Innovative New York Projects, Leaders Honored at 2015 Best of New York Awards

Public-sector leaders, agencies and departments are honored for technology excellence at the 2015 New York Digital Government Summit in Albany.

On Sept. 2, the Center for Digital Government (CDG), the research arm of Government Technology's parent company, e.Republic Inc., will present the 2015 Best of New York Awards at the 2015 New York Digital Government Summit in Albany, N.Y.

In a collaborative effort between Government Technology and the state of New York, the 27th annual event provides a forum to recognize the outstanding achievements of the New York IT community. These achievements have directly resulted in increased efficiency and productivity, improved citizen services and lowered operating costs throughout the state.
“New York government departments are creatively utilizing amazing new technologies that are making a huge difference in the communities they serve and the departments they manage,” said Todd Sander, executive director of the Center for Digital Government. “We are all very excited to present this year’s Best of New York winners and acknowledge the work they have done.”
Demonstrated Excellence in Project Management
Steven Damsky, Deputy CIO and Chief Project Officer
New York City Department of Education

Steven Damsky, deputy chief information officer and chief project officer with the New York City Department of Education, is being recognized for his leadership and excellence in project management. In addition to providing technology services in line with the business initiatives of the organization, Damsky has a clear record of delivering projects on budget. The Division of Instructional and Information Technology has benefited through improved clarity, greater strategic focus and more efficient coordination of projects without disruptions to ongoing business. All projects were within their budgets for FY14 and FY15. More than 80 percent of projects are delivered on time, and project delivery capacity has increased by 50 percent with only a 10 percent increase in resources.

Best IT Collaboration Among Organizations
Universal Pre-Kindergarten Citywide Adoption in New York City
New York City Department of Education

Set in motion in May 2014, the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Initiative provided pre-kindergarten services for more than 53,000 children through Department of Education public schools and community-based early childhood centers. Through close coordination with multiple stakeholders including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, various department development teams and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the program was able to offer services by September 2014, the start of the new school year. The project team developed a customer relationship management (CRM) system for student registration, the ability to log parental information requests, a new Elementary School Directory Update system and enhanced the search and modification capabilities for pre-kindergarten registration. The program's successes have made it a national model for other pre-kindergarten programs.

Best Application Serving an Agency’s Business Needs
Revolutionizing New York State Back-Office Operations
New York State Office of Information Technology Services

The Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission, established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was charged with finding cost efficiencies in New York state government. As a result of the commission's report, the Office of General Services/Business Service Center and the Office of Information Technology Services were asked to create and implement an enterprise application to support the functions of accounts payable, credit cards and purchase orders for the state’s 59 agencies. As if the challenge of developing a multi-agency application was not daunting enough, the project team had to contend with the fact that each organization was using its own software and manual protocols to perform these functions. In spite of the challenge, the team created a single enterprise business process in less than 10 months. The new process provides for a records repository, implements the enterprise standard imaging solution, increases accounts payable receiving, scanning and indexing capacity by 100 percent and consolidates all documents in one place. As a result, the state is estimated to have saved millions of dollars.

Poole Honored with Leadership Award

Sheila J. Poole, acting commissioner of the New York Office of Children and Family
Services (OCFS), was awarded the fifth annual Gov. Hugh L. Carey Award for Outstanding Public Stewardship for her efforts to better the relationship between the agency and the citizens of New York. 

Poole took the top leadership spot in January 2014 and has been a driving force behind improving communication with and program access for the children, youth, families and vulnerable populations who rely on the agency for critical services.

Her extensive collaboration with the Office of Information Technology Services (OITS) is directly reflected in the organization’s push to better utilize technology and provide modern, responsive tools to caseworkers and other agency professionals.

Chief Information Officer John Norton, with the human services cluster for OITS, said clear communication between agencies has been invaluable because of the sensitive nature of the data the OCFS handles and its complex business needs. 

In hand with efforts to make OCFS more mobile-friendly for all end users, Norton said Poole has been instrumental in establishing a workgroup to tackle critical issues such as information security and the use of mobile devices.

“Her ability to clearly communicate their business requirements helps the end users to get the IT services they need to accomplish their mission. Sheila also assists OITS in understanding how services for the end users could be enhanced or improved to provide even better service to the agency,” he said.  

Laura Velez, deputy commissioner with the Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS), said Poole is able to break down complex concepts into manageable, employable solutions for the agency and its various departments.  

“Sheila has very high standards regarding the performance of public servants, and pushes everyone in the agency to be responsive, responsible, creative and positive in their attitudes,” Velez said. “The program areas in OCFS are challenging ones, and Sheila’s leadership provides a continuous effort to improve and strengthen our respective systems. She is not afraid of conflict and stands steadfast for the goals and ideals that create better services for the children and families of New York state.”

