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Helping Government Leaders Convert Civic Data into Sound Policy

March 23, 2017 - 11:30

Three heavy hitters in the Pacific Northwest have formed an alliance they say will bring data front and center as a driver of social change.

The University of Washington (UW) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) will bring research muscle to the table, while Microsoft has pledged $1 million in funding for the newly formed Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative (CUAC), which aims to forge alliances between researchers, students and public stakeholders addressing urban issues in the region.

“In the Northwest we have a lot of strength in the area of data, but it hasn’t been organized under any particular unit,” said Bill Howe, associate professor in the UW Information School. “If you work at a city agency and you want to reach out to the university for help, you have to open the phone book, close your eyes and point a finger. Now we want to organize our efforts, to really blur that line between academic research and applied practice in the cities.”

The new collaboration is an outgrowth of last fall’s Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference, held in Vancouver, B.C. At that forum, regional leaders sought concrete opportunities for partnerships in education, transportation, research and other areas.

At the conference, the Boston Consulting Group unveiled a study that showed the region between Seattle and Vancouver has “high potential to cultivate an innovation corridor,” but that potential could only be realized through ongoing collaboration, with research universities driving public policy.

The universities say they are uniquely positioned to help government leaders convert the emerging wave of civic data into sound policy.

“We have people who know how to take government’s questions and turn that into analyses. We have researchers in urban systems who can bring a contextual lens to the problems, to look at the ways the complex sets of theories can come together, to address an issue from multiple angles,” said Gail Murphy, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Associate Vice President Research pro tem at the University of British Columbia.

“For the municipalities, they get both capacity and expertise,” she continued. “No government can afford the range of expertise that you find at a university, and most cities also have challenges in terms of having enough hands on deck. It sounds simple: We have a data set, let’s analyze it. But that work takes significant time and effort.”

While the collaborative will likely expend its efforts in a number of policy areas, the researchers say they already have certain types of social targets in mind.

“We are looking for projects with data-intensive decision-making for things that directly impact people’s lives. This is food security. This is homelessness,” Howe said. “Sensors on light posts for parking are great, but when you look at homelessness, you have 50 different nonprofits and city agencies all trying to wrestle with the problems, and there is no one place where they can find the relevant data.”

Scientists also will be looking hard at transportation, an area where data is readily available but not always put to best use.

Howe pointed to the example of the ORCA card, Seattle’s public transportation payment technology. City planners have reams of information about where and how the card is used, but if you start planning transit around that data, you can easily head down a false trail.

Many citizens still pay cash for transit, with more affluent riders more likely to use ORCA. Thus, ORCA data alone generates a skewed view of ridership. That’s the kind of thing a budget-constrained city transit agency can miss, but a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional team could pick up.

“It’s not about technologists just throwing out solutions as quickly as possible. It has to be about understanding the actual needs of the citizens and being responsive to that,” Howe said. The Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative will organize its efforts around four main programs: The Cascadia Data Science for Social Good Summer Program will engage students from UW and UBC campuses, where they will work with faculty to create and incubate data-intensive research projects. Cascadia Data Science for Social Good Scholar Symposium will bring together students from both schools to looks at ways to use technology to advance the social needs. Sustained research partnerships will help to establish the region as a center of expertise in urban analytics, with the schools providing technical expertise, driving stakeholder engagement and seeking seed funding. To drive responsible data management systems and services, the cooperative will develop new software, systems and services to facilitate data management and analysis, and to ensure best practices in accountability and transparency.

Researchers likely will face some challenges as they attempt for forge a regional, data-driven approach to social change.

“The hardest part is in creating long-term, sustainable partnerships with the municipal partners,” Murphy said, adding that civic planners are excited about data today, but this is still uncharted territory and no one knows for sure whether or for how long the current enthusiasm will last.

“We don’t know yet how many of these data sets will be continually collected and updated over time,” Murphy said. “The governments have done a great job so far of collecting and providing data, but we are still in early days of how that is done, and we don’t know how easy or hard it will be to bring these data sets together. Both sides are very willing to get things to work, but it is all still very new.”

On the plus side, if the partners are successful in bringing all players to the table, they may be able to generate research at a new and deeper level. Howe said he is especially excited at the prospect of being about to engage in comparative analytics — looking at data on similar social policy across multiple municipalities.

“This is notoriously difficult because the political will and the finding and the stakeholders — all tend to be focused on their own cities and their own needs,” he said. “By having this collaboration, we can make that an explicit part of the goal, to try something out in one city and try it out another and compare the results. That would give us something really new.”

Michigan is the Fourth State to Issue RFP to 'Opt-Out' of FirstNet Plan

March 22, 2017 - 08:00

Since last year, a handful of states have released RFPs in the interest of procuring their own public-safety long-term evolution (LTE) networks. Alabama and Arizona are still in the beginning stages, and New Hampshire selected Rivada Networks as its vendor last year.

Last Wednesday, Michigan joined this small, but growing, list of states to issue an RFP and will begin seeking bids in order to sustain and further the public-safety LTE radio access network (RAN). The state has clarified that these actions do not signal a decision to “opt out” of FirstNet’s nationwide public safety broadband network. The governor will decide whether Michigan will choose an alternative to the FirstNet plan.

“The State has not made a decision to accept the proposal made by FirstNet for a NPSBN to serve public safety entities in Michigan,” according to the Michigan RFP. “Neither has the State chosen to opt-out of the FirstNet-offered RAN to serve its public-safety entities. It is the intent of this RFP to explore options available to the State that will that will be most responsive to the needs of public-safety entities and which will be sustainable over the coming 25-year period.”

As Brian Shepherd, Colorado’s single point of contact, told IWCE's Urgent Communications, the state could become the fifth state to issue this kind of RFP as early as next month.

“Our goal has always been to provide as comprehensive an analysis as possible when it comes to the opt-in/out decision,” Shepherd told the publication. “We believe, in order to accomplish this, we must have two fully vetted options, so we understand the pros and cons of each. This RFP will allow us to clearly understand what opting out would look like.”

The states’ plans will take place half a year after FirstNet chooses its nationwide partner and includes a 90-day grace period in which their respective governors must choose whether to opt out or go with FirstNet and its partner.

New Discovery in Backscattering Could Hold Promise for Smart Cities, Report Finds

March 22, 2017 - 08:00

A team of researchers has found that a venerable audio transmitting technique could hold promise for smart cities, as well as private companies looking to inexpensively reach large numbers of people.

The technology described in a white paper titled FM Backscatter: Enabling Connected Cities and Smart Fabrics — written by three student researchers and two faculty advisers from the University of Washington (UW) — is a new approach to what’s known as backscattering, or ambient backscattering; it’s a relative of today’s RFID technology, and a passive broadcasting method that figured in one of the Cold War’s most notorious spy scandals.

The team will deliver a presentation based on the white paper on Monday, March 27 at the 14th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation in Boston — a presentation that signals the group is confident the technology has an increasingly clear future as public agencies move aggressively to deliver services more cheaply and serve residents more effectively.

According to one expert, the system has concrete potential for cities, including in autonomous vehicle deployments where the device might one day replace traffic signals and stop signs now recognized by human drivers.

In the presentation’s abstract, group members spell out their discovery — using ambient FM radio signals as a source for backscatter for the first time — and what that means.

“This paper enables connectivity on everyday objects by transforming them into FM radio stations,” the abstract reads. “Our design creates backscatter transmissions that can be decoded on any FM receiver including those in cars and smartphones. This enables us to achieve a previously infeasible capability: backscattering information to cars and smartphones in outdoor environments.”

Their backscatter technique uses a device they built to find an existing FM radio signal, then reflecting it, jumping on-board and riding a very short distance to deliver audio or even data. The device is ultra low-powered, small and doesn’t passively transmit very far — 100 feet or less — ensuring multiples could be installed in relatively close proximity without competing.

Researchers achieved the breakthrough by using a new modulation technique, making backscatter follow existing FM transmissions in the Seattle area to successfully send sound and data short distances to a Moto G1 smartphone and a 2010 Honda CR-V.

“This enables us to embed both digital data as well as arbitrary audio into ambient analog FM radio signals,” the group wrote.

To test their work, members embedded the FM antenna devices they designed into posters and billboards, then showed they could communicate with receivers in the car and the smartphone.

They also sewed conductive thread into a T-shirt to create a “smart” fabric that could send data to a smartphone.

The results convinced them the technique shows promise for public agencies, even if we may be more likely to see it in reruns of the science fiction TV series Extant in the immediate future than along a local highway.

