Government Technology
By Carl Drescher: Technology trends and their impacts on the provision of government services.

When will iGov ship?

April 16, 2010 By Carl Drescher

Gotta hand it to Apple - they know how to roll out a new product.  The marketing lead up generating the excitement that gets people waiting in line for days to be the first to have the product is truly amazing.  The excitement for me was the potential for the platform to be used by some of our field workers.

I have had the opportunity to play around with the iPad.  All the while I have been thinking about its applicability in my environment.  There are a number of very good applications that have been developed for the iPhone that either provide information to our citizens or provide a means to improve the service that government provides.  

But where will the iPad fit in our organization?  As of now I can think of a few uses, but unfortunately there are a number of things that will limit its use in my organization.  These include:

  • Poor input options.  The on screen keypad is awful to type on.  I do not have large fingers and I am a decent typist, but I cannot type two words with the on screen keypad without my fingers hitting wrong characters.  The external keyboard is not much better.  It is not very adjustable and whether using it sitting at a desk or with it on my lap, my fingers and wrists ached.  If the iPad was intended to be used as a business tool an option for a regular, full sized keyboard is a must.  Also to potentially be used as a field device some sort of pen input would make it easier to input data.

  • No USB support / closed technology.  These devices are not iPhones and should be more like a laptop in capability if it is to be used as a business tool.  There should be at least one USB port for the transfer of files, loading of programs etc.  Organizations will not want to have to load applications solely from the Apple store.

  • Not hardened.  As I am sure most of you are aware whether technology is used in a police cruiser, fire engine, trucks used by our transportation or water field workers, if the device is not hardened (such as a Toughbook) its life expectancy will be rated in days at best.  

  • Has anyone ever tried to use the device in the bright sunlight?  Even in the shade of a tree it is hard to view.  Maybe its just our bright Arizona sun?

  • Curiously the operating temperature range listed in the specs is between 32 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  While it does not get below 32 here in the desert southwest we spend at least 5 months out of the year with our ambient temps above 95 degrees.  Even today with our temps at 80 - 85 degrees the temperatures inside a parked vehicle quickly climbs above 95 degrees.  

Maybe I was expecting too much or was totally just ignoring the intended audience, but I was hopeful that this device might be the catalyst to really expand the use of applications by our field staff.  Think about a police officer filling out a form in the iPad while at the same time recording his notes or taking a recorded statement from a victim and attaching that to the file and uploading it to the department's record system.  Think of the time saved, the timeliness of the information, and greater accuracy and completeness.  There are some very good solutions that will include the iPad as a platform, but I believe the real silver bullet lies in those applications that it will not be used for.  

I like the iPad.  I am sure that I will purchase one in the coming months, but I expect that the majority user will be my kids.  Especially with applications such as this.  For now here's to hoping that Apple can produce one of these devices that can work for our users in the field.  Oh the possibilities.....

What are our thoughts on the iPad's use as an organizational tool beyond an executive organizer?


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A Gigabit to the Home.....

February 10, 2010 By Carl Drescher

Google today announced plans to work with a community to build a for 1 gigabit fiber to the home network.  Video announcement by Google's James Kelly can be viewed on youtube or at the main Google project page.  Information on the project and instructions for responding to the RFI can be found at the following link:

Stacey Higginbotham has an interview with Google product manager Minnie Ingersoll about this initiative on the Gigaom site.

Responses to the RFI are due no later than March 26th. 

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BTOP Grant Awards and Other Links

December 18, 2009 By Carl Drescher

The first Broadband Technology Opportunities Program awards have been announced.  The list of the first 10 can be found here.  More first round awards will be announced through February 2010.  I am hopeful that the next round of applications will focus primarily on municipalities and public safety. 

As the FCC continues to work on its National Broadband Plan it appears that existing networks will play a large role in this effort.  A presentation from the FCC's open meeting on December 16th can be seen here.

