Year in Review 2015: Starting Off Strong

From the launch of Google’s Government Innovation Lab and the January preview of Microsoft’s Windows 10 to use of predictive analytics in Chicago and Indiana, the first quarter of 2015 was chock full of newsworthy happenings in the world of government IT.


The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a think tank for economic and social development, ranked Arlington County, Va.; Columbus, Ohio; and Mitchell, S.D.; among the top seven jurisdictions worldwide for 21st-century planning. Standing as pillars for future development, the ICF honored the jurisdictions for broadband connectivity; workforce; and innovation, digital inclusion and civic advocacy. At a ceremony in June, the ICF awarded the top prize to Columbus, the first U.S. city to achieve the designation since Riverside, Calif., in 2012.

The launch of Google’s Government Innovation Lab grabbed attention in 2015 for its lofty goals and free talent for civic innovation. Led by James Waterman, Google’s regional manager for state and local government, the lab produced a series of tech — and nontech — projects directed at rethinking government services. California’s Kern, Alameda and San Joaquin counties were the first to participate, and the long-term idea is to develop a Google curriculum for all flavors of government.

James Waterman, Google’s regional manager for state and local government,
James Waterman, Google’s regional manager for state and local government, said in January that the end goal of Google's Government Innovation Lab is "to enable the government organization to innovate well and often, to be great leaders of innovation." Photo by Jason Shueh.

The January preview of Microsoft’s Windows 10 marks both the end and a new start for the company. The launch of the operating system, which officially hit the streets in July, is the final installment of the legendary software. In the future, Windows 10, like Apple’s OSX and others, will convert to a constantly updating service. Microsoft markets the move as way to maneuver seamlessly using the program between multiple devices, including those brought online via the Internet of Things. However, it’s also part of a software-as-a-service trend led by cloud companies like Salesforce, Google and Adobe.


To broaden access to services and cut city incarceration costs, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio started issuing city identification cards through a new program called IDNYC. The $8.4 million undertaking attempts to legitimize undocumented residents who don’t meet typical requirements for identification. Proponents hail IDNYC as a move against inequality, while opponents see it as wasted spending. The IDs can be used to access some city services, and police can use them to avoid arrests of undocumented residents who can now be issued summonses for low-level offenses.


Sounding Off

Minnesota CIO Tom Baden
On building applications for the future: 
“We’re still going to have major systems like ERP and MMIS, and those need to be managed as primary systems. But we also want to use platforms as a service — things like Salesforce and GovConnect. We need to fully leverage those where appropriate. Our challenge is making sure we have the right platform for the right thing." -- Tom Baden, CIO, Minnesota


After an IT consolidation effort in Oklahoma, Web traffic analysis indicated employees were likely squandering time on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. While officials said usage of such sites dropped “exponentially” after the news broke, the study listed Facebook as the No. 1 site used by agency staff, averaging 2 million visits every three months. Twitter ranked No. 5, with 272,661 visits, and YouTube was No. 8, at 225,228 visits. The state promised to investigate agency by agency.

Chicago CIO Brenna Berman launches a predictive analytics program to decipher which of the city’s 15,000-plus restaurants was due for a health inspection. The pilot program prioritized food vendors using factors like previous poor inspection scores or recent sanitation complaints. The program is intended to be scaled throughout Chicago and replace a system that only evaluated restaurants annually.


Chicago CIO Brenna Berman said in February that the city "finished this really important predictive analytics use case, and launched a couple of others, but are marching down the path of our commitment to open source."

Putting priority on the cloud, Texas partners with Amazon Web Services (AWS) so agencies don’t have to jump procurement hurdles to implement cloud services. In the deal, the Texas Department of Information Resources and Amazon saved agencies arduous tasks like vetting security, privacy, disaster recovery and customer support terms. The partnership represents the first statewide contract for AWS.

A closely watched data analytics study in Indiana leveraged information from a broad swath of agencies to reveal that an absence of recommended prenatal checkups significantly affected the state’s youngest mothers on Medicaid and had major impacts on infant mortality. These younger moms represent 1.6 percent of all births; however, they account for almost 50 percent of infant deaths. Officials at the State Department of Health are using the findings to promote health-care enrollment and schedule needed prenatal visits.


In Indiana, data analytics was used to examine all information related to infant mortality in the state, and also to infants with adverse health outcomes highly correlated with mortality.

With police shootings sparking national controversy, Oakland, Calif., hatched a plan to house terabytes of video data from police body cameras on Microsoft’s Azure Government cloud. Once set in motion, Oakland sees it as the doorway to nearly limitless amounts of video storage capability, coupled with features like transcription, digital signatures and an audit log to monitor changes. With as many as 6,000 of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies now using police body cameras, the market has seen massive increases, and departments are focused on back-end details, like how long video should be stored, if it’s a public record and how it should be saved.

Sounding Off

Stephen Elkins, CIO of Austin, Texas, says he will utilize flexible sourcing to deal with the impending Baby Boomer retirement wave.
On open data:
"If you look at our hackathons over the years, initially we had individuals who liked tinkering with coding. But our most recent hackathons are a blend of individual citizens and the business community. I think businesses are there for two reasons: They’re trying to be good corporate citizens, but I also think there’s potential for a huge revenue stream."  -- Stephen Elkins, CIO, Austin, Texas


Detroit CIO Beth Niblock announces the city's first open data portal, Detroit Open Data. Powered by Socrata, and funded for three years by the company’s philanthropic arm, the Socrata Foundation, the portal contains 250-plus data sets the city couldn’t afford to open alone. As Detroit continues to recover from a collapsed economy and chronic urban decay, thousands of users download city data pertaining to crime, property and transportation.


“This is the first step in a very long journey, and perhaps it’s the hardest part,” said Detroit CIO Beth Niblock in March.

The U.S. Department of Justice declares Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure, compliant with the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) standards in California. Security remains a chief concern for agencies entering the cloud, and CJIS compliance puts Microsoft a smidge ahead of cloud competitors, like Google, that don’t have it.

Social network Nextdoor raises $110 million and earns a valuation north of $1 billion. That’s more than Twitter raised in its series-D funding. Executives estimated the vote of confidence was thanks to the company’s rapid growth, with 5 million messages exchanged daily across 53,000 neighborhoods and 700 government jurisdictions. A government dashboard gains new functionality as sanitation departments, animal control, law enforcement, emergency response and even entire cities, like Philadelphia, seek value in closer community ties.

Nextdoor app open on a smartphone


South Carolina
Gov. Nikki Haley prohibits the use of social media by government workers. A special task force created a new Code of Conduct for state employees, which was adopted by 24,000 staff members across all 17 cabinet agencies. The governor’s office explained it would be up to each non-cabinet agency to choose whether to adopt the policy and how it would be enforced.

Like an online retailer version of Babe Ruth, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos points to the skies as the FAA grants permission for drone testing. Amazon Prime Air promises to someday deliver packages to customers in less than 30 minutes, expediting a same-day delivery service already available in 14 metropolitan regions. A trudging and circuitous regulatory environment, however, leaves transporters of pizza and parcel alike feeling more earthbound than ever.



us-pirg-following-the-money-map.jpgConsumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG released its sixth annual report ranking states on their financial transparency efforts. While 14 states earned A grades, Ohio led the pack with an A+ on the strength of a new financial portal launched by Treasurer Josh Mandel. At the other end of the pack was California, whose F grade was blamed in part on its data being housed in multiple locations.

Back to the 2015 Year in Review

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.
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