February 28, 2006 By Government Technology
Director of Interactive Technologies
Washington Department of Information Services
To redesign Access Washington, the state's Web site, Laura Parma, director of interactive technologies for the Washington Department of Information Services, scoured the brains of regular Washingtonians.
Citizens increasingly prefer using e-government rather than traveling to agency offices and waiting in line for service. Parma introduced a user-focused research method -- called a usability study -- to overhaul the Web site. States traditionally design their Web sites according to what their department staff and webmasters think, but experts taught Parma's team how to get usable feedback from regular citizens.
The team sat people in a traditional lab environment, over the course of a year, to observe them performing online government tasks such as renewing drivers' licenses, paying taxes or getting permits.
"We're hearing their thoughts, because we ask them to speak aloud about their experience, and we observe how their use really is -- where they struggle, where it's not clear, where terminology might be poor, what we think is intuitive versus what they think is intuitive," Parma said. "[A redesign is] all about what real users who use your Web site need and want in their experience."
Now Parma is conducting a usability study of the site's secure gateway, which users access from the main Web site to connect with the applications available for interacting with government -- one of her past projects.
The gateway joins applications developed and managed by several agencies into one delivery system, bringing them to the user's fingertips in one place. Once citizens or businesses enter a username and password, the gateway treats them like an Amazon.com customer, immediately knowing all about them from the "digital certificate" completed during registration. Now it's time to run that offshoot of the Web site through a usability test.
"We're going to apply those usability principles to everything we've got that lives out on the Web," Parma said.
-- Andy Opsahl
Wi-Fi project manager
Corpus Christi, Texas
Toward a Wireless World
Corpus Christi, Texas, understands the Internet's integral presence in its citizens' lives. Leonard Scott, the city's Wi-Fi project manager, leads the charge to blanket Corpus Christi with Wi-Fi connectivity, moving the city beyond its "hotspot" system, which delivered wireless access only at select spots around town.
Localities across the nation are implementing limited public Wi-Fi access in select areas or at sites. But in Corpus Christi, Wi-Fi will be everywhere.
Any resident with a Wi-Fi-ready computer can access the network from home. People living in rural areas will need a wireless range extender -- a computer attachment that picks up signals from the network's access point. But the network certainly extends beyond home.
Today's workplace frequently expands from the office, vehicle or home -- and sometimes to wherever else an employee is. Corpus Christi professionals will soon have network access for doing business in any part of the city they desire.
The project would give water and gas providers automated, real-time meter reads. It would bring law enforcement officers wireless features like secure mobile access to criminal histories, incident reports and video surveillance. Code enforcement inspectors would have onsite property research and file report information. Emergency responders would have mobile access to building and infrastructure information, and emergency health-care providers could immediately pull up medical records.
Scott is creating a prototype destined for imitation across the country as local governments immerse themselves in the expanding wireless broadband culture.
-- Andy Opsahl
Lemuel C. Stewart Jr.
"In the public or private sector, the opportunity and challenge of making a positive difference is what I enjoy. In this decade, Virginia offers both," said Lem Stewart, Virginia's CIO since 2004. Stewart leads the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA), and as senior executive, oversees all aspects of IT for the state government.
In just over a year, Stewart improved governance of IT investments in Virginia, and engineered the successful transition of staff and resources from 90 agencies into one organization. His IT Transformation initiative streamlined the government's IT infrastructure, ensuring smooth delivery of services to citizens. Stewart's triumphs have also been cost-effective and applauded outside his jurisdiction.
"Our most promising achievement has been the development and award of our public/private partnership with Northrop Grumman," he said. "It will transform 1980s technology infrastructure for the 21st century without additional taxpayer dollars, and with substantial economic development impact in rural areas of Virginia."
This 10-year, $2 billion partnership brought more than 1,000 new high-tech jobs to the state and $269.6 million in capital investment.
Under Stewart's leadership, Virginia ranked third in the nation in both the Center for Digital Government's 2004 Digital States Survey and its 2004 Best of the Web contest. In 2005, the Government Performance Project recognized Virginia as the best managed state, giving it an "A-" in the information category.
Looking to Virginia's IT future, Stewart sees a highly efficient and modern technology environment that will support changing the way business is done and citizens are served. "Also, it encourages continued expansion of collaborative technology partnerships among state, local and federal governments, and the private sector, for continuous improvement in government operations."
-- Alison Lake
Wireless Wakeup Call
It was the modern shot heard round the world.
In July 2004, Mayor John Street announced Philadelphia's plans to create a citywide wireless infrastructure to offer broadband Internet access to residents at a modest price of approximately $20 per month.
Philadelphia CIO Dianah Neff wrote a briefing in spring 2004 that showed how wireless could benefit economic development in the neighborhoods, help overcome the digital divide in low-income and minority neighborhoods, and ensure a bright future for all -- especially the children.
The paper also identified how wireless could benefit public safety and enhance Philadelphia's attractiveness to business travelers and visitors.
After review and discussion, the mayor decided his administration would look closely at the potential of wireless technology during his second term. He directed Neff to conduct a pilot, and appointed a wireless executive committee to develop a business plan.
Street said it's important for local governments to take an active role in the creation of such networks.
"Local government is all about networking and ensuring all our citizens have access to the services they need to help them prepare for a better future," Neff said on behalf of the mayor. "Neighborhood transformation and economic development are local. The digital divide is a local issue. When large portions of your community are not being served and there is a real need, local elected officials need to step in and help."
Local governments have always focused on working for a better future, whether that means helping create roads, making electrical power widely available or obtaining affordable health care for all.
"Elected officials have been there and will continue to look to the future," Neff said on behalf of Mayor Street. "In all these areas -- transportation, utilities and public health -- you have cities that were leaders and those that were followers. In the area of advanced wireless infrastructure, Philadelphia is a leader because it meets the needs of our citizens, families, businesses and visitors."
-- Shane Peterson
When future scholars look back on the early years of the Information Age, they'll highly regard the small city of Manassas, Va. Modern-day residents can relish the fact that their city will occupy a significant spot in historic texts as the first U.S. municipality to offer broadband over power lines (BPL).
BPL technology represents an entirely new level of accessibility for citizens at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum -- and Manassas Mayor Douglas Waldron is overseeing his city's pioneering venture into IT lore.
In October 2005, Waldron and city utilities director John Hewa announced the nation's first BPL system was up and running. According to Waldron, a combination of factors took BPL off the drawing board and onto the power lines.
"Manassas operates its own electric, water and sewer systems," Waldron said. "We're able to closely manage our own utilities. The utility commission and the city council a few years back entertained some offers from private vendors. We were the right size, plus our location in northern Virginia gave some access to what was going on in Washington."
A deal was struck between the city and Chantilly, Va.-based Communication Technologies to develop and deploy a BPL system -- the biggest benefit of which is providing access to the substantial number of "last mile" residents in the city of 40,000. As a rural community, many private Internet service providers can't or won't reach more isolated homes.
"The reason why it's so unique is it solves a lot of the 'last mile' problem," said Waldron. "That's why it's of interest to the federal government, for rural locations throughout our country. How do you supply the last mile to a farmhouse in Kansas? But everybody has electric service. They have plugs. So it solves the last mile problem relatively cheaply."
More important than being a landmark achievement is the fact that Manassas residents are getting connected.
"The citizens I've talked to are very enthusiastic," Waldron said. "It's growing every month."
-- Chad Vander Veen
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