October 30, 2010 By Bill Schrier
We are at the end of this quite frightening year of the Great Recession 2010, and at the eve of another frightening Halloween filled with tiny goblins ringing the front door shouting “trick or treat”. But what are the “real world” goblins knocking at the door, and facing the chief information officer who opens it?
It is time for me to update my 2008 list of nightmares which frighten a CIO.
Tablet computers (and smartphones). Tablets were on my 2008 list, but are on my 2010 list for an entirely different reason. They’re everywhere. They’re invading! They’re unmanageable. And every employee wants to use their own. CIOs have long practiced the mantra of standards standards standards.
You need a computer? Yup, we give you a standard HP model with Windows XP, Office 2007 and Anti-Virus loaded on it. You need a smart phone to do your job? Yup, here’s your BlackBerry connected to Outlook and locked down from installing any dangerous applications which present a security threat.
All of a sudden it’s “HELLO Mr. CIO” – the iPhone explodes on the scene, then it’s the iPad, and soon it will be the Windows Phone 7 and Android phones and the RIM Playbook and the Samsung Galaxy. And employees LIKE them and wonder why Mr. CIO is the Grinch and won’t connect them to e-mail and the network.
But of course the Outlook sync doesn’t work exactly right on the iPhone and appointments get dropped. Oh, and someone loses their Android smart phone with all the home and cell numbers of half the police command staff but gee we can’t remotely wipe its contents because installing the remote wipe software is the bureaucratic Sign of the CIO Grinch. Oh, and all of a sudden a public disclosure (FOIA) request comes in and the employee needs to cough up all the documents and messages on their personal iPad, even though some of them are quite personal or even relate to the employee’s personal business or political activity. And oh, gee, by the way, the employee “forgot” to back up all those docs on that personal device, violating not just the public disclosure act but the records retention act as well.
In the meantime, the budget of the IT department has been cut 13.3%, and I’ve laid off 5% of my workforce, but still we’re the Grinch because we can’t support this exotic stew of personal devices. Arggh!
(I’m convinced we’ll eventually support personal smart phones and tablets, but we need better tools and more staff. For 2010, they remain on my Tech Terror Watch List.)
Cyberterrorists and Malware. There is much new to fear on this front in 2010. There is the Stuxnet worm, apparently written by a nation to infiltrate and damage Iran’s nuclear program, but sophisticated enough to attack many industrial or electrical control systems, and hard to find and eliminate. This is only the tip of the iceberg of a new set of computer viruses and malware written by nation-states to attack each other.
Then there was a rash of Trojan viruses and keystroke loggers which infiltrated some government and school sites. These viruses stole passwords for financial employees at these firms, and those passwords were used to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And there is the appearance of malware on legitimate websites, so even innocent employees doing their job on the Internet could get their computers infected. Cyber threats go onto my Terror Watch List.
Stop and Think, before Connecting (and also have a good firewall and anti-virus program!).
Smart Phone Apps. One problem with Smart Phones is that anyone can write an app for them, including criminals, hackers and cyberterrorists. Apple, at least, reviews and tests Apps before allowing them into the iTunes store. Such testing doesn’t happen for BlackBerry or Android apps. I really hope Microsoft does thorough testing on its Windows Phone 7 apps before releasing them into the wild. Smart Phone Apps go onto my Terror Watch List.
Water. And Fire. These remain on my watch list for the same reason as in 2008 – a broken water pipe or a fire in my data center can put it out of commission for a considerable length of time. But this year there is hope – “the cloud”. And no, the Cloud doesn’t rain on the parade of my technology. It means that many of our services and applications might eventually live in the Cloud of servers and storage in distant data centers, much less susceptible to earthquake, fire, water and other disasters.
Speaking of Fire, I have a very recent story to relate. Early on Sunday morning, October 17th, someone started a fire (probably to keep warm, as it is a place homeless are often found) behind a rented City building near 3rd and Main. That fire raced up a conduit burning through fiber and copper cables, bringing down phone and data network services to Seattle’s Fire Administrative Headquarters and main transportation department dispatch center.
The outstanding information technology staff of my department, with support from cabling contractors and Fire/Transportation department staff restored most services within 18 hours, but it illustrates why Fire remains on the Watch List. And why skilled, dedicated, employees are the best defense against such terror.