Poole said she was proud of the collaborative efforts and “staff's deep commitment to the work of the agency as well as their consistent generosity in rising to the occasion when children, families or co-workers need assistance.”

Among other successful efforts, Poole said the agency was able to quickly implement a call center capable of handling the more than 1 million annual calls for service, per Gov. Andrew Cuomo's initiative to streamline government.

For Brian Daniels, associate commissioner with the Commission for the Blind, the innovations under Poole’s watch have led to a better quality of life for many New Yorkers. 

Daniels said Poole was able to quickly grasp the role of the Commission for the Blind and was instrumental in boosting employment numbers for the visually impaired citizens who rely on the program.  

“Sheila has led efforts to create an environment that is ethical, responsive and open-minded. These qualities facilitate staff’s ability to maneuver in an often unforgiving and unyielding state bureaucracy, allowing us to dare to innovate and suggest creative solutions to problems that support our mission and reinforce our ambitious agenda,” Daniels added.

Poole said she is honored to be recognized for her efforts and those of her agency.

“It is gratifying that our work is recognized ...” she told Government Technology. “I am especially grateful that this award has allowed a light to shine on the important work we do each day.”

Best Application Serving the Public
Emergency Service Unit – Mobile CAD (Computer Assisted Dispatch)
New York City Police Department 

The NYPD now has the unique ability to self-dispatch specialized units through the Emergency Service Unit (ESU) – Mobile Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) system. The system offers a crucial head start in situations where minutes saved can mean the difference between life and death. Through the ESU Mobile CAD, emergency information is available to first responders in near real-time, just seconds after being entered into the 911 system. Features of the system include: near real-time delivery and display of information; a transport mechanism providing reliable data to responders despite intermittent connectivity; user choice of display criteria so that only incidents falling under a particular unit’s assigned geographical area are displayed; ability to plot incident locations on a map with driving directions; visual and audible indicators for specific types of incidents or for certain keywords and phrases (e.g., “barricaded” or “threatens to jump”). The application is utilized in every ESU vehicle and station throughout the city.

Best IT Collaboration Among Organizations
National Instant Criminal Background Check Application
New York State Office of Mental Health, Department of Health and Office of Information Technology Services

The collaborative efforts of the New York State Office of Mental Health, the Department of Health and the Office of Information Technology Services to improve public safety and data collection is being recognized as the 2015 Best IT Collaboration Among Organizations. The federally grant-funded, multi-stakeholder National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) Application is meant to streamline the process of data collection and sharing on individuals who are involuntarily admitted to hospitals for mental illness-related reasons. The application is meant to bolster the national system, which responds to background check requests made when an individual tries to purchase a firearm or explosives. The ultimate goal is to bring all New York state hospitals that are technically capable of doing so, onto reporting via automated file transfer, as this eliminates delay in submitting reports and eliminates data entry errors due to human error, as well as reduces the burden on facilities that have many NICS reportable admissions.   

Best In-House Developed Application
New Student START Appointment Self-Scheduling System
Tompkins Cortland Community College 

Participating in the START program, or Student Transition: Advisement, Registration and Testing program, is a requirement for degree-seeking students entering Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3). To aid in the placement process, TC3 developed an application that allows prospective students to schedule enrollment appointments without the help of staff. The system also provides students with automatic email notifications and allows staff the opportunity to better manage their workload through an online portal. This application removes a critical bottleneck in the student advising appointment process, providing students with the benefits of a more transparent and convenient process and allowing TC3 to use fewer resources for the administrative process, enabling TC3 to allocate those resources to advising new students and getting them enrolled.

Most Innovative Use of Social Media/ Citizen Engagement
Crowdsourcing the Quality of Life Agenda
New York City Police Department

A new Web-based platform is helping the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to get a pulse on issues happening in community. Crowdsourcing the Quality of Life Agenda essentially allows the NYPD to identify the issues, like transiency and public consumption of alcohol. Whereas “walking a beat” would have been how officers connected with the public in the past, this platform allows officials to cover entire neighborhoods to identify issues, prioritize concerns and provide solutions. With citizen input, problems can be ranked, comments can be made and new issues can be nominated. Crowdsourcing has given the NYPD the ability to identify and resolve problems that were previously unknown to the department and has allowed for better utilization of police resources and preventative efforts.    

