as well as local elected officials and police officers) based on their location and are simultaneously restoring and changing the idea of community. Neighborland helps citizens and public officials connect on ideas and community plans. And Voterheads adds an online engagement function — and ideally increased participation — to local meetings by alerting citizens when their city, county or school board is discussing a topic that they’re interested in.
Activities like these have been underway for some time, but 2013 saw them gaining traction among governments and residents alike. The future of social media may lie in these platforms — instead of turning to one social network for all outreach, specialized forums will create new levels of engagement among focused groups. This could make it easier for governments to connect with key audiences on specific topics.
“We have incredibly low voter turnout in this country, incredibly low participation in our democracy,” Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, research director of IDC Government Insights’ Smart Cities Strategies program, told Government Technology in early 2013. “If you can use this to increase engagement, then maybe you can increase public interest in their local governments. Confidence then goes up because there is a fuller understanding of the initiatives that might be happening in your city, and expectations may change because people have a far better understanding of how things are working.” — Elaine Pittman
Making progress from the ground up
It’s easy to paint a grim picture of cyberthreats in today’s tense digital world.
- GovLoop claimed in April that the number of federal cyberincidents had risen to 48,562 in 2012 from 5,503 in 2006, an increase of nearly 800 percent.
- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said in September that cyberattacks on state systems had increased to about 500,000 a day.
-The most recent Verizon 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report stated that attacks on government are on the rise, including those aimed at stealing intellectual property and trade secrets.Such events have prompted public officials to warn of cyberattacks that could shut down critical services like food, power and water supplies. Former homeland security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the National Press Club in August that America is bound to suffer a cyberattack that harms the economy and disrupts daily life, echoing defense secretary Leon Panetta’s 2012 warning of a “cyber Pearl Harbor” where online exploits cripple public utilities, trains and chemical factories.
Despite the dire predictions, federal lawmakers have struggled for a national response. Late last year Congress failed to pass the Cyber Security Act of 2012, which would have created cybersecurity standards for the companies that run critical infrastructure like the power grid, gas pipelines, and water and transportation systems. In the absence of legislation, President Obama signed an executive order on cybersecurity in February, arguably the strongest government action on the issue recently, if not the most attention-getting. It calls for public-private collaboration and data sharing to improve organizational intelligence. The measure, while vague on details, was seen by observers as a step in the right direction.
State governments launched their own collaborative efforts this year. And those efforts may force cybersecurity progress that reaches Washington from the ground up.
Initiatives in California and Michigan could serve as examples to other states. California leaders met with private-sector partners in May to discuss comprehensive cybersecurity planning and launch the California Cybersecurity Task Force, a statewide collaboration that’s ripe for emulation.
California CIO Carlos Ramos told Government Technology that the state would aggressively pursue the implementation of its cybersecurity plan. “California really is out in front of other states,” he said. “We’ve seen a number of areas, particularly in technology, where governments tend to follow our lead.”
In the fall, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced that he would tap community expertise to strengthen his state’s cybersecurity posture, launching the Cyber Civilian Corps, a volunteer IT force that would help the state respond to cyberincidents.
Snyder also joined Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to unveil a cyberthreat dashboard developed by the National Governors Association (NGA) to help states monitor their cybersecurity readiness. Snyder and O’Malley, who co-chair the NGA’s Resource Center for State Cybersecurity, also released guidelines for other governors who want to improve their states’ defensibility.
These are promising starts that could lead to a more inclusive cybersecurity strategy for the nation. But broader federal legislation needed to form a clear picture of national cybersecurity will wait for 2014, or beyond. — Hilton Collins
Hosted Platforms and Apps
Cloud computing — now it's personal!
This year, organizations of all kinds continued to move to the cloud in droves in search of cheaper and better software, storage and infrastructure.
But really, that’s yesterday’s news.
Here’s a fresher idea: You can make a good case that in 2013 the biggest driver of cloud computing was the explosive rise of mobile computing. Yes, it’s about our phones and personal devices again.
New York state announced plans to move its 120,000 employees to Office 365, while more than 100,000 state workers in Texas also headed for Microsoft’s cloud. Colorado added an extra layer of Web middleware to improve security on the state’s cloud Gmail system. More governments considered moving ERP, CRM, 311 and other core business applications into the cloud too.
What do all those forays into the cloud have in common? They’re preparing for a future where data and applications are available to both the public-sector workforce and the public at-large anytime and anywhere on personal devices. The CIOs we spoke to in 2013, whether about New York state’s email migration or any number of other projects in states and localities, usually mentioned that the cloud would help their organizations continue to adapt to the increasingly mobile-centric world.