“The concept of backscatter itself is not a new thing, but what we’re showing here is we can leverage these FM signals that are all around major cities and communicate to off-the-shelf receivers as well as cars,” said Vikram Iyer, a UW doctoral student in electrical engineering and an author of the paper.

Cities, Iyer told Government Technology, could set aside a particular FM radio frequency on which to transmit — then reflect on it to “broadcast public information on those or pretty much anything you wanted at a particular location.”

The advantage, he said, “is you’d really be using infrastructure that already exists. All we really need to add is these devices that backscatter.”

The team built its device to backscatter on an FM signal from readily available components and cheaply, Iyer said. But on the receiving end, while our cell phones and cars may have the capability to receive FM radio broadcasts, Iyer notes that they would need additional equipment or apps to refine it.

Because backscatter audio and data “travels” on an existing signal, it arrives with that signal as well — meaning receiver designers would have to create noise-cancelling equipment or apps to mute the FM signal and let listeners hear just the backscattered information.

Bhaskar Krishnamachari, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director of the Center for Cyber-Physical Systems and the Internet of Things at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, praised the device’s low power usage, noting that “backscatter transmitters don’t do anything if there’s no signal.”

But he pointed out that “in terms of how far out we may be from seeing it in smart cities, the question in purely technical terms, the one bottleneck would be, 'What kind of receiver do you need and how widely available is it?'”

That said, Krishnamachari acknowledged the system’s potential for cities as a universal docent in self-guided walking tours, delivering a pre-recorded message through a smartphone app about an historic building or area; and in autonomous vehicle deployments, where the small device might one day replace traffic signals and stop signs now recognized by human drivers.

“From a city’s perspective, I think backscatter technology will be cheap as far as the transmitters are concerned or even potentially the receivers," he said. "It allows you to deploy these things more widely."

Backscattering has the potential to be “more or less as useful as other ‘smart cities’ initiatives,” says Cincinnati Chief Performance Officer Leigh Tami, who pointed out that smart cities and “smart” technologies are only as smart as the city using or implementing them.

Tami told Government Technology via email that two things, can give so-called smart initiatives the ability to implement and scale: ensuring backscattering, like any other new technology, is fully integrated with existing infrastructure — and here, its relatively low cost would be an advantage; and making sure, like any other tech piece, it meets a specific need.

“There's a lot of cool stuff out there, but not all of it necessarily meets a need in the realm of government service delivery, efficiency, or citizen engagement,” said Tami, who added that she’d be interested to hear more about proposed use cases.

Data Can Help Local Governments Fight Corruption, Study Says

March 22, 2017 - 07:30

Local governments can and should begin to use data more often in order to root out and eliminate corruption, a new study has found.

The study, Taking a Byte Out of Corruption, emphasized that while major advancements in data analytics have given law enforcement agencies and policymakers new tools that could potentially fight public corruption, a lot of work remains before systems are established to ensure such data is used fairly and effectively. In the report, the authors speak often of this being a starting point for municipalities that want to bridge this gap.

The study, the result of a yearlong effort, was conducted by the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) Data Analytics Working Group at Columbia Law School in New York City, and support for it was provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. It involved working with a group of leading practitioners, scholars, engineers and civil society members, and Jennifer Rodgers, executive director of CAPI, said such research into data’s potential to fight corruption is a relatively new arena.

“Unfortunately, there’s still a way to go before cities are really going to be in a position to do this in a meaningful and broad-based way,” Rodgers said. “It’s a bit at its beginning, but there have been such successes in other areas of city management using data, and corruption-fighting is going to be one of the next frontiers, we think.”

The report, of course, is detailed and annotated, but broadly speaking it points to nine types of fraud that data can potentially help investigators identify, a list that includes transgressions as minor as HR violations like manipulating a time card to larger malfeasance such as fraud or corruption by elected officials at high levels.

For each sort of fraud, the report gives examples of how data might be used to combat it. For example, with corrupt inspectors, the study suggests that keeping a database of incidences can help spot outliers, such as individuals giving excessively high or low numbers of violations, or logging passing grades too soon after failures, which might be an indicator of fraud.

Rodgers said a data-driven approach to fraud investigation can also benefit existing watchdog agencies, even if they’re doing good work, such as the offices of the inspector generals that operate in both New York City and Chicago. New York, for example, has 45 city agencies that employ more than 300,000 people, with one anti-corruption office to oversee them all.

Throughout the report the authors are careful to note that data is not going to be a magical cure for corruption, nor will it be able to identify fraud beyond a doubt. Data, if kept and cleaned properly, is simply a tool that can point investigations and watchdogs in the right direction, improving both efficiency and the frequency at which wrong-doing is identified.

Gabriel Kuris, deputy director of CAPI, said another point the report seeks to stress is that data as a corruption-fighting tool can create a permanent system of checks, rooting out systematic issues, but, again, for most city governments this sort of work remains in the future.

“This is truly the first iteration of this,” Kuris said. “We really hope to improve it over time, and we certainly welcome any feedback. And any government that is working on this stuff that wants to share with us their efforts, we’d like to partner.”

How Did L.A. Spend $148 Million in Parking Ticket Revenue? Check the Data Portal

March 22, 2017 - 07:00

Los Angeles collected $148 million in gross parking ticket revenues in fiscal 2015 and there’s been a public push to lower the fines, which some see as onerous and arbitrary.   City technologists want to bring data to bear to inform that discussion. In January they unveiled the Street Talk data portal, which is loaded with parking enforcement information, in an effort to demonstrate just what the city collects, from whom and where the money goes.   They say that effort already is bearing fruit. Armed with facts and figures, the IT department is taking an active role in shaping a range of civic policies around parking enforcement. “It’s about bringing truth to the conversation,” said Juan Lopez, director of technology and innovation for the Controller’s Office. “We want people to better understand how parking tickets work and how they are issued, to bring clarity around the policies.”   L.A. isn’t alone in shifting parking ticket data to the fore. New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore have all published variations on the theme, with data sets covering varied lengths of time at greater or lesser depth. IT leaders in Los Angeles say they want to do more than just make the data available; they want to drive practical change.   The first truth to emerge from the data disclosure: Parking tickets don’t generate nearly the kind of revenue people typically imagine. Of the $148 million collected in fiscal 2015, the city hung onto just $41 million, with the rest going to administrative overhead.   This has immediate policy implications. “It means that if we reduce parking fines, we would be losing money,” Lopez said. “If we reduced fines by $10 or $15, we could very well be losing money every time we write a ticket.”   From an IT perspective, the data has generated a range of technology-based ideas that could lower the number of tickets written, reduce overhead by making parking enforcement workers more efficient, and ultimately help to keep busy streets clear of inappropriately parked vehicles.   More than one-quarter of all tickets are written for cars parked at the wrong time in street-sweeping areas. The city’s IT department is working with the sanitation bureau to develop a GPS-based solution that would put location sensors on street sweepers and tie them to the existing 311 app. Citizens would be able to opt in to be notified when the sweepers have come and gone, and could move their cars accordingly.   “It gives you a good timely warning, before the street sweeper comes, and it saves people having to wait around for the entire two-and-half-hour block to go by, if the street sweeper has already gone through,” Lopez said.   To further leverage technology, the city is looking to emulate Sydney, Australia’s deployment of electronic street signs. A solar-powered, tablet-style sign could reduce the volume of parking infractions by helping drivers get a clearer sense of the local ordinances, which can sometimes be difficult to interpret.   “If you park in L.A. you may have four or five signs saying you can park here from 2 to 4 o’clock, but you can’t park from 5 to 7. You may have a sign for special permits for residents," Lopez said. "It’s a very common complaint that these signs can be very hard to decipher. If you had one digital sign, then it could be very clear: Yes, you can park here or no, you cannot."   Ideally such a sign would notify parkers on an opt-in basis if parameters are changing — for instance 15 minutes before a space switches to no-parking rules.   The smart city ecosystem is blossoming with tech solutions to civic parking woes. San Francisco is using wireless sensors to track parking availability. Some companies are promoting parking payment apps. The nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology has worked with ParqEx, a company that connects people with underutilized parking spots.   Frost and Sullivan predicts the market for smart parking technology will reach $43 billion by 2025. “The emergence of new business models such as peer-to-peer parking, smart parking with minimum hardware, parking analytics, demand-based pricing and real-time parking sessions will help popularize parking solutions in new territories,” said Frost and Sullivan Automotive and Transportation Industry Analyst Neelam Barua in a press release.   “Real-time smart parking and navigable parking lots will proliferate into the European and North American markets and become future trends in parking, along with autonomous parking services for cars,” Barua said. “Numerous smart multi-space and wireless parking meters will deliver real-time parking information with the help of sensors to motorists and parking operators, simplifying parking operations and business.”   In L.A., planners say they want these changes to be driven not by trendy technology but by verifiable data. They say this will help ensure public buy-in, and they point to some of their early data disclosures as evidence that solid information can shape public perception around parking.   There’s a popular notion, for instance, that parking enforcement officials spend most of their time directing traffic — but that’s not the case and the city can prove it.   Xerox provides the handheld devices city workers use to write tickets. The data team partnered with the tech provider to see how much time workers spend interacting with these mobile units. “We found that 77 percent of their time was spent on parking enforcement and the rest on other tasks like directing traffic,” Lopez said. “They really do spend their time doing what they should be doing, which is enforcing parking regulations.”   A lot of that time is spent ticketing just two companies: UPS and FedEx. In a letter to the City Council, Controller Ron Galperin noted that the two carriers received more than 45,000 tickets in just one year. Armed with such information, the council could potentially create policies that recognize and address this reality.   Planners say they would like to have even more data to better inform the city’s policies.   “One thing I would love to have is a map of all the curbs — what color they are painted and what that means,” Lopez said. “Hack for LA has been manually mapping it, but it’s a handful of volunteers doing it and there is tons of curb out there.”   For any of this data to turn into meaningful policy, the IT operators will need to have political backing. Lopez has reached out to Mike Bonin, chair of the City Council’s transportation committee. “There are so many great ideas out there in open data, but if you don’t have the elected officials on board, there is not going be a meaningful change,” Lopez said.