Customer expectations. Most terrifying of all is the rise of customer expectations in the midst of the Great Recession, falling IT budgets and reduced staffing. Government employees use computers at home, use tablets and smart phones. They bank online, download apps, text message and use Facebook and blogs. But with reduced technical staff, plus a whole series of requirements like HIPPA and CJIS and the public disclosure act, the CIO Grinch has fewer and fewer resources to meet the expectation that those same tools and applications can all be used at work.
On Halloween, 2010, it is those increased expectations which really terrify me as a CIO.
October 18, 2010 By Bill Schrier
“Dang Guvmint. Takes too much of our hard-earned tax dollars and hires all those danged burecrats to waste taxpayer money feeding at the public trough pushing paper and regulations keepin’ us hard-workin’ Americans down. “
Certainly there is a movement in the United States today which believes government is too big, too wasteful and burdens the economy on the backs of the “average” American citizen. This attitude is certainly a central tenet of those who believe the “Tea Party” line of thinking.
The truth, of course, is almost exactly the opposite.
Who are those “dang guvmint bure-crats”?
Are they the 1.4 million members of the active duty armed forces who regularly spend 12 to 18 months fighting our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as being deployed throughout the world in places as diverse as Kazakhstan and Bosnia and South Korea? Or maybe they are the 848,000 National Guard and Reserve soldiers who are regularly uprooted from their families for two or three deployments overseas? People like Major Aaron Bert of the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department who has deployed three times, once each to Iraq, Afghanistan and now Djibouti. (I have a special affinity for Reservists, having served 22 years in the United States Army Reserve retiring as a Reserve Major).
Are those bureaucrats the two million police officers, firefighters and paramedics (many of them volunteers) who respond to our urgent calls to 911 for help when we are having heart attacks or are struck by drunk drivers or have our purses snatched or are trapped in burning buildings? Bureaucrats like the 394 firefighters who died running up the stairs of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?
Perhaps the bureaucrats are the 3.5 million public school teachers who barely make a living wage and yet are expected to educate classrooms too full of often-disrespectful kids who sometimes are undisciplined at home? Or the tens of thousands of employees at our premier public universities such as the Unviersity of Washington who have made those schools the best on the planet – so much so that thousands of students are attracted from nations across the world.
I’m sure we could do without all those bureaucrats who maintain our highways and plow the snow from them in the winter (pushing snow rather than paper), or those pencil-necked geeks who maintain our water reservoirs, pipes and systems so we have safe drinking water or those desk-jockeys who staff our parks and recreation centers so we and our families can have fun after a day full of labor to pay our taxes.
Gee, why do we need those building officials and permit inspectors? Can’t we all be trusted to build our homes and businesses so they are earthquake-proof like the buildings in Haiti? And then there are those danged public health officials and nurses who run community health centers, and folks in the Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration who inspect our food and our restaurants – they are obviously just harrassing wonderful businesses like the Wright-County Farms in Iowa who never ship salmonella-laden eggs, serve tainted food or prepare it in dirty kitchens.
Perhaps we can live without those State govmint bure-crats like child protective services workers or nursing home inspectors who cannot make a single mistake because if they do a child may starve to death or an elderly person may perish. Then there are those Federal government bure-crats like the Environmental Protection Agency who have to clean up the superfund site toxic messes made by private capitalist companies who made their money, polluted the environment, and left the cleanup burden to taxpayers. Why do spend tax dollars on a National Park Service or State Parks Service or Seattle Parks and Recreation Department? Good, honest tax-paying citizens can take care of those parks themselves and leave them in pristine condition, right?
Certainly we can do without the infernal Revenue Service and similar agencies that collect taxes, beating them out of poor hardworking Americans so we can pay the soldiers and firefighters, and those other pencil-pushers who maintain our roads and public spaces. Dang bureaucrats like Vernon Hunter, a 68-year-old Vietnam War veteran who was doing his job collecting revenue so we could pay our soldiers when a domestic terrorist, Joseph Stack, killed him while at the same time endangering the lives of 200 other American citizens.
And that tax burden! Why did you know that almost 50% of Americans pay no income tax? That indivdual income taxes take a smaller portion of the economy (6.4%) than any time since 1950 and corporate tax rates are the lowest they've been since 1936? (The source for these facts can be found here.)
Yup, those dang guvmint burecrats need to keep their hands off my Social Security and my Medicare and my god-given right to drive a car whether I have a license or not and no matter how intoxicated or high I am. We need to fire all those danged accountants who make sure the budgets are balanced and the money is honestly spent. And get rid of all those information technology bureaucrats who maintain the websites for government information or maintain the public safety radio networks for dispatching cops and firefighters, or who maintain the servers and software which prints all those useless Medicare and Social Security checks.
