The best and brightest technology projects and IT professionals in Texas state and local government were recognized Monday, June 3, at the Best of Texas awards program during GTC Southwest 2013.

The annual two-day conference and awards program hosted by Government Technology and parent company e.Republic brings IT managers and executives to Austin for a full slate of discussions and programs on the present and future of digital government.

At the conference awards program, Austin CIO Stephen Elkins, pictured at left, was recognized with the Demonstrated Leadership in Management of Information Technology Award.

Elkins, who became CIO of Austin in 2010, credited his staff and other city agencies for working to control costs, spur collaboration and drive innovation and efficiency in a city with a growing reputation as a private-sector technology hub.

“In the city of Austin there are several IT shops; there's not just one. But the direction we're moving in is a centralized vision in a decentralized environment,” he told Government Technology.

Putting in place a governance process has given business users a voice as projects are identified and funded, he said. Last month Austin also released an annual IT report for the first time to get the word out about what the city is working on. Under Elkins' leadership, the city also is opening an innovation office. It's all part of the plan to get everyone on the same page – and in doing so, avoid costs.

Not too long ago, city departments were making IT purchases alone and doing projects by themselves. But Elkins has begun to turn that around by reforming procurement. Elkins and his team have met with vendors to hammer out cost-efficient master agreements so that Austin is treated as a single enterprise instead of siloed departments. The bulk purchasing is saving money.

Elkins also is taking his collaborative approach on the road. About two years ago, he helped organize and bring together a regional council of CIOs that meets periodically to work on shared projects. Nine agencies now participate, from Houston and Harris County all the way up to Fort Worth. The group also has latched onto bulk purchasing agreements with vendors, and is branching out into other areas such as a regional notification system for cybersecurity incidents and common in-car technology to enhance information sharing.

In another Best of Texas award, Thomas Konzel, Arlington's IT supervisor for GIS, took home the Demonstrated Excellence in Project Management honor.

Konzel, pictured at left with Helen Zhou, GIS applications developer (center) and Russ Irons, database administrator (right), has worked for the city of Arlington in various capacities – nearly all of them GIS – for more than 14 years. His role is much like that of a coordinator who takes ideas and makes them a reality for his customers, the city departments.

“I'm always looking for new ways to use GIS. You can ask anybody who I work with,” said Konzel, attributing his success to the city's programmers and database administrators.

A few of the recent projects Konzel and his team have worked on include a public website that shows live camera feeds of construction on major rail crossings, where traffic flow was significantly impacted. Konzel's team initially was asked to post the images to a website via FTP so the public could see them. But the team went a step further by adding a mapping component so the public could see where the locations were instead of having to read the street addresses.

This spring Konzel's team worked with the Arlington Police Department to incorporate real-time information from the PD's fleet onto an interactive map. Within a quick two-week turnaround, Konzel's team improved the department's off-the-shelf dispatch data system. “We took their data and pulled it into our GIS and provided them a map service and JavaScript map they could embed in their application,” he explained.

Konzel said his lifelong interest in GIS started while serving in the Air Force as an aerial reconnaissance photographer. “I used to watch film come off the back of a black-and-white processor, and I would just stand there and stare at what was going by and try to pick stuff out,” he said.

Konzel is now imparting his enthusiasm to the younger generation. He just finished his first semester teaching a course on GIS applications at a local community college.

Here's a full list of the people and projects recognized at this year's Best of Texas ceremony:

Best Application Serving an Agency’s Business Needs 

Electronic Content Management, Texas Workforce Commission: During the past four years the Texas Workforce Commission implemented its Enterprise Electronic Content Management projects -- three infrastructure and seven business projects – to improve business processes and service levels. Volume increased from 4 million to 12 million documents per year, while data capture staff and overtime expenses were reduced and the need for temporary staff during peak processing periods was eliminated. Receipt and processing of paper documents in field offices was reduced from 10 days to two days. The project is saving $3.5 million annually.

Best Application Serving an Agency’s Business Needs

Bexar County eTruancy Portal: eTruancy is a Web-based electronic filing portal, developed in close collaboration with the Bexar County school districts and Justice Courts, enabling schools to upload and file juvenile truancy cases directly with the County Justice Courts via the Internet. Schools may file individually on a case-by-case basis or in bulk automatically through an online Web service. No longer needing to print thousands of documents and transport them to the court, schools can receive case information within days or even hours. It takes only minutes rather than days to provide resolution.

Best Application Serving the Public 

Candidate Campaign Finance Reports Online Search, Bexar County: The Candidate Campaign Finance Reports page provides a one-stop search functionality to display Bexar County elected officials’ finance reports. The application has two parts: the upload functionality used by the Bexar County’s Elections Department, which uploads documents and creates links to the documents, as they are searched; and the search functionality used by the general public. Bexar County now has the ability to upload campaign finance reports as soon as they are received.

