As companies seek to help government agencies streamline their services and operations, new technologies are entering the public-sector market. During a recent summit at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus, the company touted four of its emerging technologies that may impact not only government’s internal operations, but also how agencies will work with and provide services to the public.
1. Touch-based Windows 8. On Wednesday, Feb. 29, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview was publicly released, and as the next iteration of the operating system, it seeks to redefine the user’s experience. Frank La Vigne, a Microsoft developer evangelist, said Windows 8 has a “touch-first type of approach.” It elicits the feel of other touch-based operating systems that allow users to swipe across screens and use pinch-to-zoom functionality. However, it also works with a mouse, keyboard and/or stylus. La Vigne said one of the important things is that the operating system is based on the Metro typography-based design language and uses graphics similar to those that are traditionally found in public transit terminals. And for productivity, apps on the home screen can show real-time information from external or internal information sources.
2. Kinect for PC. Kinect, the motion-sensing peripheral used with the Xbox 360 gaming system, can now be paired with a computer or tablet for functions like interactive training and health-care services. At Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector CIO Summit on Feb. 29 in Redmond, Wash., Phil West, principal technologist for the company’s Public Sector Office of Civic Innovation, called it a “webcam on steroids.” Kinect allow users to interact with a PC through gestures, speech and facial recognition. “[We can] take emerging tech like Kinect ... and apply it to public-sector scenarios that make sense,” said Josh Wall, director of the Advanced Technology Group for InfoStrat, which is developing software to work with the device. Wall demonstrated how the Kinect can be used as a flight simulator for training purposes (called FlightKintroller); a physical therapy tool for measuring range of motion (ReMotion360); and a disaster response and recovery instrument that visualizes external data feeds — such as the location of injured residents, and allows workers to interact with the data in an immersive video-conferencing environment.
3. Cloud for election technology and information. To help governments comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act — legislation designed to ensure military and overseas voters have the opportunity to vote — cloud-based solutions have been utilized in counties that have a large number of overseas voters. Kim Nelson, Microsoft’s executive director of e-government, said counties in Florida used LiveBallot, a service hosted on the company’s Azure cloud platform, to provide these absentee voters with access to their ballots during January’s primary election. Although votes weren’t actually cast online, the idea was to provide easy access to the ballot and other voting documents.
4. Hybrid cloud strategy to meet agency needs. “The reality is there will always be some functions and workloads that remain on premise and other areas that governments choose to have in the cloud,” Gail Thomas-Flynn, vice president of U.S. state and local government for Microsoft, told Government Technology. A hybrid cloud houses some workloads on premise in a private cloud and other areas are managed in a public cloud. Thomas-Flynn also offered a definition of private clouds, saying they are comprised of three components: consolidation of servers, consolidation of data centers, and then optimizing the workloads on the servers in order to reap the most capacity. “That’s a true private cloud,” she said. “The utopia of what a private cloud really is, is to have done those three stages.”
Microsoft also announced Thursday, March 1, that the company is planning to offer a “government community cloud” as part of its Office 365 suite. This new product will expand upon the company’s existing cloud offerings, company officials said, and will enable various types of hybrid IT environment as government agencies pick and choose the solutions that best fit their needs. “It’s not one size fits all,” Curt Kolcun, vice president of Microsoft U.S. Public Sector, said during a press briefing at the Public Sector CIO Summit. “There’s a multitude of different needs and we want to make sure that we have the broadest portfolio of solutions to meet those needs.”