That Timothy McVeigh, he knew the right way to handle big government. He drove right up to that government building in Oklahoma City 15 years ago and blew it up taking out not just 159 of the bure-crats but nineteen of their innocent kids in the childcare on the first floor too.
But you know, the FBI agents and information technology professionals and electric utility lineworkers and solid waste collectors have families too. They live in neighborhoods right next to people who don’t work in government. They mow their lawns and worry about paying their bills (and they pay their taxes, too). They worry about losing their jobs (if they haven’t already) in the Great Recession. They worry about the huge (and growing) federal deficit, and wonder if they will be able to survive in retirement. They attend church and buy groceries at the local store and have their kids in local schools. They want a good life for their children, and are proud of the quality of life they provide for all of America. They are dedicated to operating great libraries and museums, schools and colleges, transit and highway systems. You would not want to live in a nation without these "bureaucrats".
We are proud citizens of cities like Seattle, states like Washington and the United States of America.
And none of us are “dang government bure-crats”.
September 29, 2010 By Bill Schrier
Chief Information Officers need "help". Some might say we need psychiatric "help". I’d say we especially need the psychiatrist's couch. Or, perhaps, we need to play the psychiatrist, listening to the people on the couch – our customers.
CIOs need to be "joiners". We need to be good at establishing relationships, empathizing (putting ourselves into the shoes of others), and we need to be generalists in our businesses.
I was reminded of this again last week as the Metropolitan Information Exchange (MIX) held our annual conference in Raleigh. MIX is composed of about 60 CIOs from larger (over 100,000 population) cities and counties who collaborate together to harness information technology to make their individual governments efficient and effective.
But I'm constantly amazed that we only have 60 members when there are 276 large cities and 578 large counties. So MIX has only 60 members although there are over 850 large cities and counties. So why don’t other government CIOs join up? I'll get to that.
Yes, CIOs need to be "joiners". Yet, IT is not a field which easily produces leaders who are collaborators, listeners and joiners. IT engineers and technicians and programmers are naturally heads down “hey guys let’s write this code" or "get this server installed”. We tech types prefer to use e-mail or text message or even face-to-face contact rather than the telephone. In many ways we are "geeks" or "nerds". I'm often proud to introduce myself as the "Chief Seattle Geek".
Yet, when we become senior IT managers or CIOs, exactly the opposite skills are required. Here are some specific examples:
In terms of collaboration, CIOs not only need to prevent re-invention of the wheel within their city or county, but they also need to watch for collaboration and innovation opportunities across the nation.
Is the District of Columbia making itself transparent with an open data catalog and "Apps for Democracy"? Gee, wouldn't that work in Seattle? Has Harris County, Texas, built an 800 megahertz public safety radio network which allows cops and firefighters from many counties to interoperate and support each other during small disasters and large? Would that work elsewhere? Baltimore and Chicago and Miami-Dade have created innovative new 311 centers and constituent relationship management systems. Wouldn't something like that make governments more accessible everywhere else?
And that's where organizations like MIX (for City/County CIOs) or the Digital Communities information sharing group , with 644 members, or NASCIO for State CIOs or even (here in the Seattle area) the Technology Executive Peer Group (about 40 mostly private and some pubic CIOs) come into play. These groups help CIOs to exchange information about applications and best practices and solutions which work.
Yet, out of the hundreds of government CIOs in the nation, only a few join these groups. Are the rest "loners" out on their own? Or are they working so hard within their individual governments - managing their technology workers, building relationships with their own elected officials and business departments and draining their own swamps - that they don't have time to collaborate with the rest of us who are “joiners”?
Maybe, with comments to this blog, we'll find out … !
September 10, 2010 By Bill Schrier
Police officers and firefighters carry $5000 radios. Local and state governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build public safety radio networks. Yet, today, cell phone networks seem to be everywhere, most people carry a mobile phone and many of us think paying $199 for an iPhone is expensive.
Why can't cops and firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMT) use cell phones like everyone else? A Washington State legislator from Seattle recently public argued for this approach in his blog. And, at first, this appears to be a simple way for governments to save a lot of taxpayer dollars.