Best Application Serving the Public 

Crash Reporting and Analysis for Safer Highways, Texas Department of Transportation: Crash Reporting and Analysis for Safer Highways (CRASH) is a Web-based application that allows law enforcement officers to enter crash information electronically. CRASH eliminates the need to print and mail paper reports, reducing reporting time, report processing costs and receipt of crash data. TxDOT is receiving reports 88 percent sooner, and data is available for reporting 91 percent sooner using CRASH. TxDOT realized cost avoidance of more than $150,000 last year and estimates that that number will more than double in 2013. More than 48 percent of the state’s crash report volume is being submitted electronically.

The Green IT Award 

Efficiency by Design Phase II -- Campus Data Centers, Lone Star College System: The campus data centers are a part of Lone Star’s unified infrastructure initiative. Each campus data center operates a 98 percent virtualized and converged infrastructure platform. By utilizing a liquid-cooled racks and modular design, everything with the exception of adding new physical hardware can be completed remotely. Services that are used by 90,000 students and more than 6,000 faculty and staff members can now be moved between campus data centers in the event of hardware failures or needed maintenance.

Best In-House Developed Application 

Event Services Work Order Mobile Application, Austin Convention Center: The Event Services Work Order is a mobile app created internally by IT employees for iPads that replaces the paper system previously used by convention center employees. The app contains all relevant information, such as floor plans for a particular exhibitor’s booth -- including hand-written notes for accurate placement -- as well as floor diagrams and other requirements. The mobile app allows employees working on the show floor to have an “up-to-the-minute” view of service orders and their status.

Best IT Collaboration Among Organizations 

NCTCOG Emissions Database, North Central Texas Council of Governments: The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) collaborated with Dallas County and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to develop the NCTCOG Emissions Database (NED), a Web portal allowing law enforcement officers 24/7 access to state vehicle inspection records. Before NED, there was no easy way to quickly access state inspection records to check on the validity of a vehicle’s certificate. The website provides data from 18 counties performing inspections, a comprehensive list of fraudulent certificate numbers and visual examples, relevant portions of Texas legal code and input for potential leads. NED is now used by almost 8,000 officers in 133 jurisdictions.

Best Mobile/Wireless Project

myInspections Building Inspector Companion, Dallas: The myInspections application replaced 70 ruggedized laptops with iPads, giving building inspectors new capabilities to reorder and reassign inspections, obtain directions and routing, manage assignments of other inspectors, and automatically notify 8,000 registered contractors of arrival time to within one hour. Customers can be informed in real time of arrivals, cancellations, delays and pass/fail results. This app provides an average annual savings of 740,000 hours of customer wait time.

Best Mobile/Wireless Project

Rodeo Austin SCORE IT!: Rodeo Austin is a nonprofit that provides scholarships to Texas youth. The organization's new SCORE IT! mobile app is engaging fans as active participants -- whether at the event or not -- by allowing them to read about the event and the rodeo's scoring method, score the rides, guess the run times and receive prizes in each of seven rodeo events.

Most Innovative Use of Social Media

Inside APD TV, Arlington Police Department: The Arlington Police Department created a new weekly TV program called Inside APD in January. This new program is filmed entirely by police employees using video and computer equipment and is posted weekly on social media platforms, including the department’s YouTube channel, Twitter and Facebook.

Outstanding IT Service and Support Awards

These awards recognize the dedication of employees who uphold the highest standards of public service.

  • Greg Berglund, Information Resources Division manager, Texas Department of Agriculture
  • Alan Girton, senior IT solutions manager/IT security manager, Fort Worth
  • Deborah Hujar, director of technology, policy, planning and governance, Texas Department of Information Resources
  • Keith Huntsman, senior business analyst, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
  • Danny Mar, manager of executive and advanced computing support, Texas Tech University
  • Sheryl Marek, database administrators team lead, Texas Employees Retirement System
  • Jamie McClanahan, project manager/systems analyst for application development, Information Technology, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
  • Patricia V. Mokry, senior developer, Texas Department of Public Safety
  • Richard Padmore, benefits and pensions applications development team lead, Texas Employees Retirement System
  • Tracey Rideout, manager of Applications Development and Maintenance UI Benefits Team, Texas Workforce Commission
  • Paul Rinn, network system support supervisor, Austin
  • Scott Stansbury, lead strategic and solutions architect, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, Texas Health and Human Services Commission
  • Anthony Shimal Tissera, director of infrastructure and security, chief security officer, University of North Texas Health Science Center
  • Ricky Wilkins, team lead/domain administrator/systems analyst IV, Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services
  • Bridget Wolf, manager of application development for IT, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Main image courtesy of Shutterstock

Matt Williams Matt Williams  |  Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.