Revisiting wireless Broadband to California farms; Chattanooga’s gigabit Internet service; Google Apps in Wyoming; Minnesota and St. Paul adopt Microsoft Office 365.
The Original Story: In July 2012, Government Technology wrote about a coalition of federal, state and local interests, including Fresno County, working to secure high-speed wireless broadband to take California’s San Joaquin Valley agricultural sector to the next level. Wireless broadband would allow farmers to put moisture sensors into the soil beneath individual trees, like olives and almonds, so that each tree gets exactly the right amount of water. Wireless technology also would allow farmers to incorporate GPS into their operations.
Project Update: In the year since the story appeared, the players working to develop an “ag-tech cluster” around Fresno have continued to collaborate on bringing together sources of innovation. Fresno was already one of six cities receiving assistance from the federal government’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative, which is designed to help ramp up economic development by supporting community programs. In addition, Fresno is participating in the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge. IBM researchers noted that the city already had access to super high-speed Internet, but that many businesses in the downtown area aren’t taking advantage of it, said CIO Carolyn Hogg, so one short-term goal is to increase those businesses’ digital presence.
Rachel Audino, government affairs manager in the Office of Community and Economic Development at California State University, Fresno, who leads the San Joaquin Valley’s broadband consortium, said the group is working to identify an agricultural pilot site to study broadband-enabled technologies that will promote water-efficient farming practices in the region.
“We went to the World Agricultural Expo in Tulare, Calif., and talked to farmers about their needs and expectations,” she said. “There was definitely a lot of interest and some existing technology use. Some farmers are now using GPS-enabled tractors that have increased furrowing efficiency by 7 percent. They want to work on the same kind of efficiency gains around watering.”
Robert Tse, a community planning and development specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that to further develop the ag-tech sector, the region needs to have a source of innovation much like Stanford University is a source of innovation for California’s Silicon Valley. He said a memorandum of understanding has been created between the USDA and the U.S. Energy Department to work together on applications of technology related to water usage and the use of wireless broadband.
In August, the San Joaquin Valley Regional Broadband Consortium planned to hold an agriculture technology showcase in Fresno where researchers will present their ideas to entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. “The hope is that they will follow up and commercialize the technology,” Tse said. A Central Valley Business Incubator already exists to host such businesses. -- David Raths
The Original Story: Chattanooga calls itself The Gig City — in reference to the fiber-to-the-home network built across 600 square miles of Chattanooga and surrounding Hamilton County. Chattanooga’s municipally owned utility, EPB, built a fiber-optic grid with up to 1 gigabit-per-second service now available to all businesses, residences, and public and private institutions. The network has the business community dreaming big, with aspirations of becoming a Silicon Valley of the South. In April 2012, then-Mayor Ron Littlefield told Government Technology: “Here is a community with a Southern quality of life, has a pretty good university, has a lot of amenities, and once was the dirtiest city in America. And now [it has] this great technological tool that we can use to build a future.”
Project Update: EPB’s original purpose for rolling out a $300 million fiber-to-the-home network was to create a far more efficient electric grid. EPB spokeswoman Danna Bailey said the utility can point to several improvements from that smart grid investment. “We are seeing reductions in outage minutes because of real-time monitoring,” she said. “On Jan. 14, 2013, a huge tree fell on a line. Because of the way we can identify outages and reroute power, customers lost power for only three minutes.”
Bailey said the network’s subscriber base has grown to approximately 50,000 residential and 4,500 commercial customers. The utility has increased the network’s base speed from 30 megabits per second to 50 Mbps. That is 10 times faster than average residential rates, she said. “We also reduced the cost of the gigabit service from $350 to $300 per month.”
J.Ed. Marston, vice president of marketing and communications for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said the fiber network gives Chattanooga a recruiting edge. “Some companies are interested in the data infrastructure and others such as manufacturers are interested in the smart grid,” he said. “Many power-sensitive organizations have dual feeds to guarantee they have power if one source goes down. EPB has a way to do that virtually now that obviates the need to have those two feeds.
“We see the fiber network invigorating the entrepreneurial scene,” Marston added. “We have GIGTANK, the world’s only business accelerator on a fiber network, and the Chamber’s INCubator, which has 20 tech companies and a 91 percent success rate.”