Most Innovative Use of Social Media/ Citizen Engagement
TreesCount! 2015 – New York City Street Tree Census
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

The mobile application TreesCount! 2015 was an integral part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation's tree census, which occurs every 10 years. By deploying the application, and relying on the neighborhood mapping events, the department was able to map and track the 600,000 street trees throughout the five boroughs. Through the combination of site-surveying methods, user-friendly mapping and geospatial technology, a high degree of accuracy was achieved in the census. The program is a prime example of the use of technology to drive collaboration between municipal government and the public.

Best Mobile/Wireless Project
New York State Department of Health Alert Mobile Application
New York State Department of Health and Office of Information Technology Services

The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) Health Alerts mobile application, designed to alert health-care facilities, providers and public health agencies to health-related notifications from federal, state and local health departments, is the 2015 Best Mobile/Wireless Project. An estimated 260,000 users have the ability to securely receive and access the notifications from their iOS and Android mobile devices. The application is another critical tool to allow health officials to effectively respond to infectious diseases and other health emergencies, such as H1N1 influenza (swine flu) and Ebola. The in-house application was developed using open source tools and technologies and is expected to save around $400,000 a year.

Best Data Analytics/ Business Intelligence Project
New York State Prevention Agenda Dashboard
New York State Department of Health and Office of Information Technology Services 
The New York State Prevention Agenda Performance Tracking application is used to promote civic engagement, transparency and government performance. Developed in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 95 of March 2013, the interactive, Web-based public dashboard displays the progress made in improving public health. Staff from the Department of Health and the Information Technology Service Health Cluster designed the platform with comprehensive capabilities for optimized functions even on mobile devices. Currently the dashboard provides progress images and visualizations for nearly 100 state tracking indicators. Data trends and maps throughout the state can easily be accessed. In addition, each county has its own dashboard including visualizations of county data. During the first year, there were more than 90,000 views of the dashboard. The estimated savings for development is $4.5 million and maintenance and updates save $800,000 annually. 

In addition, 34 Outstanding IT Service and Support Awards were given to the following individuals:
  • Adam Agnew, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS
  • William Brooks, Manager of Information Technology Services 1, NYS ITS Health Cluster
  • Shelly Brosen, Manager Information Technology Services 1, NYS ITS
  • Kevin Buettner, Manager of Information Technology Services, Health Research, Inc., Health Cluster
  • Grace Dillon, Customer Relations Manager, NYS ITS Human Services Cluster
  • William Fletcher, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS Disabilities & Aging Cluster
  • Mario Garzia, Information Technology Specialist 4, New York State Education Department
  • Laura Hallett, Applications Developer, NYS ITS Environment & Energy Cluster
  • Mary Hayden-Cook, Director Project Management, NYS Office of the Attorney General
  • Daniel Healy, Deputy Director of Administration, NYS ITS
  • Timothy Horn, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS Disabilities & Aging Cluster
  • Cathy Jones, Business Systems Analyst, NYS ITS Environment & Energy Cluster
  • George Kipp, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS
  • Gary Kuchark Jr., Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS
  • Ron Lammardo, Manager, NYS ITS, Platforms & Enterprise Applications
  • Vijay Madala, Manager, NYS ITS, Enterprise Network Consolidation
  • Ed McCue, Technical Lead, NYS ITS, Enterprise Network Consolidation
  • Maggie McNally, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS Enterprise Architecture Operations
  • Craig Mingle, Customer Relationship Manager, ITS General Government Cluster
  • Stuart Patterson, Manager, NYS ITS, Enterprise Unix Systems
  • John Rotondaro, Manager, NYS ITS, Telecommunications
  • John Savastio, Manager, Application Migrations, NYS ITS, Data Center Consolidation Project
  • Joe Schanz, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS Public Safety Cluster
  • Joe Scott, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS Public Safety Cluster
  • Vamshi Siddi, Manager of Information Technology Services 1, NYS ITS, Health Cluster
  • Vidya Slvankumar, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS, Disabilities & Aging Cluster
  • Clark Smith, Information Technology Specialist 2, NYS ITS, CNSE Data Center
  • Jennifer Strand, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS, Finance Regulation and Gaming Cluster
  • Alan Thompson, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS, Internet and Peering Implementation
  • Paul Tigg, Information Technology Specialist 1, NYS ITS, Public Safety Cluster
  • Richard Tubbs, Information Technology Specialist 3, NYS Office of the State Comptroller, Division of the Chief Information Officer
  • Jimel Williams, Information Technology Specialist 4, NYS ITS, Public Safety Cluster
  • Dan Zobre, Assistant Director, IT Technical Services, NYS ITS
  • Steve Zwickel, Information Technology Specialist 2, NYS ITS, Network Core Support

Janet Grenslitt from the Center for Digital Government contributed to this story.

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at