Here are a few reasons public safety officers need their own dedicated networks:
Are there problems with the current dedicated public safety networks? Absolutely. The use proprietary technologies, for example "Project 25". Theoretically all "Project 25" radios work on any "Project 25" radio system. But only a few of those are deployed around the nation. These proprietary technologies are one reason the radios cost up to $5,000 each.
Representative Carlyle, in his blog, proposes that we deploy "Tetra" radios for public safety. While Tetra is common in some parts of the world, it is not used at all in the United States. This is a dangerous proposal, because it means Tetra networks we buy would not work with the equipment used by any other government or telecommunciations carrier anywhere in the United States. If called to respond to a diaster overseas, we could talk to firefighters in Hong Kong or the police in Ireland, however.
Another problem we face is the small market - the total market for public safety is perhaps 10,000,000 radios which are replaced, say, once every 10 years. On the other hand, the cell phone market is huge - 260 million cell phones replaced every two years in the United States alone. The economies of scale means consumers will have a lot more choice, and their cell phones will be relatively cheap.
So is there some way to reduce the sky-high cost of these dedicated public safety networks while at the same time not endangering cops, firefighters, EMTs and the public in general?
Absolutely. The FCC, in its national broadband plan, and the federal Department of Commerce, with its forward-thinking grant program for broadband, are lighting the way for a new public safety network which will be more robust, national in scope, and interoperable. By "interoperable" I mean the new public safety equipment will probably operate almost anywhere in the nation, wether on a dedicated government network or on a commercial cell phone network. Here are some features of the new networks:
The City of Seattle is one of a handful (about 20) forward-thinking governments leading the way to deploy these new networks. Seattle's public safety LTE network, hopefully launched with a federal stimulus grant, will eventually expand throughout the Puget Sound region and across the State of Washington. The State of Oregon also has authority and a grant request to build an LTE network, and we are working with Oregon to make sure our networks work with each other seamlessly.
Is all of this a pipe dream? I don't think so. A number of public and private companies, governments and telecommunciations carriers and equipment manufacturers are working together to realize it. Many of them are in the Public Safety Alliance. In the Federal government, the FCC is working with the National Institute of Standards and the Departments of Commerce and Homeland security are providing grant funding. It will take a lot of work and many years to realize this network.
But when it is finished, we'll have public safety networks which work to keep us safe, and consumer networks which work to keep us productive and linked to our friends and families. These networks will be separate yet connected. They will be built from common technologies. And they will be less expensive for taxpayers than the networks we have today.
August 19, 2010 By Bill Schrier
Yeah, yeah most of you non-Puget-Sounders think every week is Geek Week in Seattle, complete with nerdish denizens such as Microsofties, Googlers, Socratians, IBMers, Tropons, Amazonians, Pirilloians and now even Facebookers.
Geek Week is the creation of local Geek King Chris Pirillo. I envy Chris, with his 85,326 Twitter followers compared to my mere 2,232 followers. We both come from humble backgrounds in Iowa, and made it to Seattle to seek our futures in the Pacific Northwest.
As Gnomedex winds down on Saturday at 5:00 PM, the Open Government Hackathon winds up. The Hackathon is sponsored by two phenomenal local tech companies, Socrata and Tropo. Socrata has made its name making data open and transparent, most notably with data.gov and data.seattle.gov (well, and a few other sites).
Developers will converge on the Edgewater Hotel on Seattle's waterfront. They'll have 24 hours to use government datasets to create interesting applications. At 5:00 PM on Sunday, we'll be judging applications for those which are most useful, interesting, unique or maybe just cool. There will be a number of prizes - hackers will get codes for some Amazon Web Services usable to deploy and test apps there and other prizes include a Flip HD camera, year membership in Amazon Pro and even an iPad - gee, if Microsoft or Google or Facebook made a nice slate computer, maybe that could be the prize. Perhaps next year!!
In any case, it will be wonderful to see what sorts of applications the hackers develop, all with the intent not of hacking into government, but rather of making data held by government more accessible to citizens, residents and the people government serves.
Note: I'm especially proud of data.seattle.gov, with over a hundred cool datasets of information like fire department 911 calls, active building permits, and public toilets. That's an initaitive of Mayor Mike McGinn and the City of Seattle's Department of Information Technology, and we'll be adding a lot more data to the site over the next couple of months, including police crime statistics, police 911 calls, and business licenses. You can already view crimes and 911 calls plotted by neighborhood on My Neighborhood Map here, powered by Microsoft's Bing Maps and the employees of City government. The data feed of this information to data.seattle.gov will be active soon.
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.