The City of Philadelphia will purchase the assets of what is left of the Wireless Philadelphia initiative.  Appears that the City will be investing approximately 17 million dollars over the next five years to build out the network with the major focus on providing connectivity for public safety and municipal use.  More information can be found here.

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Clean Windows

December 18, 2009 By Carl Drescher

About a month ago I upgraded my laptop OS to Windows 7 from Windows XP.  I originally had Vista on my laptop, but after frustrations with some of the 'new' features I scrapped it in favor of the predictable XP.  Since the upgrade to 7 my user experience with my laptop has never been better.

A bit of information regarding the type of user I am.  I use my laptop mostly for pure business purposes.  As such I have Office 2003, use Firefox as my browser, AVG for anti virus protection, and most of the 'standard' plug ins and tools you would expect to find on anyone's computer.  I do not use my computer to run games or any application that would require - or run best in 64 bit mode.  In summary I do not consider myself a power user, but I would say I am an average user.  My expectation is that any software loaded on my system should work without a lot of hassle or  intervention on my part.

I will echo what most others have said about Windows 7; it is what Vista should have been.  At first glance there is nothing really extraordinary about it - it just works.  My laptop takes about 20 seconds to boot up as compared to over a minute when XP was installed.  All of the applications that I was using under XP installed and work without a problem.  I have decided to run the Defender anti-spyware application that is included in lieu of SpyBot.  So far it has worked well and I will continue to use it.  There is a free anti-virus application that can be downloaded called the Microsoft Security Essentials (works with XP, Vista and 7) that I have decided not to use, but instead stay with my trusted AVG.  Our security staff have been testing it for the past few months and they have been impressed with it.  We are seriously contemplating using it as our enterprise anti-virus solution.

Generally I am conservative when it comes to major upgrades with software applications and operating systems - I usually wait until the first upgrade is released and allow others to identify any issues etc.  With Windows 7 I would recommend to most anyone running Vista or XP to consider upgrading now and not wait.

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Sometimes We Are Our Own Worst Enemy

October 13, 2009 By Carl Drescher

Every day we read about organizations that have succumbed to the malicious intent of scrupulous coders and hackers.  As IT professionals we view the constant onslaught of scans, probes, penetration attempts,etc. as the unfortunate reality of connecting our organizations to the internet.  We build perimeter defenses and take great pains to ensure that these defenses will protected us against the latest exploit or vulnerability.  Most of us understand that a perimeter defense only offers one layer of protection and that we are just as vulnerable to an attack that is initiated from within our network.  Unfortunately some still treat the firewall as the first and only place that security must be implemented.

I always shake my head in disbelief whenever I read about an organization that is battling a virus attack that has infected many machines.  More times than not the virus has been introduced from an internal computer and spreads rapidly to many or most computers because of lack of anti-virus protection or outdated virus signatures on servers and workstations.  This appears to be the case at a school district here in Tucson where approximately 7000 computers were infected with the conflicker virus last month.  The district spent weeks rebuilding the affected computers in order to eradicate the virus.  Events such as this are avoidable by simply ensuring that all computers have current anti-virus protection installed and that the proper mechanism is in place to check for updates to the virus definition libraries at least daily.  More importantly a security strategy should be created and continually updated to protect all systems, applications, networks and data.  As an example we have an application "firewall" in place that can check application code against best practices and know vulnerabilities before we add it to our network.  We let our vendors know upfront that we will be scanning their application before we will implement, and will not sign off on a completed project until any programming issues are fixed. 

My mentor was always fond of saying that (and I paraphrase) "If we (IT) are not competent enough to do the basics well (system administration, data center management, and security)  we will never be trusted to do anything"  How trusted is your IT organization? 



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In the Trenches
Carl Drescher

One of the constants regarding technology is that it is constantly changing. New technologies have the potential to change the way communities are governed. This blog will discuss some of these technological trends and how they are advancing government at all levels.

Please join in on the conversation so we might all learn from each other.