On the occasion of his retirement, announced Dec. 10, Government Technology spoke with Montana CIO Dick Clark about what advice he has for the state’s next Chief Information Officer. Clark talked about 5 priorities that deserve a place on the state’s next top technology official’s agenda.
One of the things everyone must worry about, he said, is security.
"There's an arms race in security, and we're not going to be able to win because we can't afford to. How do we get state, local and county governments to combine their assets to deal with security? Just because you have a CISO [Chief Information Security Officer] doesn't mean squat. What we have to do as a group is start to have what I consider collective security. We have to think of ourselves as NATO. Each one of the agencies has something to collaborate and give.
State and local governments, he added, must start thinking about security in terms of how it impacts continuity and disaster recovery. "If we have an earthquake, that's an opening for people to hack into your systems because you're in disarray. What systems can you bring back up and in what order, and how do you make sure that they're secure while all this confusion is going on?"
While records management doesn’t get a lot of play in a lot of states, Clark said he thinks that "consistently we’re losing our institutional memory -- a historical perspective on how decisions are made inside of government," he said. "If I went to the historical society tomorrow and asked for all the written documents from the 1920s on how we dealt with the drought, they'd probably have reams and reams of hard copy paper that you could read."
But today, he said, "we rely so much on tweets, blasts, emails, etc., that future generations won't have a good understanding of how we made our decisions. It would be almost like saying you'd have a better understanding of how the Civil War was fought than you do about how we're fighting the Afghan war because everything is electronic and nobody's keeping a digital record. You have a tweet, an email, a text; all those things are just little tiny blurbs about what's going on. They're not necessarily the record."
"We've gone through the first phase of transparency, but we haven’t really defined what we want to do next with transparency," he said. "We have to figure out what the citizens want with the data and how they want to utilize it. I think you see pockets of enlightened individuals who use mash-ups and other things with government data to come up with interesting things. But on the other side of the coin, you see people who use data in a spurious way. We as a group have to really define what citizens want with transparency."
Every data set should be geo-coded, Clark said, because it always comes back to a place, for the most part.
"In other words, ‘How much money did I spend on inoculations in downtown Helena versus downtown Billings?’ We already kind of know that, but I think that becomes a part of transparency efforts so that people can see where the issues are and how government reacted to them." And there will be people out there who won't like it. "i.e. ‘You spent more money there than you spent on us,’" he said. "That's really what it's all about is having that public policy debate and figuring out how to get better at it. I think all data sets need to be looked at for geo-spatial coding."
With mobile computing, he said, you get down to three things, one of which is mobile computing to enhance the productivity of existing state workers. "As a biologist, I can take an iPad and I can go out in some stream and measure trout. I've got an app that electronically measures the fish, and then I can upload it immediately into some database," Clark said. "It's really a productivity enhancer. I don't have to take it and put it on paper, drive back to the office, scribe that into some database and waste a lot of time. I can do it directly."
The next thing is how to empower citizens through mobile computing, and what applications would they like to see? "I'm sure everybody wants to see a winter driving app right now, or in the summer, a summer construction app," he said. "It's really trying to judge what the citizens want, and that's a really tough thing to do because you see apps come and go all the time."
And the last part of the mobile computing discussion, Clark said, is, "'What can mobile computing do for businesses in the state of Montana?' We don’t have an answer for that right now. We know there should be some linkage, and we know that there should be a value derived by the businesses of the state, but I think at some point, we have to look at mobile computing in that light and say 'how do we better enhance the business in the state of Montana?’ They need to use us because so many people come to the state's website."
Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.