September 24, 2011 By Bill Schrier
Seattle's City government website www.seattle.gov is been named the #1 City government web portal for 2011 by eRepublic's Center for Digital Government. I was honored to be with the City's web team in Hollywood for the awards ceremony on September 16th. Our open data feed, data.seattle.govreceived a Digital Government Achievement Award at the same ceremony.
Not only that, but www.seattle.gov has been named the #1 City web portal three times in the past eleven years - years 2000, 2006 and now again in 2011.
What's the "secret sauce" to winning the "Best of the Web" competition?
To answer that, I'll share the electronic mail note I sent to all 200 employees of the Department of Information Technology (which I lead) on September 1st:
For all City of Seattle Department of Information Technology staff:
Today, Thursday morning, September 1st, the Center for Digital Government announced its "Best of the Web" awards for 2011. The City of Seattle's web portal, www.seattle.gov , is named the top City government web portal for 2011. The press release from the Center is online. In addition, our open data website data.seattle.govreceived a Digital Achievement Award in the government to citizen category. We've won the "best web portal" award three times - in 2000, 2006 and now in 2011. When you consider there are 275 cities over 100,000 in population, and many thousands of smaller ones, winning three times in 11 years is a phenomenal achievement.
This honor is a direct reflection of the hard work of the City's web teams, especially the central web team led by Bruce Blood and Jeff Beckstrom, and the data.seattle.gov team led by Neil Berry and Ben Andrews.
But everything we do in the Department of Information Technology is a team effort. We don't have a great web portal without a great server and unix computing team to do the hosting. Our community technology folks help those without access to the Internet to get that access and use www.seattle.gov. We absolutely need a great data communications team to maintain our data network and Internet access. Solid 24x7 operations is essential, and our data center staff provide that. Information security is of paramount importance not just to the web site but also in our web applications and throughout our infrastructure. And our technology planning and oversight unit helps facilitate a visionary strategic technology plan for the City and our department.
Content for the web site comes from departments, and that requires great partners in our department web teams and content providers like the Seattle Channel. That, in turn, requires a strong desktop support team and good service desk to keep our desktop and other technology systems functional. We need money and good people to support all this effort, and we have a great finance, accounting and human resources team to support that.
They don't give awards for "best telephone network" or messaging team or communications shop or telecommunications integration team, but "best web portal" is a direct reflection of the excellence and commitment by work groups across the department.
But it is also a reflection of Mayor McGinn's leadership, especially the thoughtful leadership and decisions of Chief of Staff Julie McCoy, with input and support from many others in the Mayor's Office, on the Council, and in departments.
We live in difficult times. The economy is rocky. Budgets are constrained, and we've lost a number of people and positions. I had a meeting with the Mayor earlier today, talking about budget. I directly told him that despite losing 27 positions and $11 million in funding over the past four years, our workload has only increased as the use of technology expands in City government. He acknowledged that and told me how proud he was of the continued dedication and skilled work of DoIT's staff, despite the hard economic times and the reduced revenues available to City government.
For one moment today, as you encounter and overcome the everyday problems and challenges of your job, sit back and bask in the glory of this achievement.
August 11, 2011 By Bill Schrier
Every teenager - including some of us 50 and 60 year old teenagers - seems to have a smart phone these days. I'm writing this on an airplane, and I just finished an intense, 20 minute "Angry Birds" session on my HTC Android smart phone (yes, it was in "airplane" mode!). I'm almost a Luddite when it comes to apps and smart phones, barely even able to play games on them.
However many people young and old commonly use their smart phones or tablet computers to do interesting, productive activities such as:
Gee, some people even use their smart phones to actually make voice telephone calls!?
So why don't cops and firefighters, emergency medical technicians and electrical lineworkers, public works and transportation department employees, and a whole other host of critical and important government workers use smart phones in their daily jobs?
Of course these public safety workers DO use smart phones. Often they use their PERSONAL smart phones to do some part of their job. But rarely do governments give their workers smart phones - other than BlackBerrys for email, that is - to officially do their jobs and become much more productive. In fairness, that's not because Mayors and County Executives and Governors are unsupportive, or government CFOs are penny-pinching.
