December 28, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
As we approach a new decade in 2010, my mind instinctively goes back in time and scans the past decade.
My thoughts easily jump back to ten years ago as we prepared for Y2K and the new millennium. I recall the fear and excitement as we watched the local, national and international news on New Year's Eve to see if computer programs would crash and send the world into chaos. Our government technology teams spent over three years preparing for that night, and I remember the relief when all went well.
Events seemed to seesaw back and forth over the past ten years. After Y2K came the contested Presidential election of 2000 - with "hanging chads" and plenty of resulting technological challenges.
Next came 9/11/01. Who can forget where they were on 911? I was in the Romney building in downtown Lansing, Michigan. Our team was building the first Michigan.gov portal, which would bring together state websites in new ways and provide one face of government to citizens. I was shocked as I watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on live TV.
But these events are more than just sad memories or interesting History Channel topics. These true stories helped to shape who we are in government today. After September 11 th , government priorities changed. The Department of Homeland Security was established in Washington DC. I went back to focusing on computer security at work.
Meanwhile the Internet was taking off. Everyone was going online as never before. Families installed wireless networks in homes, MySpace and then Facebook became huge, and Google became a verb. Check out these fascinating statistics from CNET on average web usage growth over the past fifteen years.
Along with the good came the bad. The increase in cyber crime and identity theft started attracting attention. The growth in malware became exponential.
In my opinion, the growth of Internet use is the most important technology story of the decade. Yes, there are many sub-trends, such as the Apple iPod, blackberries, and more. But the Internet is changing so many aspects of society. Taking a peek into the future, I suspect virtual worlds and avatars are going to continue that trend into the next decade.
I could go on and on regarding events this decade. The historic election of Barack Obama, our "great recession" and the many events of 2009 will certainly be remembered decades from now. New pushes towards infrastructure projects such as rural broadband, health IT and cloud computing are certainly changing government now and will shape our future.
But my point in this blog is to encourage you to look back as you look forward. Aristotle said, " If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development."
So I encourage you to take a few minutes and visit the "Wayback Machine" online. This Internet archive will take you back to what various websites looked like on different days. Scroll down and look at the coverage of various significant events.
This has been a remarkable first decade of the 21 st century. What new technology has made the biggest impact to government in your opinion?
December 21, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
Wireless Local Area Networks (LANs) have been around for years, but how can state and local governments manage wireless networks efficiently and effectively from an enterprise perspective? Assuming continued technology changes with budget challenges, what governance strategies can help balance security requirements while ensuring adoption and ease of use?
Rhea Linn, who is our wireless LAN project manager for the Michigan Department of Information Technology's Office of Telecommunication, wrote an excellent article on this topic for State Tech Magazine. The article is offered as a best practice for wireless security and safeguarding wireless LANs.
Here is a brief excerpt:
"Our improved solution has helped us to achieve the following:
· Improved wireless security that matches or exceeds our wired standards;
· Enterprise standards and service capability;
· WAN/wireless integration that allows us to provide a WLAN for wide area customers;
· Integrated wireline and wireless policies and practices that provide a seamless logon experience; and
· Affordable, cost-effective service.
So far, 16 state offices throughout Michigan have WLAN services -- 13 in the Lansing Metropolitan Area Network, where the largest number of state employees are concentrated. We also have wide area WLAN implementation in three counties, and APs are installed and awaiting a security decision in five other counties."
Rhea goes on to describe such topics as the specific technology we used, the guest access process for visitors, the policies required and governance involved. You can read more details about this project by downloading this PDF from the National Association of State CIO's (NASCIOs) award web site.
A few observations:
1) Getting the right balance for any infrastructure project between security and ease of use is usually difficult, and wireless networks are not an exception. Speaking from personal experience, there are almost always different perspectives from the networking staff and the security staff - even if they are in the same organization. The battles can get difficult and even nasty at times.
Back in 2004 when I was Michigan's CISO, I was even in the "no wireless" in government camp. I quoted many experts from the National Security Agency (NSA) and other three letter agencies who said that wireless networks were simply not able to be protected. My boss at the time was Teri Takai, now California's CIO. She challenged us to deploy "secure wireless" following private sector advice from companies like Dow Chemical or the Big Three automakers.
Teri was right. With fast food restaurants and millions of other now offering free wireless access, governments needed to offer workable solutions to our clients and visitors.
I give Rhea and the others who worked on this wireless LAN project credit, because they stuck with it and had the perseverance to get the project working and widely deployed. I have spoken with many people from governments around the country that gave up on secure wireless projects out of frustration.
2) Effective governance and a good billing model are essential. I like Rhea's list of lessons learned. She is so right on each of her points regarding policy, processes and technology. We tested, and tested, and tested. We modified our approach several times. Wireless LAN service offerings require constant tweaking.
3) Finally, you need the right staff to get the job done. Proper execution of a good plan should not be assumed. Many things can set a technology team off track. I am thankful for Rhea, the others in MDIT Telecom who worked on this important effort, other infrastructure staff who helped and our Office of Enterprise Security (OES) staff. While the battles got bruising at times, the proof is in the pudding, and the end product works well.