Startup Workshops to Help New Gov Tech Companies Understand Gov

March 22, 2017 - 06:30

Abhi Nemani, the 28-year-old gov tech whizkid who cut his teeth as an executive at Code for America before serving as chief data officer in Los Angeles and interim chief innovation officer in Sacramento, is launching “acceleration workshops” for startups that want to do business with city and county governments.

A service of Nemani’s one-man firm consulting firm EthosLabs, the workshops aim to help companies refine products and pitches for local governments. Nemani’s clients point to his experience in gov tech that spans the public, private and nonprofit sectors. 

“He knows everyone in the space,” said Catherine Geanuracos, chief operating officer of CityGrows, a cloud-based digital services platform for government. Geanuracos said Nemani also stands out for his ability to give informed and honest assessments about local government operations.  

“He has a forward-thinking point of view around the potential for technology in government and a realistic view of changes and limitations,” she said. Nemani is an investor in CityGrows. 

Nemani’s startup workshop, which will likely begin in May, would give technology companies a crash course in doing business with local government. Nemani, who is based in St. Louis, plans to fly out to meet executives at their startups for the educational seminars. 

Companies would learn, for example, the difference between strong mayor and weak mayor systems, and how those organizational structures impact how private tech companies pitch to public officials. 

Those operational differences can “have a profound effect on who the decision-maker is,” Nemani said. “It’s often missed or not understood by new entrants into the market.” 

The workshops would also give startups an overview of established gov tech contractors across the U.S., and how new entrants can sell officials on newer technologies that complement existing processes. 

“The problem that a [city IT leader] faces is less about how exciting or interesting is this product —  it’s the opposite,” Nemani said. “It’s how will this product fit with everything else I have going on?” 

Seamus Kraft, executive director and co-founder of The OpenGov Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes government transparency, said Nemani’s experience allows him to stand above other consultants entering the gov tech arena. 

“Few people can look you in the eye and say, ‘I’ve been there and done that in the government technology world,’ and Abhi is one of the few people,” Kraft said. Nemani is vice president of the OpenGov board, beside chairman Rep. Darrell Issa.   

Nemani joined Code for America in 2010, where he helped establish the Civic Startup Accelerator, a partnership between the national civic tech nonprofit and the city and county of San Francisco to apply innovative technologies to government problems. 

Nemani was tapped in 2014 by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to become the city’s chief data officer. There, Nemani authored the city’s open data policy that formalized the city's leading open data practices. Nemani also established a city data GeoHub that opened access to more than 1,000 data sets. 

Then in early 2016, then-Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson appointed Nemani as his interim chief innovation officer, a part-time consultancy role that handed Nemani the reins of a multimillion dollar economic development fund. Local lawmakers directed the $8.2 million “innovation fund” toward programs that bolstered the city’s tech sector. During his tenure with Sacramento, Nemani helped design a grant program to grow and capitalize Sacramento area startups. 

Nemani said he stopped working with the city of Sacramento after his contract expired last December. The grant program, known as Rapid Acceleration, Innovation and Leadership, will launch its next application period in spring or early summer, said Ash Roughani, who now heads the Sacramento Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

Nemani launched EthosLabs about a year ago. In that time, he’s worked with a handful of gov tech startups in different capacities, either as a board member or paid consultant. He said he’s starting Startup Workshop to expand the number of startups he can work with. 

By Nemani's estimate, there are between 50 to 100 consultants in the gov tech space, not including the large consulting teams working for megafirms like Deloitte. But many of those individual consultants aren’t full-time, Nemani said. 

Given the recent growth in investment in the national gov tech sector, Geanuracos of CityGrows said Nemani’s startup workshop could be a harbinger of a cottage industry. 

“As the sector grows and matures, it makes sense that more folks like Abhi will be able to provide a robust consultancy,” she said.  

What the Reality of a Mobile-First Society Means for Local Governments (Industry Perspective)

March 21, 2017 - 14:00

The tipping point came in 2014. That was the year that mobile Internet access surpassed desktop access for the first time. Since then, the usage disparity between desktop and mobile continues to grow. Today, as local governments are feeling the pressure of constrained budgets and limited workday hours, they are looking for tools that allow them to be more nimble and fluid in their workflows. They are looking for ways to do more with less, and they are finding answers in enterprise mobility solutions.

Here’s a scenario to which many professionals in the public sector can relate: It’s 8:47 a.m. and you’re scheduled to present in front of your county legislature at 9 a.m. sharp. You’re standing in the hallway outside the chamber door and see an email pop up on your smartphone from the county sheriff with updated statistics for your presentation. The sheriff explicitly requests that the data in your presentation slides be updated before you present at 9 a.m.

Now it’s 8:48 a.m.

Ten years ago, making such last-minute updates while away from your desk could not have happened. Only five years ago, that scene would have played out with a phone call from the sheriff, an apology and explanation that the presentation was already saved to a CD and not editable, and ad-lib presentation commentary about the outdated information.

Today, thanks to enterprise mobility solutions, here’s the scenario that actually plays out: You pull your tablet out of your bag and open your presentation. Referring to the email from the sheriff, you update the data on slides 8, 12 and 17. You even have time to update one of your charts also using your tablet and drop the new chart onto slide number 20.

You save your presentation at 8:57 a.m., and send a quick email to the sheriff to confirm that you made the requested changes. At 9 a.m., you’re called into the chamber to present. You tether your tablet to the room’s projector and share the latest presentation with the legislature.

It’s thanks to the ubiquity of mobile technology and advances in enterprise applications that this scenario plays out, and that today’s busy professionals can work better and faster, no matter where they are and what type of computing device they’re using.

Technology Solutions

As mobile technology has advanced, software programmers are taking a mobile-first approach to designing enterprise solutions. Understanding the importance of enterprise mobility tools, a wide variety of software solutions are now offering mobile applications, including word processing software, calendars, project management solutions, communication tools, survey tools, email admin tools, cloud storage systems and team collaboration tools.

Advancements in such enterprise applications have led to the trend of ubiquitous computing we see today. Today’s average American worker, whether in the private or public sector, is always connected. Now, workers can seamlessly utilize a system, work on a project or collaborate with a team from anywhere, on any device. A public information officer for a community can start creating a press release on a PC, finish the same document on a tablet while waiting for a meeting to start in a building across town, and edit the document later that night while riding the commuter train home.

To ensure such solutions are effective when used on a smartphone or tablet, over the past few years, developers have even learned to better design mobile software interfaces to optimize an admin user’s experience. For example, larger buttons for touchscreen interaction and intuitive hamburger button navigation make complex computing possible from a mobile device.

Even website content management systems (CMS) are being designed with mobile administrative access. Today, communication managers are given the power to manage key functions of their municipal websites from a smartphone or tablet, allowing them to communicate with citizens anytime, and from anywhere.