We don't give government workers these important tools for two basic reasons:
In terms of the "apps", most governments use a relatively small set of applications from a few vendors - there are records management systems, computer-aided dispatch systems, utility billing systems, work management systems, etc. And many of the vendors of those systems only recently have built them to accept even web-browser access. The terms and conditions for our (government's) use of such software explicitly says we'll only use the software with vendor approved configurations, or the vendor won't give us support. And most vendors for these government-specific systems don’t make a version of their application which runs on a smart phone, whether it is a Windows Phone 7, Apple iPad or Iphone, or Google Android.
Software companies: Get on the stick and write smart phone apps for your software. 'nuf said.
More importantly, government workers presently have to use commercial mobile networks for their smart phones. And on those networks, public safety and critical infrastructure workers have no priority. That means your teenager (even if she's 50 years old) has the same priority as a cop or firefighter or electrical lineworker responding to a major incident or emergency.
Do you want that emergency medical technician responding to YOUR heart attack to have priority access - wirelessly and in real time - to your medical history, and to the emergency room doctors at the level 1 trauma center, and to a video conference with your cardiologist? Of course you do!
During a robbery, when you or your employees are being held up with a weapon, don't you want the responding cops to be able to see the video of your store - including the images of the perpetrators, in real time as they respond? And have passers-by snapping photos and video of the perps to send to 911 centers using next generation 911 technologies? Of course you do!
When your electrical power is out, or your water is interrupted, don't you want that utility worker to have access to all the diagrams and network configurations so they can accurately pinpoint where the outage is and rapidly fix it? Well, of course you do.
If, all of a sudden, a kid in your child's high school goes crazy and brings a gun to that school, taking teachers and students hostage, don't you want responding cops and firefighters to have access to the video cameras with interior views of the school, and to the school's building plan showing all the exits, and maybe even to the GPS on the cell phone used by the kid with the gun so they can see his (they are all boys, alas) exact position in the school? Obviously we do.
But the blunt fact of the matter is this: At the same time you are having a heart attack, or your business is being robbed, or your electricity fails, or a school lockdown occurs - everyone who has a cell phone within a mile of the incident may be texting and calling and tweeting and sending photographs to their loved ones, and the commercial cellular networks will be overloaded.
That's why we don't give cops and firefighters smart phones. Because - besides the fact that safe, secure, apps don't exist - when responders most need their smart phones, the cell phone networks will be overloaded and will fail them.
Is there a way out of this dilemma? "Of course there is!"
Several bills are pending in Congress today which would allocate wireless spectrum for priority use by police, firefighters, emergency medical techs - and also by electrical lineworkers, public works employees and transportation workers . Those same bills would auction other spectrum for use by carriers, producing almost $26 billion in revenue to both reduce the federal government deficit and to build a nationwide public safety network which responders could use - with priority over all other users and uses.
Then those first and second responders could use smart phone applications every day, confident that the network will be available, no matter what nearby teenagers are doing.
But, like so much else in this year of 2011, Congress is in deadlock. Some brave Senators and Representatives such as Jay Rockefeller and Kay Bailey Hutchison (with Senate Bill S.911) and Peter King and Maria Cantwell and Dave Reichert do step up to the plate, led by Vice President Biden. They all support creation of a nationwide public safety wireless broadband network. At the same time, many others in Congress stall and block the work, while people needlessly are hurt or die.
Why don't cops and firefighters use smart phones? Because some in Congress would rather play politics, argue endlessly, and pinch funding than give our responders the tools they need to save lives and protect property every day, as well as during future disasters.
With the 10th anniversary of the September 11th World Trade Center disaster just a month away, does this dithering make sense? Of course it doesn't.
July 4, 2011 By Bill Schrier
Desktop computers are dead.
Desktops are soooo 20th century.
"The desktop computer is going the way of the fax machine" Or, to be really nasty about it … "going the way of the IBM Selectric typewriter." (Congratulations, IBM, incidentally, on your 100th birthday!)
Tolling the death knell for the desktop computer certainly seems to be "in vogue" during this year of 2011 although its death has been predicted for many years.
This news fad gains additional momentum from the recent rise of the tablet computer. And - please note this -the tablet really has, "risen from the dead" itself, as tablet computers were developed a number of years ago.