What are your thoughts or questions on implementing wireless LANs in governments?
December 13, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
A funny thing happened on my way to work yesterday. Actually, the situation was pretty frustrating, and there were a few lessons learned regarding interactive conference calls. Here's what happened:
I was in the car listening in to our normal 7:30 AM "Day Start" call which goes over enterprise-wide status. (To get a sense of what I'm talking about, you can watch this quick video on our technology service management center in Michigan.)
All was going well as I pulled into my underground parking spot at about 7:40 AM. On this morning, we were scheduled to have a issue resolution follow-up discussion regarding one customer with a subset of people.
The roll call began: "Dan Lohrmann."
I said, "Here." There was a long pause. "Dan, are you there?"
I checked my blackberry again. (No, I was not driving at this point.) My phone was not on mute. I said again: "This is Dan, I am here!"
Continuing down the list, "Lynn... Mike.... John.... Judy..." No one responded.
Until, Sue said, "I am here." She continued, "I know that many people were planning to be on this call, I'm not sure what happened. We probably need to reschedule...."
Then came Jack, "I'm here to." A seven minute conversation ensued with several people discussing the importance of the issue at hand, the fact that this was a time-sensitive topic, the scheduling of the meeting, the reality that it was Friday and some were off, the early hour of the call, the level of commitment applied to this issue, and a host of other related topics.
Meanwhile, I started talking very loudly into my phone. I felt like a "Who" in Horton Hears a Who. (Yes, I saw the movie with my kids.)
As I walked across the Lansing Capitol grounds into the building, I was practically shouting. "We are here, we are here, we are here!" I felt frustrated and momentarily helpless. (I later found out that about ten others on the call felt the same way.)
What was strange about this teleconference was that some people could be heard but others could not. We have had situations where all the phones were muted, but never just a few - unless the end user had their phone muted.
Yes, we did find out what happened. Here the explanation:
"AT&T stated that the call monitor may have un-muted the calls, but logged off too quick for the calls to un-mute. The call monitor has control of the call, so people could not un-mute themselves at that point by hitting * 6 or any other command. He did find an option for the host to use if this happens again. From the day-start conference call line, the host can hit *7 and choose option 1 to un-mute everyone.
In the future , the Service Management center staff will have the call monitor stay on the website and make sure everyone is un-muted before logging off the website. We will also document the capability for the day-start host to use *7 and option 1 to un-mute callers."
In other words, there was a combination of operator error and technology training concerns. We have learned in the past that sometimes a seemingly simple function like unmuting phones can cause serious problems and misunderstandings amongst virtual attendees.
So what did I learn?
1) Teleconference operator training is important. All of those one-off 800 conference line functions that are available and seem unimportant are probably in there for a reason. You will likely use them some day, so you may want to double check the manual.
2) A few months back, we had a different problem, and in that case we added a step in our roll call process. The host confirms that attendees are heard by saying: "Thank you Dan" after the person says "I'm here."
3) Be careful what you say on a conference line about those who may appear to not have shown up. Perhaps they are listening and trying to get through.
4) I need to laugh at myself more in work situations sometimes. The events actually became pretty funny - when I took a step back and thought about what was actually happening.
Yes, we got things fixed and rescheduled the call for Monday. But if they can't hear me next time, I won't start shouting at my blackberry. Hopefully, I'll just smile.
Any funny teleconference stories to share?
December 5, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
Are deeper budget cuts coming for struggling state and local governments? After a year filled with tough news regarding furlough days and more belt tightening, technology executives across the nation are pondering that question. Even as good news was announced yesterday regarding the unemployment rate falling to 10% in November, the holiday season remains focused on plans for 2010.
Stateline.org ran an article entitled: After furloughs, states mull permanent cuts. Here's an excerpt:
"Moving from furloughs of state employees to more permanent downsizing, states are girding for the deepest workforce cuts yet when they hammer out their fiscal 2011 budgets next year. In preparation, many are taking stock of every position in state government to determine what effect job cuts and the possible elimination of whole departments will have on revenues, expenses and the quality of government services."
The report goes on to list state by state cuts already implemented in 2009 (fiscal year 2010).
We all know that tax revenues lag economic recovery, so how long will the budget cutting last? Some are predicting that state revenues will be down for several more years, leading to significant changes ahead for government IT departments. Cutting corners will no longer do. We need to be transforming state technology workforces.
What is Michigan doing? One activity has been offsite scenario planning - based on various budget levels and assumptions. The February 2010 issue of Public CIO Magazine will have an article by me that describes this activity in detail.
So what are you doing in your state or local government regarding budget cuts and/or resource allocation? How are you setting technology priorities and determining core business functions and services in these tough times? I'd love to hear some stories that you can share.
Building effective virtual government requires new ideas, innovative thinking and hard work. From federal stimulus projects to enterprise architectures to cloud computing, Dan Lohrmann will discuss what's hot and what's not in the world of technology infrastructure.