Mobile Government Content Management

In today’s digital-first society, citizens expect on-demand news and regular updates on stories and topics that impact their day-to-day lives. One way that communication managers are staying connected when out of the office is with a government CMS with a mobile app component. Some of the most valuable productivity features required of mobile CMS solutions include:

1. Calendars — Community calendars are likely a highly utilized aspect of your local government website. Citizens expect online calendars to be up-to-date and accurate. A regularly accessed calendar that lists inaccurate or outdated information could result in a negative citizen experience. Calendar updates may not take a lot of time and effort, but data accuracy is essential to a positive citizen communication strategy and a positive citizen experience with your administration.

2. Citizen Request Management (CRM) Systems — If you’re already benefiting from a CRM tool to help you receive, report, track and resolve citizen-reported community issues and concerns, imagine how much you could further expedite citizen requests with mobile access to your CRM. Such access would allow you to receive, triage and track requests in real time, and not just from 9 to 5 on weekdays.

The ideal CRM solution will not only offer you mobile administrative access, but will offer a mobile component for citizens as well, allowing them to report community issues on site as they observe them, even taking a photo, or plotting the location of the issue on a map as part of their report.

3. Alert Notifications — For communications that can’t wait until the next business day, you need access to create and distribute alerts to citizens via multiple channels. The ability to craft and send alert messages from a mobile phone or tablet, no matter where you are, could make the crucial difference in reaching citizens with actionable information before they are disrupted.

A CMS with a mobile app component allows you to alert citizens immediately via multiple channels about an unexpected four-way stop at a major intersection with the potential to disrupt holiday traffic, or about the issuance of a boil-water notice essential to avoiding citizen health risks.

4. News Updates — When news breaks in your community, your citizens should hear it from your administration first. Mobile access to your CMS’ news publishing functionality ensures citizens read local breaking news from a credible source first: you. The most robust functionality will allow you to not only create news updates from your smartphone or tablet, but also edit drafts or approve and publish content written by other members of your team.

Looking to the Future

While mobile computing continues to become a way of life, it’s important to note that like all things tech, software applications and the devices they run on will continue to evolve. Engineers and developers are already taking what they’ve learned about enterprise mobility and cloud-based applications and are starting to upscale solutions to accommodate the Internet of Things. Expect to see more interconnectivity across platforms and devices, more cloud-based solutions, and more ways to keep citizens informed and engaged no matter where you are when news breaks.

We predict that as mobile enterprise computing becomes the standard practice for public-sector workers, local governments will continue to use technology solutions available to engage citizens in meaningful ways. From geocaching activities to mobile e-payments to smartphone activity registrations, we anticipate that today’s mobile-minded citizens will not just accept but expect to interact with their local governments anytime, anywhere using their mobile devices.

At the same time, administrators will become more and more unencumbered by desktop limitations and will benefit from the flexibility of immediate access to complex systems, allowing them to further position themselves as the most immediate and reliable source of news and information for citizens in their communities. Using technology to bridge the gap between citizen expectations and local government capabilities will allow local governments to continue to build trust and engage their citizens in meaningful ways, anytime, anywhere.

Rachael Chipman is a product marketing manager at CivicPlus.

5 Tech-Centric Legislative Trends Coming to Your State

March 21, 2017 - 08:00

State legislatures are fairly predictable creatures when it comes to the bills they propose each session. A thing — in this case technology — becomes a major focus in the public eye for one reason or another, and a flood of potential legislative solutions pour out of capital offices, each meant to address, improve or regulate some aspect of the larger issue. But when it comes to technology, there isn’t just a singular issue — there are facets that all seem to fold back to the larger conversation.

In recent years, we have seen efforts to get in front of the potential problems posed by autonomous vehicles and ridesharing companies, drones and data protection. And despite the varied approaches to these efforts, successes have been measured. The need to regulate is always balanced against the need to maintain momentum and keep the ball rolling in the right direction from a business vantage point. While most bills falter and die at the hands of the fickle legislative process, looking at the early drafts is a good indicator of what states are — or think they are — grappling with. 

Some of the bills being proposed in states across the country are a solid indicator of what other states may begin considering to streamline, connect and protect.

1. Rethinking Procurement and Partnerships

One direction state lawmakers seem to be moving is toward more streamlined procurement and partnership mechanisms.

In Montana, Senate Bill 335 was introduced in November 2016, and takes aim at enabling the use of public-private partnerships (PPP) to meet state needs. The proposed legislation would allow the public and private entities to partner across a number of government services, including information technology delivery. In addition to allowing the state to leverage PPPs, the bill would also divide liability between the state and its partner.   

2. Stiffer Oversight and Punishments for Cybercrime

The 2016 presidential election stirred up a great deal of attention to cybercrime and the capabilities of hackers. Where many states and the federal government have said malicious intrusions via computer are illegal, many state lawmakers have entered legislation to better outline the rules around the use of computers and software for nefarious purposes.

In Texas, the so-called Cybercrime Act (House Bill 9 and SB 1020) amends the state’s penal code, making it a third-degree felony to intentionally interrupt computer systems or networks. The proposal also addresses the use of malware and ransomware, making intentional distribution of software against individuals, businesses and government entities for profit a felony.

Across the country in Vermont, HB 474 takes a similar approach to using ransomware as an extortion tool, making it a crime punishable by incremental fines and imprisonment. The proposal, from Rep. Michael Mrowicki’s, D-Windham, office, would also create the Cybercrime Study Committee to study and make recommendations on computer-based crimes and enforcement.

In a slight divergence from the legislation proposed in Vermont and Texas, Minnesota’s HB 817 makes it a crime of varying degrees to electronically interfere or penetrate with point-of-sale terminals, such as gas pumps and ATMs. 

3. The Battle for Rural Broadband

With many larger cities and towns connected to high-speed Internet, extending connections to rural and underserved communities has been a significant focus for lawmakers across the country. Where some have proposed the creation of grants funding mechanisms for utility providers, others have taken a slightly different tack and geared their proposals to create entities meant to prompt network expansion.

New Mexico’s Senate Bill 308 would amend the state’s Rural Telecommunications Act to create the Public Regulation Commission and an accompanying fund tasked with bolstering rural connectivity. The fund would be financed through a surcharge on “intrastate retail public telecommunications services.” Missouri Rep. Delus Johnson, R- District 9, has also proposed a bill, House Bill 2741, to create the Rural Broadband Development Fund.

Tennessee’s Senate Bill 126 and House Bill 930 would make way for the Tennessee Rural Broadband Grant Expansion Program, which would be charged with evaluating, prioritizing and distributing grant funds to improve broadband service in unserved areas. Similarly, New York lawmakers are trying to amend existing legislation with Assembly Bill 4869, the Credit for Rural Broadband Act of 2017, to create a tax credit for the deployment of rural broadband networks. 

4. Better Constituent Data Protections

With increasingly more constituent data routed through state and private systems on a daily basis, lawmakers in several states have proposed legislation to create notification requirements around data sharing practices and state security. In Illinois, the Right to Know Act would create an information sharing notification requirement for websites and online that share personally identifiable information with third parties. Consumers would have the right to know how their personal data was being used.

As Government Technology reported earlier this month, Oregon’s Senate Bill 90 is poised to create the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence within the office of the CIO and the mechanism needed to pursue federal funding.

In an effort to protect students’ educational data, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed SB 102 in mid-March. The bill requires that educational institutions provide training on student privacy laws, as well as maintain records as to the authorized users of educational records. The new law also prevents the sharing of student data with anyone without authorized access.   

5. Consolidating the Enterprise

As IT agencies evolve, states are finding their own organizational stride. Agencies that once fell under the umbrella of the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) are now looking to become stand-alone entities. This is the case in Oregon, where Senate Bill 872 stands ready to revamp the agency should it pass.

In Kansas, House Bill 2331 creates the Information Security Office, and consolidates the functions and staff relating to executive branch cybersecurity, among other things. Similarly, Minnesota’s House Bill 2298 creates a commission to review the consolidation of the state’s information technology systems and services.

Mobile Transit App Startup Participates in Y Combinator Demo Day

March 21, 2017 - 07:00

Among the 52 companies taking part in the Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator’s demo day on March 20 was a startup called Token Transit, an early stage provider of mobile ticketing for transit agencies, according to TechCrunch.

The San Francisco-based company, which doesn’t appear to have any investment backing aside from Y Combinator, offers an app that lets riders pre-pay for transit fares. When they board a vehicle, they can show their ticket to a driver instead of paying.

