Sep 13, 2011 (08:09 PM EDT)
15 Government IT Innovators: InformationWeek 500
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
Former federal CIO Vivek Kundra talked often about the technology gap that separates government workers from private-sector employees. Kundra, who recently resigned to take a fellowship at Harvard University, was referring to the outdated systems, software, and processes that are all too common in government offices.
Federal, state, and local government agencies have many initiatives under way in an effort to close that gap. They're employing cloud computing, software as a service, the Web, mobile technologies, and more to give government workers the tools they need to be more productive and to deliver public services more efficiently.
InformationWeek has chosen 15 such initiatives for recognition in our third annual profile of Government Innovators. They range from the U.S. Marshals Service, which is in the midst of an IT modernization plan, to Kansas' Department of Transportation, which replaced a paper-based vehicle crash reporting system with a digital system that's shared by state agencies.
There's also the example of the U.S. Army's Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care program, which is responsible for implementing electronic medical records in war zones. The Army recently took that effort a step further with the introduction of virtual mental health consultations for soldiers in Afghanistan.
Our Government Innovators were selected from dozens of nominations. They're proof that agencies at all levels of government are making progress closing the tech gap that separates them from the private sector. And they represent a diversity of technologies and business objectives, evidence that IT-enabled innovation is playing out across government in many ways.
The Army's Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care is a program, managed from Fort Detrick, Md., that oversees medical IT systems and use of electronic medical records on the battlefield. It's been a busy year for the program. In Afghanistan, the Army's EMR system was integrated with the Department of Defense's enterprise network, providing improved functionality and better security. MC4 also helped install a medical logistics system in an Army combat support hospital in Afghanistan.
GSA is making government services more accessible online with a revamped version of USASearch, a set of advanced search technologies for USA.gov. The site uses Microsoft's Bing index and open source technologies, including MySQL, Hadoop, and OpenCalais. USASearch developers employ agile development to deliver new features quickly. Helped by USASearch's open architecture and improved licensing, an affiliate program includes more than 300 websites that share data through the platform, ranging from the state of Connecticut to the city government of Reno, Nev.
When OMB mandated that agencies do a better job of project management, it also implemented its own project-review sessions using a framework called TechStat. It was a leap forward to actually show them how to do that and provide tools for getting started. OMB's TechStat Toolkit, introduced in February, provides agencies and their investment review boards with tools to conduct their own IT project reviews. A training video provides an overview of TechStat and step-by-step instructions on how to proceed. OMB credits TechStat with saving $3 billion by redirecting or eliminating troubled IT projects.
TSA is aiming to make air travel easier with MyTSA, an iPhone app that helps the public navigate through airport security. MyTSA provides information about flight delays, checkpoint wait times, and how to move quickly through security. Users can customize the app to display data on the closest airport (identified by GPS) or any airport of their choosing. The latest version, released in June, includes forecasts from the National Weather Service and meets compliance requirements for disabled users.
The VA's data center group has established one of the federal government's first infrastructure-as-a-service environments. VA's cloud went into pilot testing this summer. Once available in early fiscal 2012, the new offering will feature self-service capability and rapid scalability, as well as continuous monitoring to meet evolving federal cybersecurity requirements.
Three years ago, the U.S. Marshals Service's IT infrastructure was a neglected mix of outdated PCs and software, redundant servers and applications, and lax security. The Marshals Service has turned that around with an IT modernization that put the latest generation of tech tools--Windows 7 PCs and laptops, collaboration apps, and VoIP--in the hands of its officers. Under CIO Lisa Davis, the agency has consolidated servers, established a central case-management database, and tightened IT security. It also undertook a pilot program to learn how iPhones and other mobile devices could be used by its on-the-go workforce.
First, Los Alamos National Laboratory virtualized 100 physical servers and retired three data centers. Then it deployed a private cloud, from which it now offers infrastructure as a service to Los Alamos researchers. The service, called Infrastructure on Demand, represents the Department of Energy's first foray into IaaS. Through Infrastructure on Demand's self-service portal, Los Alamos has cut a 30-day server provisioning process down to 30 minutes. In its first six months, the service was used to provision more than 700 virtual machines. Users are charged only for the resources they consume.
