Year in Review 2022: Education Eyes the Metaverse
In July and August 2022, GovTech covered the public sector's growing interest in the metaverse, particularly in higher ed, plus we tracked how the government IT workforce has evolved over the last decade.
If the metaverse concept was not mainstream before, it certainly got there in 2022, and part of that involved making inroads in the public sector. A specific example was in higher education. In July, a group of 10 universities announced that it would be embracing the metaverse in a big way, doing so by launching metaversities. This will involve the creation of digital twin replica campuses, within which students will use virtual reality headsets to attend classes. To make this happen, these universities — which vary in location, size and mission — are partnering with the private companies VictoryXR and Meta.
The year also saw Google Fiber making somewhat of a return. Back in 2016, Google Fiber — which is its namesake company’s high-speed Internet service — put all future expansion on hold, and for five years, very little happened with Google Fiber. In 2022, however, the provider unveiled plans to expand to Des Moines, Iowa, its first new market since the hold. By year’s end, Google Fiber shared plans to expand into 22 new markets spread across five states. In addition, the provider has started pushing its standard speeds upward, promising to eventually reach 100 gig symmetrical Internet.
How has the government technology workforce changed over the past 10 years? A Government Technology analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics traced the growth of the gov tech workforce, while also comparing it to the private sector. The findings showed that over the past decade, the overall government IT workforce grew by 8.7 percent, now making up 3.6 percent of the overall tech industry. There was some major variance by state, however, with some growing much more — Nevada — and others contracting — Iowa. Pay also varied greatly by region.
Cybersecurity remained atop most priority lists in government technology as it has for years, but the thinking around some cybersecurity best practices continued to evolve. Specifically, as the cost of cyber insurance and the requirements to get it continued rising, some in government IT turned to other options, including self insurance, which means budgeting funds to cover emergency costs, rather than shelling out for premiums. In fact, Colorado Chief Information Security Officer Ray Yepes went so far as to say this summer that “almost every state is self-insured, and if not, they’re working to become self-insured.”
In 2022, the Phoenix Fire Department launched a new drone program. Several years in the making, the Phoenix Fire Department Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program is one of the first municipal drone fleets in the country, and the idea behind it is that firefighters can use the drones to better respond to incidents. From brush fires to mountain rescues, fire officials say that having access to 360-degree aerial imagery is a tremendous asset in emergency situations. The drones stream footage from the skies to monitors watched by incident commanders, who use the feeds to make decisions in real time. Now that the fire department in Phoenix has created the groundwork for its drone fleet, the technology could also soon spread to other agencies or even other cities.
A 2022 report by the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University in California found that ransomware attacks in public transit were up 186 percent since June 2020. To respond, agencies need to prioritize cybersecurity within their management structures, ideally by hiring a chief information security officer. Public transit agencies should also be writing security requirements into RFPs for tech purchases or upgrades. A chief cause for concern is that as transit tech evolves into a more holistic ecosystem — with integrated micromobility, autonomous vehicles, expanded use of Wi-Fi and more — it opens new entry points for outside interference. Addressing the cyber challenge is especially important looking ahead, with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act putting $66 billion toward public transit, money that will in part be used to modernize.
While government cybersecurity can sometimes feel like an abstract issue to the public, in 2022 breaches created issues in people’s everyday lives. Specifically, a malware attack on a third-party vendor led to a widespread outage of public benefits, with at least 17 states as well as the District of Columbia reporting service interruptions. The cyber attack against workforce software developer Geographic Solutions left residents in those states unable to access public job search sites as well as online unemployment claims systems. While this issue lasted for a matter of days, rather than weeks, it still gave insight into potential vulnerabilities for public benefit systems, making clear why cybersecurity is so important with the central IT shop of any state or local government.