The app also includes a “ticket wallet” where customers can track their tickets, including how much time is left on multi-day tickets. The mobile tickets include anti-faking features such as words that move back and forth and design schemes that change from day to day. The tickets also include photos of places and things around Reno “to build civic spirit,” according to a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread that the firm’s executives held in early March.

The firm, which has been around since late 2015, contains a small group of founders with experience at Google and Apple. The company’s first client, according to the AMA, was the Reno, Nev.-area Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). Since launching in Reno in December, the company has also launched its app in Humboldt County, Calif., and is working on serving three more agencies.

The app is available in Spanish in Reno, according to RTC. From December through March, users downloaded the app nearly 1,700 times.

Colorado Taps Intel Exec to Lead State Broadband Office

March 21, 2017 - 06:30

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has tapped Tony Neal-Graves, a former vice president of Intel Corp., to lead the state’s broadband expansion and enhancement efforts, according to a release from the governor’s office.

Neal-Graves, who started work Wednesday, March 15, serves as executive director in charge of Colorado’s broadband office, and his experience with Intel is expected to be an asset as he uses public-private partnerships to drive the state’s broadband strategy and expand high-speed access for its residents. Only 70 percent of Colorado’s rural residents currently have access to broadband, a number the state plans to raise to 85 percent by the end of 2018, and 100 percent by the end of 2020.

“We are working tirelessly to make sure every county throughout the state has the tools needed for economic development — especially in rural areas,” Hickenlooper said in the release. “Tony’s leadership will help move the needle so that all Coloradans have improved access to broadband services sooner rather than later.”

Neal-Graves' experience in the telecommunications arena extends past Intel, where he worked for 15 years. Before Intel, Neal-Graves spent 20 years working with industry giants such as AT&T, Bell Laboratories and Lucent Technologies.

The broadband office that Neal-Graves is heading up will be housed in the Governor’s Office of Information Technology, where officials say it will work closely with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the Department of Local Affairs and other agencies.

Colorado Digital Transformation Officer Brandon Williams has emphasized how critical broadband is to the state, citing plans involving the Broadband Office that Neal-Graves is now spearheading.

How Anchorage Is Investing in Innovation, Nurturing Creative Thinking

March 21, 2017 - 04:00

In mid-March, the daytime high temperature in Anchorage is just starting to poke above 20 degrees. But while the cold may linger, it’s a hot time for civic tech and innovation in Alaska’s most populous city.

Anchorage recently hired a chief innovation officer, one of just a handful of municipal tech leaders to wear that title. The city got national nonprofits to line up in support of its new open-data portal launch, and it has won hands-on support from Code for America.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz “really wants his entire staff to take him out past where he can see," said Brendan Babb, who came on board in May 2016 as the city’s chief innovation officer. "He is constantly pushing us to come up with new ideas, asking how other cities do stuff, trying to be in the know.”

Portal partners

Last month, the city launched its open data portal, with backing from the Sunlight Foundation and support from Bloomberg’s What Works Cities initiative.

Fresh out of the gate, the portal has delivered data on restaurant inspections, childcare and property appraisals. Prompted by public curiosity about the recent heavy snow year, managers also have added data on snow removal statistics. There are homelessness stats on the site, which is built on the Socrata platform, and also FBI-based unified crime reporting information, or UCI.

“The UCI data is great, but there is a lag in when it comes out, because it has to be verified,” Babb said. Right now the site offers 2015 data, with 2016 figures expected soon. Babb also is working with local police to put more current information online.

Support from national nonprofit organizations was critical in getting the site up and running, especially in the early stages when the city was trying to establish its ground rules. The Sunlight Foundation was able to lend its expertise in the development of an open data policy, which Babb said launched in April 2016.

Partners from What Works Cities have helped in the development of performance management tools to be used in conjunction with the open data. The long-term plan is to utilize the city’s open data resources as a means to track the effectiveness of diverse policies and programs.

The portal already is changing the way city departments view data and its role in governance.

 

“We have had to do a little explaining on what open data is," Babb said, "but when departments understand that this means they will be able to see other city data more easily, that they will be able to access the information they have always wanted from other departments, that gets people interested.”

At the same time, making information publicly available has already begun to drive improvements in the quality of civic data. “When you make data easier for people to access, you start to take a second look at that data. You start to think, 'We should do a better job of explaining this column,'” he said. “We are doing that now with property appraisals and it makes the data better — better for residents and better internally for the city”

In addition to lending their expertise, outside partners have helped fund the effort, with Bloomberg putting in a three-year, $1.5 million i-Team grant, which the city is using the build its internal capacity for data management. The city also has drawn about $65,000 from the Alaska-based Rasmuson Foundation.

In addition to the financial support, the city also has leveraged hands-on help from its outside partners, including a pair of volunteer programmers from Code for America who are looking at workforce development issues in the Mountainview neighborhood, a diverse enclave with an unemployment rate four times higher than the rest of the city.

“We are trying to figure out what the barriers are to people getting jobs," Babb said. "We are looking at job training and generally considering ways to use technology to make things work more effectively for everyone.”

The team is looking at state IT systems that provide job-related information — often ineffectively. “A lot of older government applications aren’t mobile friendly," he said, "so we can try to make things easier to access for someone who doesn’t have a desktop computer, so that they can start the job seeking process at home.”

The coders also are considering transit, looking at the possibility of building a job-search app that overlays bus routes atop work locations, to help potential job applicants understand their transportation options. But that’s just one idea. “Their goal is to prototype potential solutions, show them to users and then we can enhance it from there based on that feedback. It is going be constantly evolving,” Babb said.

Chief innovator

Such constant evolution is implicit in Babb’s job title. As government monikers go, his is still relatively new: Only a handful of cities boast a chief innovation officer on the rolls.

His job is not just to innovate, but also to nurture creative thinking across government. “A lot of city employees have great ideas but they don’t have the time to test those ideas,” Babb said. The chief innovation offiver, however, can round up that creative energy and put it to work.

Creativity has defined Babb’s work so far. A former research scientist, he holds three patents for computer chips designed to help correct memory errors. He tracks his passion for innovation back to a college internship in a chip design firm. “I had a lot of freedom to look for things that were interesting or unique," he said. "I had no day-to-day responsibilities, which really allows you to think hard about how you could do things better.”

He has directed theater as a hobby and even worked as a DJ. It all helps to inform his present work on the creative edge of civic tech. “As a DJ you are always trying to read the crowd,” he said. “You try a song, and if people stop dancing you play a different song. You learn what works and you try to improve.”

Arkansas Governor Taps Yessica Jones to Lead the Department of Information Services

March 20, 2017 - 13:43

When Arkansas’ Department of Information Services (DIS) Director Mark Myers resigned in November 2016, Deputy Director Yessica Jones was quickly tapped to fill in as the agency’s interim leader.

After nearly five months heading up DIS operations, Jones was formally appointed to the directorship March 17.

In a press release Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was confident in Jones’ leadership skills and ability to meet the demands of the “rapidly evolving technology industry.”

“Yessica’s leadership and knowledge of the technology sector has made her a tremendous asset to DIS over the last year, and I look forward to working with her as we continue to improve our state’s digital services,” he said.

 

DIS is excited to share the news that Gov. Hutchinson Appointed Yessica Jones Director of DIS https://t.co/oqbjDUJz2h

— Arkansas DIS (@arkansasDIS) March 17, 2017

 

Prior to joining DIS in January 2016, Jones was an assistant professor with Harding University’s Department of Management Information Systems. She also served as Hutchinson’s outreach liaison to the Hispanic community.

Jones said she was honored to be selected for the role and that she was excited about the future of the agency. “Each day, I am grateful to work with such a hard-working, dedicated staff of employees," she said in the release. "Their support has helped guide my success throughout the months I have served as acting director. I have pledged to work side-by-side with employees in fulfilling the commitments we make to our customers with attention to quality and service."

IT Spending in State and Local Government: What Does 2017 Hold?

March 20, 2017 - 08:00

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Key tech industry players gathered in Virginia on Monday, March 20, to hear about the IT spending forecast in state and local government in 2017 at the annual Beyond the Beltway conference, hosted by the Center for Digital Government (CDG)* and Government Technology. Total IT spending across state and local government is projected at $101.3 billion, which represents growth of 1.4 percent over 2016. Also likely to increase in proportion to overall IT spending is the number of IT-related opportunities, which numbered nearly 34,000 in 2016.