News fads run in cycles, and in this case I prefer to paraphrase Mark Twain: "Reports of my desktop computer's death have been greatly exaggerated."
Desktop and laptop computers are far from dead and will be around for a long time to come. Certainly tablets have some advantages. They:
They also have some disadvantages:
For me, the preferred road computer-weapon of choice is the trusty netbook running Windows 7 and the Office Suite. Touch-typable keyboard built in, Wi-Fi, long battery life (8 to 10 hours), replaceable battery for longer life (eat horse dung, non-replaceable iPhone and iPad), instant-on capability anywhere (I'm writing this on a Metro bus commuting home from work), USB ports (and lots of them), DVD drive, and so forth. And the thing is light and rugged. For those of you with a religious bent, Apple makes some pretty good netbook-equivalent devices too.
Even the netbook has limitations - and specifically if doing graphics and photography work, or other heavy duty apps, which require the power and larger screens of a desktop computer. But neither desktop or netbook make a good e-reader or electronic scrabble board.
Will tablet computers eventually and completely replace the desktop? Maybe, although I'm skeptical.
Will tablet computers themselves eventually go the way of the slide rule and abacus?
Perhaps. But for the time being I think the tablet will become one more tool - one more device in a pantheon of devices from mainframes to mobile smart phones - which people use to make their lives happier and more productive.
But I’m not dancing on the grave of the desktop computer just yet.
[Credits for photographs: IBM 7074 computer courtesy IBM Corporation, IBM PC-XT, Apple I-Pad with Scrabble (trademarked and copyrighted) application photo by Bill Schrier]
June 18, 2011 By Bill Schrier
It is fascinating how words and phrases take on differeNT nuances of meaning depending upon their context. I guess that's why it is so hard for computers (IBM's Watson notwithstanding) to understand and properly interpret human speech or, in many cases, writing.
Take "911". In most contexts and for most people, that would be the police/fire emergency number . The number you'd call to get help with a heart attack or a burglary-in-progress or a lost child.
But 9/11 refers to that infamous day when terrorist Osama bin Laden's gang of terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City.
Now, today, 911 has a new meaning. S.911 is the United States Senate bill sponsored by Senators Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, which allocates additional spectrum and $11.75 billion in funding to build a nationwide interoperable public safety wireless broadband network. That bill passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee on a vote of 21 to 4 on June 8th.
On June 16th, Vice President Joe Biden and public safety officials from cities and states across the country celebrated this huge step forward on a long road toward building that network. Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and many others called upon the full Senate and House to pass the bill, so the President could sign it this year.
You don't usually think of Senators as "courageous", but we have twenty-one really courageous Senators on that Commerce Committee (and a courageous former senator in Vice President Biden).
They faced (and continue to face) a wide variety of pressures:
These are all poor reasons used to justify voting "no" on S.911. Reasons to justify inaction. Reasons to put the safety of 300 million Americans aside.
The campaign to pass S.911 - to fund and build this vital network - is significantly helped by the leadership of President Obama and Vice-President Biden, who allocated the money in their 2012 budget. The Vice-President is especially active leading the charge to build this nationwide public safety wireless broadband network. The Administration just issued a report describing the urgent need.
Yes, there is a lot of courage on that Senate Commerce Committee, and hopefully the courage is infectious and spreads to at least the 51 Senators and 217 members of the House needed to pass the legislation.
Because 9/11 is looming again.
The 10th Anniversary of the terrorism at New York City's World Trade Center. Where hundreds of firefighters and police officers lost their lives because their radio communications networks didn't get them the order to evacuate the buildings which were about to collapse.
Will the rest of Congress have the courage to act?
May 27, 2011 By Bill Schrier
Osama Bin Laden’s death is a welcome event for most people, especially in the United States. Yet his life profoundly changed the direction of information technology as it is used in City, County, State and the Federal government. Indeed, my own life is vastly different than it would have been if the World Trade Center towers had not been destroyed on September 11, 2001.