Customs and Border Protection last year created a "common operating platform," standardizing the agency's application infrastructure, system configurations, and support processes. The effort, part of a multiyear IT transformation effort, has resulted in increased availability and scalability of the agency's IT systems, while cutting costs by an estimated $2 million a year for every application moved to the platform. The common operating platform defines standards for the agency's Web, messaging, application server, and database software. The emphasis on standardization decreases the amount of time and resources required for system maintenance, allowing for increased innovation, cost savings, and improved security.
The Department of Health and Human Services' Health.Data.gov site is a compelling example of what's possible when government data is used to feed applications and drive community engagement. Launched in February as an offshoot of Data.gov, Uncle Sam's repository of open government data, Health.Data.gov is home to a range of resources: health data, APIs, applications, forums, software development competitions, and more. For example, a dashboard for Medicare prescription drug benefits, in beta release, provides statistical views of prescription drug cost and payment data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. One goal is to spur development of other websites and apps that help in improving the health of the American public. That alone makes this an initiative worth watching.
The IRS's embrace of social media, coupled with the smartphone boom, provided the spark behind IRS2Go, the agency's first mobile application. Taxpayers can use the app to access Where's My Refund?, a popular feature on IRS.gov. With IRS2Go, users can get their refund status and tax tips, follow the agency on social media, and contact customer service. Available for the iPhone and Android devices, it's been downloaded more than 250,000 times.
Santa Monica's broadband fiber network, deployed in 2010, serves the California city in two fundamental ways. City government now enjoys 10-Gbps networking at 67% of the cost of what it had been paying. Even more important, the new network has become a magnet for local businesses attracted by those same benefits. Santa Monica's City Net combines Wavelength Division Multiplexing equipment (from MRV Communications) and optical fiber into a metropolitan network that's available in 100-Mbps, 1-Gbps, and 10-Gbps increments. The network connects businesses to 160 Internet service providers operating from facilities in Los Angeles, about 15 miles away. Revenue generated from network services helps fund network expansion and two dozen Wi-Fi hotspots in city parks and buildings that are available to the public at no cost.
Want to know the "cleanliness" ratings of New York City sidewalks? The state of potholes and repairs on borough streets? That and much more about life in the Big Apple is available on NYC.gov. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and CIO Carole Post, New York has become a leading practitioner of open government. The city's NYCStat site provides links to a dozen other online resources, including NYC Data Mine, a catalog of maps and other data available in machine-readable formats. In January, Bloomberg appointed the city's first chief digital officer, Rachel Sterne, and a "digital road map" lays out a strategy for work ahead in the areas of Internet access, citizen engagement, development of digital industry, and the creation of an open government framework with APIs to city data.
New York state's Department of Taxation and Finance is having success raising revenue by using technology to improve collection of delinquent taxes. The department's CISS Collections system combines XML, a process engine, analytics, and business process management to determine where to route tax collection cases within the department. A tax collections "optimizer" generates an action plan for collections agents, taking into account their caseloads and the anticipated effectiveness of different steps. Collections of delinquent taxes rose 8%, or $83 million, in 2010 compared with 2009.
In Kansas, following an auto accident, a prisoner working in a state correctional facility used to manually enter data from the crash report into the Department of Transportation's repository. It was a labor-intensive process with a lag time of up to 12 months between incident and data entry. That 20th century "system" was replaced last year with an automated digital platform called the Kansas Traffic Records System that's shared by the Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and other state agencies. Law enforcement agencies now submit crash reports electronically into the system. The reports must be "cleared" by data validation software, after which they are indexed for later retrieval and analysis. A PDF copy of the original document is stored as well. As next steps, the department plans to incorporate DUI incidents and emergency and trauma care data. Its goal is to create a one-stop shop of crash-related data that can be accessed by appropriate state agencies.
In law enforcement, connecting the dots on people with criminal backgrounds often makes the difference in the outcome of a dangerous situation. A new application in North Carolina, called Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services, is designed to hasten decision making for safer outcomes. The application, which is being rolled out statewide over 18 months, creates a comprehensive profile of an offender's criminal history in the state and a watch list that alerts law enforcement officials via email of arrests or other changes in status. The application uses SAS Institute algorithms to cluster information to create a criminal's profile, pulling information from the North Carolina courts, jails, Department of Corrections, and sex offender registry.