Spending projections were offered for key verticals:

Health and Human Services $26.4 billion Education $23 billion Transportation $10.3 billion Administration and Finance $8.7 billion Public Safety and Justice $7.6 billion Public Works $7.6 billion Environment and Natural Resources $7.4 billion States Confront Federal Uncertainties

Spending at the state level, while up slightly over last year, still has not returned to pre-recession levels in 32 states. Compounding the challenges faced by states are ongoing debates at the federal level around changes to the Affordable Care Act. Impacts will be greatest to states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

As for where spending is on the rise in states, cybersecurity topped the list.

Missouri CIO Rich Kliethermes indicated that the state has had cybersecurity funding linked to data privacy that dated back to 2013. Other state panelists echoed the importance of security cyberfunding, which is becoming easier given the frequency of headlines around the latest data breach. Delaware CIO James Collins made a request of the vendor community in attendance to help shoulder the cybersecurity burden: “We’re looking to vendors to bake the security into their tools and make things easier for our users.”

As the above graphic shows, broadband returned to state CIO priority lists this year, linked to the rise of cloud technologies. In a move typical of many agencies across the country, Utah is moving to the cloud to deal with the deluge of video from law enforcement bodycams — but CIO Mike Hussey reported that officers in rural areas are struggling to upload a shift’s worth of video to the cloud, illustrating the importance of robust connectivity. Colorado Digital Transformation Officer Brandon Williams echoed how critical broadband is throughout his state and reflected on plans to add a broadband office to manage their efforts centrally.

Innovation Shines at the Local Level

A new class of younger mayors as well as friction between largely Republican-led states and Democrat-led large cities is contributing to the growth of innovation in cities that have become less dependent on revenue streams from higher levels of government. The largest percentage of technology RFPs were issued by cities last year, many of them around smart city technology, open data, Internet of Things and civic engagement. All told, cities are expected to spend $30.9 billion on IT in 2017.

But they’re not focused on technology for technology’s sake. IT leaders at the city level are mindful of their mayor’s priorities and how technology can be used to support them. “What are your mayor or governor’s primary goals and how do you line up your investments accordingly?” said Washington, D.C., CTO Archana Vemulapalli. “Have your strategic plan ready for those opportunities.”

Smart city initiatives are an example of an area where local CIOs cautioned not to lead with the technology — rather projects have to serve community needs. In Washington, D.C., officials kicked off an ideation series where they talk to residents about what a smart city means to them. And that can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller revealed that Seattle is hiring a smart city coordinator to help advance its smart city initiatives.

And underlying it all is sound infrastructure for connectivity. New York City CTO Miguel Gamiño talked about a plan for pervasive broadband that moves beyond current efforts, like LinkNYC. “The LinkNYC project is important. But it’s one part of a bigger picture needed to make sure everyone has broadband access in homes and businesses,” he said. 

Back to Basics at the County Level

Counties in the U.S. are expected to spend $22 billion on IT in 2017, and CDG Executive Director Todd Sander described the economic outlook in counties as generally positive. More than half of counties have budgets that now exceed pre-recession levels, although counties’ fates depend more on federal dollars, where uncertainty persists given the recent change in administration.

Automation will be key in helping counties account for their shrinking workforces. Oakland County, Mich., CIO Phil Bertolini will lose 30 percent of his workforce in the next three years, which has led him to turn to various strategies to compete for and retain competent staff. Salary increases, remote work options and alternative schedules as well as office perks like standup desks and fewer walls are among the tricks he’s using. Those strategies aside, he’s relying increasingly on contractors to fill workforce gaps. 

Another priority identified by county leaders was shared services. It’s a tactic used by Travis County, Texas, CIO Tanya Acevedo for an evidence management system that enables information sharing across neighboring counties, as well as broadly in the Oakland County, Mich., G2G Cloud Solutions marketplace.

Government CIOs across jurisdictions offered vendors in attendance advice on how best to engage with the public sector in service of constituents. “Our job is to deliver services to residents,” Vemulapalli said. “Put your responsible resident and citizen hat on when you go and talk to government.”

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.
 

If States Were Companies, Which Would Make the Fortune 100?

March 20, 2017 - 07:30

If California's state government were a business, it would be about as big as Exxon Mobile. And Georgia would be about the same size as a company headquartered in Atlanta: Coca-Cola.

When speaking about state budgets, billion-dollar pools of money can become something of an abstract concept. It's easy to forget what a billion dollars really means.

So the Center for Digital Government — part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company — used its own data alongside data from the Fortune 100 list to put together some comparisons. Here are all the states whose budgets would put them on the Fortune 100 list if they were companies, along with the businesses whose revenue totals they are closest to.

Fortune 100 States & Co.
Create line charts

And here is a map of all the states whose budgets would put them in the Fortune 100 if they were businesses:

Fortune 100 States
Create your own infographics

Michael Leahy Named Maryland's New Acting IT Secretary

March 20, 2017 - 07:11

His LinkedIn profile still lists him as senior adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan and director of real property strategies for the governor’s office, but Maryland official Michael Leahy has a new title.

On March 8 the state named Leahy its acting secretary of information technology. He replaces David Garcia, who served as state CIO and secretary of IT and stepped down in January to spend more time with his family.

It’s not yet clear how Leahy will approach the new position or leverage his previous experience — but he has a breadth of service on which to draw. As adviser to Hogan, Leahy provided guidance on “practical governance and policy matters,” per LinkedIn. As director of real property strategies, he developed and implemented asset management tools and methods for the state.

Leahy had occupied that role since June 2016. Prior to that, he was city attorney for Annapolis, Md., for nearly two years, and before that, he had been in private practice in Severna Park, Md., for nearly five years.

In private practice, Leahy's work was oriented toward policy development with “concentrations in enterprise and entrepreneur development,” management of intellectual property, government relations, privacy law and land use. He also maintained a focus on telecommunications, broadband industries and software as a service, and was a Certified Information Privacy Professional, indicating an understanding of privacy and data protection law.

It’s also unclear how Leahy will address the ongoing consolidation of state IT. The Maryland Department of Information Technology was created in 2008 to consolidate the state's IT functions and policies. In the 2016 Digital States Survey, Maryland received a B grade and stated in its submission that it expected to have 25 agencies and 10,000 employees consolidated into the Department of Information Technology by the end of 2016.

Seattle in Search of Smart City Coordinator to Drive Collaboration, Consistency in Deployments

March 20, 2017 - 07:00

Seattle is on the hunt for someone to help manage its smart city programs.

Last week, the city posted a classified for a Smart City Coordinator to help oversee its overarching strategy, help departments coordinate smart city programs, and be the smart city point person for stakeholders and other partners.

“We’re creating the smart cities coordinator role to help drive collaboration across these stakeholders and to make sure we have basic consistency in our smart cities deployment,” Seattle Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller told Government Technology.

Seattle has been pursuing smart city programs for years now, he said, but what the city seeks now is someone who understands how the technologies are rapidly evolving. One of Mattmiller's favorite projects, Seattle RainWatch, is in need of some help and guidance. RainWatch is composed of a network of sensors that monitor precipitation and give the city some idea of where sudden downpours might cause flooding. The network provides the city with “hyperlocal weather information” and leads to alerts being sent out.

Because the cost of sensors are quickly decreasing, Mattmiller said there is a clear opportunity to add more to create a more robust network — but security remains integral for any technology deployment. “We must have the public’s trust in how we collect and use their data.”

Seattle already has several smart city projects underway in the Department of Transportation, the Fire Department, Seattle City Light, and public utilities. The application defines "smart cities" as communities where sensors are deployed to gather data, and the decisions are data-driven to improve the lives of their public. Other departments have plans to implement several new smart projects in the coming years.

The city also just wrapped up an RFI looking for ideas on how to provide high-speed Wi-Fi to every member of the community. While a majority of the city’s residents have access, roughly 15 percent still lack it. “There is a bit of crossover,” said Mattmiller, noting that the RFI included a question regarding how the proposal would enable smart city applications.

Most of the responsibilities, however, will be working across city departments to make sure all current smart city initiatives are following best practices and coordinating with one another while following city rules and regulations. Housed in the Seattle Information Technology Department (Seattle IT) the next smart city coordinator will also serve as a resource for upcoming projects. According to the application, the coordinator will “help city departments envision ‘the art of the possible’ with regard to Smart City technologies.”

The other primary responsibility will be to work with partners both within the city and without. Mattmiller said whomever is chosen will work closely with Candace Faber, the city’s civic tech advocate, and Open Data Program Manager David Doyle.

“Not only do we want to keep the community informed of what we are trying to do,” Mattmiller said, but officials also need to “make sure the data we collect is available for the public.”