Numbers tell the same tale. CDW’s 2013 State of the Cloud Report found that 34 percent of state and local government respondents said that employees’ use of cloud apps and mobile devices hastened their organization’s move into the cloud. Also, 57 percent of the IT professionals surveyed said their personal use of the cloud influenced their enterprise recommendations when considering cloud adoption.
So the cloud isn’t just about catering to personal devices. It’s becoming deeply personal to all of us and deeply wired into how we work and live.
In 2013, Wyoming CIO Flint Waters spoke to Government Technology about how the cloud is benefiting his state. He mentioned the hard-dollar savings and the flexibility to reassign staff outside the data center. Those are the “wins” we have come to know all too well.
But then Waters took the discussion in a surprising direction. He said the state’s use of Google cloud technology is responsible for starting a “significant cultural shift in how we capture creative thought.” That’s high praise. The cloud, he said, is allowing state workers to collaborate with one another in real time and even the governor is accessing documents on a tablet when traveling. Waters said he’s bullish on the cloud’s potential to improve productivity for individual workers at their desk and on the go.
Yes, cost savings are nice. But the next frontier could be fusing mobility and the cloud together so that it’s easy to use and seamless for the individual. Again, the cloud is getting personal. — Matt Williams
Moving from descriptive to predictive
State and local governments didn’t crack the code on big data in 2013, but they took steps in the right direction.
In October, police in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., launched an effort to mash together traditional criminal justice data and information from other city departments to gain new insights on criminal activity. New analysis tools will let the city police department comb through traffic and transportation information, building permits and social media activity in addition to standard law enforcement databases. Correlating these diverse data sets could help police anticipate where crimes will occur and put cops in the right places to stop them.
Earlier in the year, Denver’s water department began analyzing machine data produced by its IT systems to spot failure trends in real time and react more quickly to user demands. The data — normally a jumble of text and code — is displayed in graphical user dashboards that allow IT leaders to make proactive decisions. The next step, according to Denver Water, is to marry the machine data with business transaction data to gain better understanding of the utility’s overall operation.
And Dubuque, Iowa, is improving city bus routes with information gleaned from a smartphone app carried by an army of 1,000 volunteers. The app tracks riders as they move throughout the transit system, and that data is being crunched by city planners to design more efficient routes. Ultimately the city may use individual travel data to give citizens personalized tips and alerts — for instance, notifying motorists when their typical travel routes are snarled by an accident.
These developments show the public sector’s increasing sophistication around using data as a decision-making tool. They also point toward the growing importance of state and local CIOs as the stewards of a jurisdiction’s information assets.
“We need to start understanding data and data sources better, and creating the capabilities within our organizations to handle this,” said Boston CIO Bill Oates. “Because what we’re seeing today is the tip of the iceberg.”
Although governments made progress this year, they continued to struggle with applying security and privacy regulations in a big data setting. Furthermore, inconsistent standards and questions around ownership of information hampered governments’ ability to mix and analyze large amounts of disparate data.
But mounting popularity of open data initiatives may be breaking down information silos and building more expertise in using data effectively. “The open data movement has really helped us identify ‘dark data’ that are difficult to extract from legacy systems or from departmental stewards who are reluctant to give up control,” said Oates in an October interview. “We’ve also had to think about the quality and currency of that data.”
There were other signs of progress too.
Maryland is building data platforms in key policy areas that promote and facilitate data sharing. For instance, its health information exchange links together all 47 acute care hospitals in the state, allowing those facilities to share patient admission, transfer and discharge data. “So if you show up at Mercy Medical Center one day and at Johns Hopkins a week later, Johns Hopkins knows your history of interactions,” said Maryland Chief Innovation Officer Michael Powell in a June interview. “Can we start sharing diagnosis data through that system? Absolutely. Can we start integrated cost data, so we understand that better? We can do that too.”
And in Philadelphia, CIO Adel Ebeid is looking to marry open data with GIS to more deeply understand community issues. “Data really can’t answer the ‘why;’ it can answer the ‘what’ and the ‘when,’” Ebeid said. “But when you start layering GIS technology on top of that data, you can begin to put it in a different context.”
As cities, counties and states build competency around data quality, standards and governance, they’re taking steps toward achieving the real value of big data — the ability to predict the impact of policy decisions, demographic trends, disasters and other events. Getting there will be both a key challenge and a great opportunity for government IT organizations in 2014 and beyond. — Steve Towns