Year in Review: The Most Read Gov Tech Stories of 2018
From security breaches and ransomware to predictive policing and analytics, these are the news stories GT readers found the most compelling, and they offer a look back at what drove good government work in 2018.
Throughout the year, the editorial staff at Government Technology works to bring readers the news they need — from security breaches to tales of tech success — to make public-sector IT smarter, more efficient and more accessible.
Click through for a look back at our most popular stories of the year, which offers a revealing view of what drove good government work in 2018 and a glimpse at what the next chapter holds. To see some of the major themes that emerged during the year and a look ahead, see Year in Review: Eight Gov Tech Issues to Watch in 2019.
JanuaryCalifornia entrepreneurs Yury Lifshits and Stepan Korshakov turned to data to tackle the state’s astronomical housing prices, launching Statecraft as part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 cohort. Their goal: to clean up and make more accessible the government data sets containing information relevant to housing policy. With better data, they said, government could make better policy and create more opportunity.
In other data news, mapping platform company Mapzen shut its doors. Thanks to its open data and code, users were able for a short time to run the projects they built on Mapzen even after the enterprise folded. In the waning days, fans could snag a wealth of GIS data to create maps and conduct research.
January saw predictive and analytic implementations come to the fore in Chicago, as the police department rolled out new data tools to drive a continued decline in shootings and murders. The analytics tools support the recently created Strategic Decision Support Centers (SDSCs), local nerve centers for a high-tech approach to fighting crime in high-crime areas. The city said it would continue to expand such digital crime-fighting initiatives.
South Bend, Ind., started off the year by bringing new life to old real estate. The six-story, 800,000-square-foot Studebaker plant — idle since 1963 — was repurposed for new tenants. A tech-driven woodworking company moved in, drawn by the city’s low real-estate costs, cool weather and access to fiber-optic connection speeds.
In a closely watched policy move, New York City passed an “algorithmic accountability bill,” creating a task force of technology ethicists, city department heads, tech companies and legal experts to monitor the fairness and validity of algorithms used by municipal agencies to set bail, place students and identify Medicaid fraud, among other things. The city wants to make sure the tools aren’t contributing to unintentional bias.
FebruaryCryptojackers targeted the Browsealoud product, an accessibility tool that websites use to make it easier for people who are blind, dyslexic or otherwise have trouble reading text on websites, to consume content. More than 4,000 websites, many of them in government, were slowed as the code used their processors to mine a cryptocurrency called Monero.
In Louisville, officials put in a bid to become part of a Federal Aviation Administration program that would allow the city to pilot the use of autonomous drones to respond to the sound of gunfire. The drone could capture video evidence to help authorities find the person who fired the weapon, while sparing cops from having to respond to false alarms.
Columbus, Ohio, officials issued an RFP for a vendor to develop an operating system to support applications intended to improve mobility, citizen engagement and equity. “We see this as the backbone and the heart of the Smart Columbus portfolio of projects,” said Brandi Braun, Columbus’ deputy innovation officer. The city asked vendors to design, build, test and implement a system that could capture data on traffic, weather and other key metrics.
Los Angeles became the first city to earn a gold certification from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program, which aims to accelerate how cities use data to serve residents. “We’re proud to be No. 1 in the country, but we know we need to work hard to maintain that next year,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
To fight the flu, Missouri officials reported on a recent deployment of a data visualization platform from Seattle-based LiveStories to deliver current information on influenza outbreaks. The application securely houses agencies’ data in the cloud, and a data-driven website enables citizens to track cases by week, flu type and age of victim.
MarchIn security news, Google reported that a majority of state and local government websites aren’t doing enough to protect visitors. The company cited lax implementation of the basic encryption implied by a website having a URL that starts with HTTPS instead of HTTP. Of 50 state government websites, Google said, 29 had front pages that were not encrypted. Of the 10 most populous cities in the nation, six had non-HTTPS front pages.
Google also announced it had concluded a pilot study of its Android Emergency Location Service (ELS), a supplemental service that sends location data directly from Android handsets to emergency services when a person calls 911. The goal is to provide more accurate location information to first responders during an emergency. ELS is activated automatically when a user places a 911 call.
Cities that are not actively trying to get smarter could well fall behind. That was the message delivered by Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer of Kansas City, Mo., at the third annual Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo. As the Internet of Things revolutionizes the citizen experience, “those cities that fail to adjust will become part of a new ‘digital Rust Belt,’” he said.
Also with an eye toward the big picture, KPMG principal Steve Bates told the Public Sector CIO Academy in Sacramento that the role of the public-sector CIO must evolve. In the face of rapid technological change, “you cannot run IT services in the same ways you have always done,” he said. Specifically, IT leaders need to make their organizations more responsive to citizen needs.
In March we reported on the growing number of DMVs shuttering legacy systems in favor of offering customers faster counter service or even the opportunity to conduct transactions online. The new systems are making it simpler to comply with federal security standards while also making it easier to incorporate emerging technologies.
AprilIn April, Tyler Technologies announced it would acquire Socrata, an early leader in the development of open data portals among state and local governments. The companies said their aim was to make Socrata’s data publishing capabilities available to any government using Tyler’s products.
GT also looked at the rural broadband gap: While 92 percent of the total U.S. population has access to both fixed terrestrial services and mobile LTE, this drops to 68.6 percent in rural areas. While Oregon sought a legislative fix, Minnesota worked to build partnerships between phone and electric cooperatives, with an eye toward leveraging their expertise to expand the reach of rural broadband.