The coordinator will also be tasked with “managing and growing the relationship with the MetroLab Network,” he said.

The network was started under former President Barack Obama as a way to bring universities and cities together. Universities provide the research and legwork, while cities help run experiments and serve as proving grounds. In January, Seattle hosted a MetroLab event that brought together representatives from 20 cities and 24 different universities where participants shared experiences and techniques — something that will be one of the new coordinator's responsibilities, as will becoming familiar with projects in the network and how Seattle could apply to technology to its own needs.

“Collaboration is the new competition,” Mattmiller said, citing a Harvard Business Review article.

The position is temporary for three years, and by the end of that time, Mattmiller said he is hoping for three things:

The community has helped to build and continues to support the smart city programs. “If we don't have our community understanding what we're trying to achieve. … We won't be successful,” he said. City departments are being helped in reaching goals by “deploying solutions that work for them.” Residents' quality of life is improved.

“We are looking for candidates who want to engage in service," Matmiller said, "who want to think about how technology benefits communities and has a passion for collaboration."

More information is available here; applications are being accepted through April 11.

FirstNet Legal Battle Ends, Buildout Could Begin as Early as June

March 20, 2017 - 06:45

The lawsuit filed against the First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet) by RFP bidder Rivada Mercury — a partnership between several companies — received an unfavorable ruling in federal court March 17.

As Government Technology previously reported, the legal stalemate between the ousted bidder and the FirstNet authority significantly delayed the award for the 25-year contract by several months in December 2016. At the time, FirstNet officials said many of the moving parts necessary for project success were in place and ready.

“We have the rigor in place. We are an up-and-running organization just as Congress intended,” FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said at the organization’s quarterly meeting held Dec. 14. “We are here and it’s done, and we are ready.”

The larger case centered on a bidding dispute filed by Rivada Mercury, the collective made up of Fujitsu, Nokia, Harris, and Black and Veatch, against the FirstNet Responders Network Authority, which is overseeing the $6.5 billion contract for the national FirstNet public safety network. 

In the Friday judgment, Judge Elaine Kaplan ruled in favor of the network authority, granting it the ability to move forward with the procurement process. 

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision. This is a positive development for FirstNet and the public safety community. FirstNet intends to move expeditiously to finalize the contract for the nationwide public safety broadband network,” Poth said in a statement.

The complaint lodged by Rivada Mercury focused on how bids on the national RFP were evaluated and eliminated, after the company alleged it was unfairly eliminated from the process and should be allowed to have its bid reconsidered by the FirstNet Authority. 

According to a report from IWCE’s Urgent Communications, the division charged with leading the bidding efforts, Rivada Networks, plans on pursuing state radio access network (RAN) contracts moving forward.

“We regret the decision, but it won't stop us from offering our superior solution to the states,” Rivada Networks co-CEO Declan Ganley said in a statement provided to the publication.

In a tweet, Rivada Networks said the partnership would be considering an appeal and focusing efforts on state contracts.

Rivada U.S. Court of Fed Claims motion denied. Considering appeal & are ramping up with States that want option to exercise opt-out right.

— RivadaNetworks (@RivadaNetworks) March 17, 2017

With a ruling on the books, many reports seem to favor project bidder AT&T as the awardee, barring any further legal action. Should FirstNet award the company, which joined the Department of Justice on behalf of FirstNet during the court proceedings, the buildout could begin as early as June.

Exclusive: Predictive Policing Startup Publishes Code Online, Seeks to Address Bias

March 20, 2017 - 06:00

CivicScape, an early stage startup, wants to fight crime. And it wants to show you exactly how it does it.

Brett Goldstein — whose work has included stints with the Chicago Police Department, Argonne National Laboratory and the tech company OpenTable — has been working on something akin to CivicScape for about seven years now. And with six city-based pilot projects underway, he is ready to launch the predictive policing company that he hopes will address the controversial aspects of the practice.

The company is one of the first investments of Ekistic Ventures, of which Goldstein is a managing partner. In fact, Ekistic is effectively serving as the creator of CivicScape — on top of traditional venture capital-style investments, Ekistic wants to launch at least one startup per year.

Predictive policing, or the use of data to identify crime “hot spots” and deploy officers accordingly, is controversial. Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the problems with the practice are manifold.

“Broadly speaking," he said, "the quality of the data that police are using to make predictions raises significant concerns, [as does] the lack of transparency that the predictive policing programs seem to embrace, such that we don’t really know how they’re being used and how they’re constructed."

That is, if police are already biased — say, by searching black people for drugs more frequently than white people — then using the data from their work will likely amplify that bias. To a computer program designed to look for patterns in policing, it could look like police should search for drugs in black neighborhoods more often. Researchers, however, have found that black and white people use illegal drugs at about the same rate.

CivicScape wants to do things a little differently. First, it wants to identify which data is most biased and then either remove that data from consideration or adjust for its bias. Second, it wants to use machine learning algorithms to constantly check for bias. Third, it wants to publish its algorithms online for researchers and the general public to see.

Or, rather, it has already published its algorithms online. They’re on GitHub.

“We don’t want to say, ‘Trust us, and we’re going to build an algorithm behind closed doors,’” said Anne Milgram, former New Jersey attorney general and chair of CivicScape’s board of directors.

The company makes no attempt to claim that it’s eliminated bias. Rather, its documents and representatives talk a lot about how to find bias where it exists and minimize its influence on outcomes. Then, by making its work public, it’s hoping that researchers will find ways to improve the tool over time.

CivicScape also approached ACLU and other civil rights organizations while building the tool to get feedback about their predictive policing concerns and address them. Edwards said he thinks the company’s transparency is a good move, and that other predictive policing schemes should follow suit.

“From my understanding, CivicScape is putting a premium on transparency,” he said. “They are doing something that no other major developer of predictive policing has done yet to my knowledge, which is to make the method, the algorithm [and] the weighting system transparent.”

According to Milgram and Goldstein, CivicScape has been able to achieve high accuracy rates while generating hot spot maps that take new data into account in real time. The tool puts its police-specific data alongside external data like weather patterns and 311 reports in order to create its location-specific risk scores. Many data-based policing tools run on three-year averages. According to Milgram, that doesn’t reflect the shifting nature of crime risk.

“Having the ability to do it within three blocks and one hour is game changing when you think about protecting residents of a community,” she said, adding that the 311 inputs are also valuable because they create avenues for the police department to work better with other local government agencies.

“[It enables] the ability of the chief to say, ‘We know you can’t fix all 20,000 broken lights tomorrow, but can you fix these 200 … because there’s a lot of community concern around them?’” Milgram said.

Though Edwards doesn’t have a firm number on how many of the roughly 18,000 police departments in the U.S. are using predictive policing, he thinks the practice is becoming more common.

“Most major police departments I think are either using or seeking to use some form of predictive policing," he said, "and it would be a matter of time and access and development for most smaller departments to do the same."

Though Edwards applauds CivicScape’s transparency, he’s not sure the company has solved all of predictive policing’s problems just yet — particularly, the bias problem.

“It seems they’re aware of that concern, and similar to their openness on transparency, I think they’re open to ideas and suggestions on how to generate a fairer tool, but I’m not convinced that their tool will be necessarily more equitable than other tools before it,” he said. “That remains to be seen.”

Goldstein said he expects to publicly announce which cities CivicScape is working with in a matter of weeks.

Brooklyn's 'Neighborhood Innovation Lab' Targets Quality of Life, Tech Jobs

March 20, 2017 - 04:20

The Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, east of Crown Heights, will be home to New York City’s first Neighborhood Innovation Lab, city and technology officials announced Monday, March 20. The initiative is the latest in an ongoing series of penetrating, wide-ranging tech partnerships.

Perhaps fittingly, given how municipal and other local agencies are beginning to use technology to reinvent departmental roles and service availabilities, this won’t be a laboratory in the traditional sense.

Rather, in a news release, the city described it as a “tech equity initiative” to convene residents, educators, tech companies and government around addressing “neighborhood concerns with cutting-edge technologies.”

It begins later this week with what were described as a number of strategic planning sessions for community leaders who, over the next four months — roughly through the end of July — will work with the city to assess how smart city technologies can boost quality of life, modernize infrastructure, improve city services and enhance economic development.

Coming in May, residents will be invited to try out the first of those innovations — interactive digital kiosks, so-called “solar-powered benches” that provide free cellphone charging, and smart trash cans that notify the city when they’re full — and give notes.