Sheldon Grizzle, who runs the GIGTANK accelerator, said the entrepreneurial community has rallied around the fiber grid. “It is a huge thing for us,” he said, pointing to a Florida-based startup called Banyan that relocated to Chattanooga after using the GIGTANK last year. The company created a platform for scientists around the world to collaborate to find cures for diseases. “They came from Tampa last summer and really embraced the platform the city can offer, including our mentor network,” Grizzle said. Although the company founders went home when their GIGTANK program ended, they soon returned to Chattanooga permanently, saying they lost momentum when they left, according to Grizzle.
“They could have located anywhere or worked for any tech company, and they chose Chattanooga,” he said. “So I think we are making phenomenal progress, although there is always room for improvement.” -- David Raths
The Original Story: Two years ago, Wyoming surprisingly became the first state to roll out Google Apps enterprisewide, showing that the cloud isn’t just for big cities.
Gov. Matt Mead unveiled the new solution in 2011 at a news conference, announcing that 10,000 state employees had been shifted to Google’s cloud-based email and productivity suite. Mead said the new tools would improve communication and collaboration, and provide better storage capacity and cybersecurity protection. State officials predicted the hosted solution easily would save $1 million annually.
Project Update: State CIO Flint Waters said the state comfortably made its savings target, cutting email costs by more than $1 million per year. But the biggest benefit, Waters said, is a “significant cultural shift in how we capture creative thought.”
With Google Docs, state workers can collaborate on documents in real time, a process that’s cutting approval and processing time. The new approach is required when an agency submits a business case to the state’s IT department for approval, although Waters conceded that many of Wyoming’s agencies have retained their legacy workflows internally.
Mead recently released his energy policy on a Google Plus Hangout. Soon Wyoming will save $1.3 million a year by decommissioning its legacy Tandberg video-conferencing solution, Waters said.
Google and Wyoming are finding ties elsewhere too. The company is helping the state develop a SourceForge-style engine for software development, and has added new functionality to Google Apps for
Government when the state has requested it, Waters said. Next up, Wyoming is adopting Google Apps Vault for records retention. -- Matt Williams
The Original Story: Early last year, Government Technology reported that the Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology had moved almost 40,000 workers to Microsoft Office 365 for email services and collaborative tools under an enterprisewide service agreement that the state signed with Microsoft in 2010. Minnesota was the first state to fully deploy Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 product, according to the company. Shortly after that announcement came word that the city of St. Paul would share the state email system and was in the process of transferring more than 3,000 city email accounts to the Office 365 platform.
Project Update: The project appears to be paying off for both Minnesota and St. Paul. State agencies have used the cloud-based platform — dubbed Enterprise Unified Communication and Collaboration (EUCC) by the state — for about a year and a half. The custom-built, cloud-based system integrates Office 365 tools such as SharePoint and Lync.
According to the Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology, the EUCC is being used by more than 70 agencies, commissions and boards. It gives users new features like the ability to co-edit documents in real time, conduct tutorials by sharing desktop access with colleagues across town and actively participate in meetings while away from the office. Gov. Mark Dayton and other key officials can share information statewide with a single email post and coordinate activities in times of crisis.
“MN.IT continues to work on quantifying the long-term cost savings of this initiative,” said Tarek Tomes, assistant commissioner of Customer and Service Management. “However, the benefits from system improvement, new communication and collaboration capabilities have been substantial, allowing interagency collaboration on an unprecedented level.”
As of June, the communications platform had brought in more than 47,000 Exchange mailboxes and provisioned 35,000 SharePoint users, including external customers such as the city of St. Paul.
Cindy Mullan, St. Paul’s deputy CIO, said the state and the city knew from the start that moving together into the cloud would be a high-profile project with little room for error. She credits disciplined project management and teamwork between city and state tech staff for moving the project along. One key decision that helped, she said, was splitting off the most challenging work — email archiving — from the rest of the project. St. Paul expected to have access to the state’s archive system beginning in July.
Mullan said St. Paul also is saving money with Office 365. The cost per seat for the city’s 3,270 email boxes has gone from $56 a year to $43. -- Matt Williams