When it comes to transforming electronic payments, promoting community-based services, monitoring the power grid and digitizing hunting licenses, entities in New York state government know what they're doing — and they do it well, as proven by their recognition in the Center for Digital Government's* Best of New York 2017 Awards.
And in many cases, the 10 winning solutions did more than provide easy access and vital services to residents. They showed agency missions that are keeping pace with rapid changes in technology, and an embrace of some of the newest strategies in management and procurement.
One of seven transmission operators, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) actually delivers 25 percent of all electrical power in the state — a weighty mission that until about six months ago, officials were carrying out without all the benefits of utilizing big data.
Employees still monitored the health of their system’s roughly 80 transformers by taking “grab samples” of oil twice a year — but major transformer failures in 2012 and 2014 had revealed not only the limitations of these traditional methods, but also substantial cost.
2017 Best of New York Winners
Demonstrated Excellence in Project Management
Best IT Collaboration Among Organizations
Best Application Serving the Public
Best Application Serving the Public
Best Application Serving an Agency’s Business Needs
Best Application Serving an Agency’s Business Needs
Best Mobile/Wireless Project
Most Innovative Use of Social Media/ Citizen Engagement
Best Data Analytics/ Business Intelligence Project
Replacing roughly 40 of the system's larger transformers costs around $5 million each, not counting the expense of buying “replacement” power on the “spot market.”
That’s why in 2014, officials began discussions with the private sector to identify an analytics solution that could do a better job of keeping transformers healthy, but also predicting which might be about to fail.
After talks, they forged a partnership with Israeli firm mPrest, a global provider of monitoring and control solutions to sectors including defense, security, utility and industrial Internet of Things (IoT).
Conversations revealed technology and algorithms from the company’s anti-missile defense systems had crossover potential for NYPA, said Alan Ettlinger, its director of research, technology development and innovation.
With $900,000 in funding from the U.S.-Israeli BIRD Foundation and backing from NYPA and mPrest, staffers were able to stand up their creation in March 2017 and roll out sensors to 20 transformers.
It watches transformers around the clock, giving staffers a bird’s-eye view on their computer screens — but can also communicate significant developments via text or email if employees are out of the office.
Since March, no transformers have failed. But understandably, officials hesitate to give 100 percent of the credit to their new solution — which uses sensors and infrared cameras to monitor everything from transformer oil to bushing health.
“I would say it allows us to sleep better at night. I’m not sure we can directly attribute the safety to it. But we know what’s happening,” Ettlinger said.
The project has been such a good fit that NYPA is considering deploying a similar solution to lube oil systems in its plant, which lubricate generators and turbines, and mPrest is in discussions with other utilities.
The system will not be fully deployed until sometime in 2018.
Like so many other New York City agencies, the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) has had a website for years, but standing up a new and improved portal didn’t just signify a commitment renewed with technology, it meant a changing mission as well.
DYCD has never been a direct service provider; rather, it provides federal, state and local funds to community organizations and programs that, in turn, host everything from after school and summer programs for youth to services for the elderly.
2017 Hugh L. Carey Leadership Award Winner
This year’s Hugh Carey Award was given to Michael Green, executive deputy commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, for his thoughtful leadership and commitment to implementing technologies that improve not only his agency, but also the state as a whole.
In his tenure as the executive deputy commissioner, which began in 2012, Green has been the driving force on a number of initiatives including the Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE) program, which works with local law enforcement to address shootings with evidence-based strategies; the expansion of the state’s network of Crime Analysis and Real-Time Crime centers; and implementation of Raise the Age legislation.
Green is the seventh recipient of the Hugh L. Carey Leadership Award.
Those programs were responsible for advocating their own services — but DYCD officials realized that if they joined in promoting those same programs, classes and events through a targeted approach, more residents could benefit and the community groups would be more successful.
Starting roughly three years ago as a new CIO and commissioner came on board, the agency came to realize that updating what it did and investing in an enhanced online presence could refocus the mission of IT, and help the community groups it funded to be more successful.
“What we wanted to do is provide a public place where people can come and from a mobile phone, from really anywhere they have Internet connectivity, be able to access this site. And not only to tell you, ‘Hey, these are services we provide,’ but, ‘These are the ones closest to your location. These are based on your activity profile,’” said Michael Deutsch, associate commissioner and CIO of Information Technology for DYCD.
The resulting portal, Discover DYCD, went live in August 2015 at minimal cost because it was staff-created. It has succeeded, Deutsch said, in taking DYCD from having virtually no online environment to averaging 1,200 Web hits per month and more than 50 new visitors per day — 25 percent of which are from mobile devices.
Those numbers confirm mobile’s bright future, as well as new goals for the website: letting visitors search by type of community need, and register directly through Discover DYCD.
“To me, IT is no longer management information services. IT is being a strategic partner with the agency. The question that everybody on my staff has to [answer] now is, ‘Are we reaching the agency’s mission and vision with what we’re doing? Or else, why are we doing it?’” Deutsch said.
At Dutchess County, the Office of Central and Information Services (OCIS) shepherded the consolidation of three groups of county vehicles from separate fleet tracking systems to a new platform with expanded capabilities all could share.
Spearheading that process was Project Leader William McVicker, who had watched OCIS’ mission change in recent years as it joined with the county’s purchasing and central service departments. And now McVicker realized the county’s central and public works garages could make good use of an existing public transit tracker.
Vehicles in Dutchess County’s LOOP Bus System were tracked by fleet management software from Phoenix-based Ron Turley Associates (RTA), and after putting the project out to bid and conducting site visits, McVicker said its benefits became clear.
RTA was Windows-based, and would run well without high-powered computer system upgrades. Additionally, it could offer enterprisewide visibility of everything from fuel levels and miles traveled to service status and updates. This allowed technicians to source parts and trade information with other county agencies.
Upon migrating to a single-user version, agencies would also be able to automate backups on a single county-controlled database.
With their provider in mind, work to stand up the new system began in November and RTA wrote two conversion scripts needed to transfer existing data streams. The change-over was complete and the new system went live in early April.
“It was written by fleet managers for fleet managers. Now, the three departments talk a lot more. And our fleet manager has the ability to look at all three [department] sites and make determinations that make his life a lot easier,” McVicker said.
The solution has been in place for only one quarter, and its exact cost isn’t yet known, but McVicker credited his success in linking more than 400 vehicles and 600 equipment line items to handing tasks “in small bites," having straightforward discussions and maintaining a sense of humor with staffers.
“I think a lot of it has to do with communications," he said. "If somebody dug their heels in — ‘We’ve always done it this way’ — we could sit down and talk about it."
*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.
Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.