Other milestones ahead, likely later this year, include the opening of applications for technology companies interested in finding solutions for community needs; and the launching of a Calls for Innovation focused on Brownsville.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who last month unveiled plans for the Union Square Tech Hub, said in a statement that Neighborhood Innovation Labs do more than update neighborhoods. They educate residents on careers in technology, said the mayor, which he described as “a fast-growing sector of our economy.”

“New York is a city of neighborhoods and there is no better way to prepare communities for the future than by empowering residents to define their needs and help shape our technology investments,” de Blasio said.

Neighborhood Innovation Labs are supported by initial $250,000-a-year funding from the city, which will consider expanding the effort to all five boroughs based on how this first one goes.

Currently, Brownsville has a nascent community of tech entrepreneurs but hasn't had the same opportunities as some of the city’s wealthier areas. It has the most densely concentrated area of public housing in the United States. Median household income in Brownsville is just $25,252 — roughly half of the citywide average, and crime rates are nearly twice the citywide average.

The lab is an effort to correct this situation and level the playing field.

The Union Square Tech Hub, a city-backed project at 124 East 14th Street that was announced on Friday, Feb. 17, aims to bring an estimated 600 “good-paying” tech jobs to Manhattan and give Civic Hall, a digital job training facility and space for startups, a new address.

Miguel Gamino, the city’s chief technology officer, extolled tech’s ability to transform cities and improve their qualities of life — but said officials must realize they face a specific task moving forward.

“Our challenge – and responsibility – is to ensure these technologies reach and benefit all New Yorkers, not merely a select few,” Gamino said, also in a statement, praising Neighborhood Innovation Labs as “an important step toward fulfilling Mayor de Blasio’s vision for a stronger, more sustainable, resilient, and equitable future.”

The lab, a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation and New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), is part of the de Blasio administration’s plan to invest in high-growth industries and connect residents to opportunity by creating 100,000 jobs over the next seven years, New York City Economic Development Corp. President James Patchett said.

That was a commitment the mayor made during this year’s State of the City address on Monday, Feb. 13.

“We have identified the smart cities and civic tech industry as having major potential for job growth in New York City. By connecting this industry with neighborhoods across the city, we can both increase the impact of smart cities solutions and teach communities about an entirely new segment in our economy,” Patchett said.

In an interview, Lara Croushore, vice president for NYCEDC’s initiatives group, said it has been doing planning for the lab since 2015.

“I think ultimately, from EDC’s perspective, we hope that the Neighborhood Innovation Lab provides a platform for entrepreneurs and emerging and new technologists to have an opportunity to demo their technologies in a real-world setting,” Croushore told Government Technology, noting that jumpstarting the tech jobs market is another ambition.

“That’s really, I think, the higher-level goal that we’re looking for here,” she added. “We’re really building a pipeline of support for those companies from support to incubators to growth-stage phases.”

The Brownsville Community Justice Center is the lead community partner, while Osborn Plaza will be the anchor site for public programs and technology demonstrations.

The model for Neighborhood Innovation Labs was first announced by the White House as part of President Obama’s Smart Cities Initiative in September 2015.

In a statement, Erica Mateo deputy director of Brownsville Community Justice Center, praised de Blasio’s willingness “to be accountable for responsive local investment.

“As our city becomes smarter," Mateo said, "tech equity across New York City becomes even more important to growing local economies.”

Online Denial of Service Attacks Are a Growing Concern

March 19, 2017 - 08:00

Last year, millions of Australians were unable to fill out mandatory Census online data forms because the government website was slammed by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. It now appears that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was overconfident in their ability to stop a DDoS, since the online website was brought down for several days by what is now considered to be a relatively small DDoS attack.

More recently, as reported by SC Magazine UK, government servers were forced offline in Luxembourg when they came under a DDoS attack.

Describing that situation, Stephanie Weagle, vice president of Corero Network Security, told SC Media UK that DDoS attacks have become many things over the last decade: weapons of cyberwarfare, security breach diversions and service-impacting strategies.

“The motivations for these attack campaigns are endless — financial, political, nation-state, extortion and everything in between,” she said.

Weagle added: "Continuing to rely on traditional IT security solutions, and/or human intervention to deal with the growing DDoS epidemic will continue to prove devastating to businesses. As recent events have confirmed once again, proactive, automated protection is required to keep the Internet-connected business available in the face of DDoS attacks.”

Back in the USA last year, Anonymous Legion claimed responsibility for DDoS attack that brought down the Minnesota Courts website for 10 days.

By the Numbers From Imperva

Are these DDoS examples typical of governments and businesses around the world? Our enterprise cyberdefenses lacking in their preparation to handle a new generation of more powerful online denial of service attacks?

Only time will tell, but data suggests that attacks are growing more sophisticated and many organizations are not prepared.

A new report by Imperva underscores the rapid evolution of DDoS capabilities over the past year. The report also shows that the number of DDoS attacks continues to escalate, with a shift in the threat landscape being driven by new Internet of Things (IoT) botnets and a declining cost of DDoS-for-hire capabilities.

Key findings include:

Network layer attacks hit record heights — In December, a massive 650 Gbps network layer assault was reported — the largest ever mitigated by the Imperva Incapsula service Application layer attacks became more common — The number of attacks in Q4 reached an all-time high, with an average of 889 application layer assaults per week Attack frequency scaled up — On average, 58.3 percent of websites were targeted more than once, with 13.1 percent being targeted more than 10 times China continued to be a hub of botnet activity — Some 78.5 percent of DDoS attacks worldwide originated from IPs in China US, UK and Netherlands top the attacked country list, drew 74.9 percent of all attacks

 

This infographic from the report offers some helpful details to share with management regarding the current DDoS threat landscape.

Back to Definitions: Three or 12 Types of DDoS Attacks?

This article from WHNT explains more background on DDoS attacks and suggests that there are three major types:

Volumetric: Most common. Sends a large amount of Internet traffic to the host server simultaneously. Amplification: Sends a high volume of traffic using large packets of data. Requires fewer “zombie” or compromised computers to accomplish the same task as a volumetric DDoS attack. Resource Depletion: Makes multiple requests through multiple ports or entry points into the targeted server until its capacity is exceeded

Offering more specific details, Rivalhost explains 12 different types of DDoS attacks in this article from their website. (You can see the details on each type by going to their Web page.)

UDP Flood SYN Flood Ping of Death Reflected Attack Peer-to-Peer Attacks Nuke Slowloris Degradation of Service Attacks Unintentional DDoS Application Level Attacks Multi-Vector Attacks Zero Day DDoS

This brief video describes the IoT DDoS attack on Dyn from late 2016.

What Can Be Done?

Forbes magazine online recently offered nine ways to protect your business from DDoS attacks. The details are at the website, but a few of their nine items include:

Choose the right hosting partners Monitor your traffic Set strong, custom passwords Have the right company policies in place

Many governments partner with companies like AT&T to stop DDoS attacks before they happen. Here’s a perspective from AT&T’s Dwight Davis:

Last October, long-standing predictions that the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) would form a launching pad for new cyberattacks hit home in a big way. As many as 100,000 malware-infected IoT devices flooded two major internet service providers with superfluous traffic in a broad distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Among the many commercial websites impacted were Twitter, Amazon and Netflix. …

The AT&T Cybersecurity Insights report The CEO’s Guide to Data Security sheds light upon the amount of suspicious activity directed against IoT devices. During the first half of 2016, AT&T tracked a 400 percent increase in scans of IoT devices — a clear sign that these devices were being probed for vulnerabilities and for possible attack or “recruitment.” With the number of IoT devices expected to grow from about 6 billion last year to more than 20 billion by 2020, this mushrooming IT sector presents an irresistible attack target for hackers, thieves and others of ill intent. 

Final Thoughts

The Mirai botnet of 2016 taught us that IoT devices can be used to attack others on the Internet. There have certainly been other proclaimed Mirai successors that will likely emerge - threatening to do even more online damage.

When we add in the dramatic rise of hacktivism globally that made 2016 the year that hacktivists "stole the show," you can better understand what a dangerous problem DDoS attacks have now become. Indeed, PC World recently asked if DDoS attacks are a valid form of protest. While most people in law enforcement will emphatically say “NO,” a growing part of the hacker community disagrees.

But regardless of your views regarding the ethical implications of using DDoS attacks for conducting online protests, the reality is that more hackers are using DDoS attacks with a new generation of tools. Methods continue to evolve in ways that are more sophisticated and dangerous to global enterprises.

Your online business depends on your portal availability and end user response times, and DDOS attacks against public- and private-sector organizations are a growing concern.  

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