The most visible effect for most Americans, of course, is our two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even there, the effect is distant from the majority of us: relatively few families have friends or relatives who serve in the military. (A notable exception – reservists and the National Guard – I have a friend in the Seattle Parks Department who has been activated three times, once each for Afghanistan, Iraq and Djibouti,and now has been notified of an upcoming fourth deployment).
Of course anyone using airports notices the “new” fedgov bureaucracy, the Transportation Security Administration and its wide variety of high and low technologies from “spread ‘em” millimeter wave body scanners to “feel ‘em up” intrusive body pat-downs.
But Bin Laden’s war on the United States changed much more in the way we live and govern our cities and counties and states.
After September 11th, the threat of terrorist attacks took a prominent place alongside earthquakes and hurricanes as a potential disaster. Now we worry about “dirty” bombs, and nuclear weapons smuggled in aboard ships and bio-attacks (remember the anthrax delivered to Congress?). In Seattle, we’ve done vulnerability analyses on likely targets such as the Space Needle, Microsoft headquarters, Boeing plants and Washington State ferries. Indeed, you can often see Coast Guard fast attack craft zooming alongside ferries. And traffic barriers and bollards protect buildings which may be targets.
Most visibly from a technology point of view, interoperable communications for first respondershas taken center stage. In the World Trade Center attacks, New York City police officers in the buildings received the radioed notice to evacuate, but firefighters – operating on different radio channels – did not, and many of them died as a result. Many meetings have been held and much legislation proposed, but as of this writing – almost ten years later – we have few concrete improvements in interoperability. Notably, the Obama Administration has proposed a $12 billion grant program, financed by the sale of spectrum, to build a nationwide interoperable public safety wireless broadband network. http://www.cioupdate.com/news/article.php/3922331/Obama-Looks-to-Drive-RD-Wireless-Broadband.htm Whether Congress has the ability stop its internal bickering and actually enact legislation for this program is an open question. Nevertheless some cities and states, such as Charlotte, Harris County (Houston), Mississippi and the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions, are boldly building the first of these new, vital, networks.
Other changes include a new Fedgov Department, Homeland Security, to improve our readiness to combat terrorist threats. It’s initial steps to help us prepare for terrorist attacks include not only the TSA, but also the ill-conceived color-coded terrorism threat level (i.e. nuclear urine yellow) system. Recently, TSA and air marshal programs, fast FEMA responses, and Coast Guard interdiction of threats have allowed DHS to come into its own.
Whole grant funding programs have sprung into being as well, for example the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). UASI is funding thousands of programs to help harden vulnerable targets, equip first responders with personal protective equipment, and conduct exercises and training to improve our ability to withstand both terrorist events and disasters.
In the Seattle area, we’ve built a secure fiber network to interlink the seats of Government and Emergency operations Centers in central Puget Sound. Seattle – and many other cities and counties – have invested local funds to construct new, state-of-the-art 911 centers and emergency operations centers. Concerned about cybersecurity threats, we’ve hardened our control networks which manage the electricity and water grids. Indeed, the whole field of cybersecurity and information technology security now has new life confronting not just terrorist threats, but the very real problems created by hackers, phishers and identity thieves. With the help of homeland security dollars, we here in Seattle are building a cyber event logging system which will help correlate cyber security events across the Puget Sound Region.
Is America safer now than in 2011, especially given Bin Laden’s death? I don’t know. But I do know we are somewhat better prepared to meet disaster and terrorist acts. We have disaster preparedness plans and we exercise them. We are a more connected society with wired and wireless networks, and we are keenly aware of potential cyber security threats. We are more vigilant.
But we have a lot – a LOT – more to do. President Obama, Vice-President Biden and their Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra have shown great leadership in boldly proposing to fund a new public safety broadband wireless network. The FCC has granted waivers to 20 cities, regions and states to build these networks. Courageous leaders in Congress such as Senators Rockefeller, Hutchison, McCain and Lieberman, and Representatives Peter King and Benny Thompson, are proposing legislation to finally build the nationwide networks first responders need to meet the challenge not just of terrorist events but also the daily incidents and disasters. Even the New York Timeshas endorsed these efforts.
Will their leadership overcome the naysayers in Congress and elsewhere?
For the sake of the nation, for the health and safety of every one of our citizens, I hope it does.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.