Colorado CIOs Highlight Potential Benefits of Teamwork, Collaboration

At the annual Colorado Digital Government Summit, state, city and county officials recounted technology-driven use cases that centered on a theme of working together.

by / October 27, 2017
Theo Douglas

Collaboration and teamwork were a consistent theme at the Colorado Digital Government Summit with city and county officials providing uses cases that emphasized partnerships crucial to maximizing value from shared services, while standing up new solutions and embarking on new development techniques.

The consolidated city-county of Denver migrated to shared services about 12 years ago, a journey that’s nearly complete, said Scott Cardenas, Denver CIO, following his opening remarks to more than 200 at the event on Wednesday, Oct. 25.

Having previously collaborated on apps like Ballot TRACE, their award-winning ballot tracking solution, Denver's IT and elections officials were primed to work together again during the 2016 election cycle.Together, they were able to establish a temporary election security operations center with real-time dynamics and audio and visual connections to watch for bad actors.

The agency saw activity, but didn’t experience a significant incident or breach during the election, according to Cardenas, a result that proved the project’s worth and attracted nationwide notice.

Denver is currently a finalist for project of the year at the Colorado Technology Association's 17th annual Apex Awards on Nov. 8 as a result of its elections collaboration.

“We were prepared in the event there was an incident. We were prepared to act, we had multiple scenarios laid out,” said Cardenas, who told the audience: “We’ve had a great run lately.”

The state is eager to explore artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation, said Suma Nallapati, secretary of technology and chief information officer in the Governor’s Office of Information Technology, during her lunchtime remarks.

“AI is going to augment what we have in terms of great processes that affect citizens. It will help us take the citizen experience to the next level,” she said. 

The technology secretary emphasized that automating state functions isn’t about distancing officials from residents, but instead interacting more closely. “We want to keep it a very interactive experience. Learn from them and then how do they learn from us,” said Nallapati.

The state will likely go into beta mode around the end of the month with a limited number of applications in a new citizen-facing portal designed to automate and send to mobile devices many common state-resident transactions. Examples may include Department of Healthcare, Policy and Financing interactions and driver’s license renewals – with the potential to suggest to residents getting a hunting license that they might also consider applying for a fishing license.

Morning panelists who discussed agile successes and challenges said they use a variety of methodologies, ranging from Kanban to scrum. But they emphasized the potential wins relied on finding the right project manager, involving customers and creating a unified spirit among members of work groups.

Panelist Robert Bruns, Denver's applications development manager, recommended making agile development data transparent and to share metrics, calling it “not a person thing but rather a team issue.”

“If we failed on a project, we all failed,” Bruns said.

“I think agile is a concept and a mindset and a cultural shift,” said moderator David Bessen, CIO for Arapahoe County, during the panel, a perspective one DGS visitor shared.

“I think it’s just doing smaller chunks of work to get to the final product,” said Anthony Golden, BI and ETL database developer for Douglas County. He has also found agile techniques to be helpful.

The event’s featured speaker Michael Hakkarinen, instructional technology specialist for the Utah Education Network, examined how the Internet and social media will shape students from kindergarten through high school.

“They’re learning so much differently, so we need to be prepared to take these elements and put them into education, then be prepared for them to come into the workplace looking for similar rewards,” said Hakkarinen, asking listeners: “… what kind of job is a kid like that going to have when they get out of school in 15 years?”

During afternoon sessions, panelists offered updates on Denver’s smart city projects, discussed findings around state cybersecurity; and again noted the significance of collaboration.

In a conversation about intelligent communities and the Internet of Things (IoT), Denver’s Jim Lindauer, IoT lead architect, technology services (smart cities) enterprise architecture, technology services, said the state capital is promoting public safety, quality of life, reduced traffic congestion and citizen connections in its efforts.

Denver’s to-do list includes three intelligent vehicle projects around connected vehicles and traffic management centers; reduced freight congestion; and safe pedestrian crossings, funded with a $6 million federal Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program grant and matching local funds.

The city-county is also pushing forward on Road X, its $72 million collaboration with Colorado's Department of Transportation to make Interstate 70 safer; and on a $3 million exploration of how to deploy electric vehicle charging stations.

But presenters agreed IoT and intelligent community projects come with challenges for the public sector. Governments must prepare themselves for what happens once IoT and smart city initiatives are implemented and preserve and analyze the data those efforts generate, Lindauer said.

“Each agency has their own data. The challenge is let’s get all this data and look at it together. This is a big change for government. This is known as the fourth industrial revolution,” he said.

Daniele Loffreda, Ciena’s adviser to public sectors including state and local government, suggested several smart foundations for intelligent communities, including human-centered designs, working with the right partners and prioritizing the needs of the population.

In an interview, attendee Mike Whalen, technology business analyst at the city of Arvada, said his agency is in the early stages of thinking about how IoT and sensors could maximize delivery and efficiencies on everything from vehicle maintenance to water and boiler service.

“I think like a lot of people, we’re looking at how big data occupies our lives. No one likes to sit and [use] Excel and crunch all the data,” Whalen said, indicating that identifying ways to more seamlessly analyze and visualize big data will be key.

During the fast track sessions that concluded the event, Jerry Eastman, cyber security intelligence analyst for the Colorado Information and Analysis Center, recounted the state’s use of the search engine Shodan to identify its Internet-connected devices.

The state learned it had more than 1.8 million visible IOT devices; that the number of visible critical infrastructure devices had risen by around 3,000; and that 75 percent of industrial control system devices were visible.

Eastman warned attendees to be mindful when a substantial number of devices are connected to a network but not to each other, including for ad-hoc projects.

“This is where attackers are pivoting in. We’re going to see more of that, I think. It takes some skill and quality staff to keep those things secure and not visible,” he said, noting, "The days of having to have a superhacker to cause trouble are over."

The summit’s final speaker, John Thompson, data services manager at Douglas County, acknowledged agencies that might want to collaborate may be blocked by the differing ways their governments run. Instead, Thompson suggested focusing on the information and data layers available.

“In the network business model, data is used as a platform to create value for each partner no matter how different their business needs and processes are. Data is the foundation of every IT project I’ve ever worked in and I suspect it’s the same for you,” said Thompson.

Tarik Muhammad, IT director for the city of Black Hawk, said his municipality’s size and embrace of technology have made collaboration natural.The municipality was ranked Colorado’s least populous city with a population of 118 in the 2010 U.S. Census. In an October 2016 article, The Denver Post indicated the city's population has fallen below 100.

“It’s almost a natural process to have everything centralized. Because of the nature of it – it’s all simply bleeding into one technology,” said Muhammad, whose department recently created an app to enable online business license applications.

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

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.