Tiny, two-square-mile West Hollywood, Calif., touts itself as a smart city destination. “We’re kind of like an ideal test bed for a lot of these smart city technologies, because of our size, because of our density,” said Francisco Contreras, innovation manager for West Hollywood.
Two transportation initiatives rose to the fore, with public agencies in opposite regions of the United States implementing the same intelligent software and devices to monitor traffic signals, move vehicles through construction zones and resolve other transit issues. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Pima County, Ariz., both announced they were piloting projects utilizing tools from analytics company Miovision to improve their on-scene vision, communication and analysis.
Transportation took center stage in Florida, too, with Tampa Bay officials signing a memorandum of understanding with the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida to investigate transportation solutions together as a first step toward implementing broader smart cities solutions.
MayHonolulu CIO Mark Wong saved the IT budget $1 million each fiscal year for the past four years by bringing a big chunk of software and hardware development in-house, as well as training for his staff of 150 people — a strategy he recommends to his peers.
A report by the Shared-Use Mobility Center showed that transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft aren’t replacing public transit. While TNCs make up a part of the overall transportation landscape, a survey of riders in multiple cities showed most leaning toward public transit for their daily commute. TNC use did tend to spike on weekends and late in the evenings when transit service typically is scaled back.
William W. Riggs, a professor of management at the University of San Francisco, following his participation in the 2018 National Planning Conference, warned of a possible downside to the rise of AVs: lots more cars on the roadways and, potentially, lots more congestion. “This could have the adverse impact of expanding cities beyond their existing boundaries, gobbling up open spaces, moving people away from downtown areas,” he said.
Park planners meanwhile turned to a new Web-based tool from The Trust for Public Land to better understand park access issues. The ParkServe tool offers detailed mapping and other information about more than 130,000 public parks in more than 14,000 cities and towns. The aim: to help planners determine what share of the community’s residents are within a 10-minute walk to a park, broken down by race and ethnicity, age and household income.
Cyberattacks made headlines in May with a rash of incursions. In just a few days, the hacktivist group AnonPlus, an offshoot of the renowned hacktivist group Anonymous, claimed to have defaced websites operated by the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration, the security site InfraGard Connecticut and the Idaho Legislature.
JuneKansas City, Mo., has a lofty goal: to become “the world’s most connected smart city.” The city issued an RFP for a partner to guide smart city projects, develop a long-term strategic plan, and design and build an “integrated suite of sensors, networks and data and analytics platforms,” according to the RFP. The winning proposal was expected to be selected in mid-October.
Large providers of parking are experiencing revenue declines as flyers opt for Uber or Lyft to get to and from airports. A survey released by the International Parking and Mobility Institute found that transportation network companies are having a significant impact, particularly on curb management strategies as parking officials try to strike the right balance between accessible parking and the many other uses demanding a spot in the public right-of-way.
After using large contracts with relatively few vendors, both Virginia and Georgia are moving toward a multisourcing model for IT services, deploying smaller, more agile conctracts. A key component is a multisourcing service integrator (MSI), a vendor that connects new suppliers coming to work for a state. Georgia brought on Capgemini as its MSI in 2015, while Virginia announced this year that it would retain Science Applications International Corp.
As Sacramento, Calif., pioneers a 5G network this year, one test of the system will be a pilot involving digital license plates on the city’s 35 all-electric Chevy Bolt fleet cars. The digital plates will allow the city to see where its vehicles have been and how many miles they’ve traveled, and will test some of the ways the city might use technology to help ease self-driving vehicles into the existing road network.
One Oregon state employee fell for a phishing scam, which prevented thousands of other staff from corresponding with members of the public via email. The malicious link generated more than 8 million spam emails from an Oregon.gov email address, leading several private email providers to temporarily blacklist the domain Oregon.gov. The state had to work to restore Oregon.gov’s sender reputation score while reminding employees about information security awareness resources.
JulyGoogle Maps announced several changes, including requiring all projects to have an official application programming interface (API) key in order to work. The key also must be attached to a credit card, which Google will charge if users exceed a certain number of API requests. Public-sector officials did not express much concern about the changes, but civic hacking groups that use government data could be impacted.
Rather than stringing fiber-optic cables in the air or burying them underground, a startup called Traxyl is using methyl methacrylate to “glue” the fiber cables to the ground. In projects with Stillwater, Okla., and Fauquier County, Va., Traxyl is looking at last-mile applications, and a city that installs a fiber network could use the product to cheaply run fiber from that central network to the customers who will use it.
A Federal Aviation Administration pilot project is allowing 10 local and state governments and their private partners to test drone operations that are currently restricted: flying drones above groups of people, at night or beyond their line of sight without waivers. The 10 test sites are the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; San Diego; Herndon, Va.; Kansas; North Dakota; the Mosquito Control District in Lee County, Fla.; the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority; North Carolina; Reno, Nev.; and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Iowa is working to become the first state to let citizens use their smartphones as mobile or digital drivers’ licenses (mDL). The state signed contracts with several firms and expects to spend $3.5 million to make the licenses a reality this year. The effort is being watched closely by other states, like Delaware, which began an mDL pilot in March 2018.
When the Department of Justice announced that Russian intelligence officers stole information on approximately 500,000 voters from a hacked state election board website, it raised eyebrows in Illinois. The state previously disclosed that it had notified 76,000 residents that their voter registration data may have been viewed by the attackers. Although the DOJ didn’t specify which state was hit, Illinois officials assume the announcement refers to the Land of Lincoln. The difference in numbers comes down to the methodology used to count the potentially affected voters.
A mega-merger has created one of the largest companies focused explicitly on state and local gov tech in North America, bringing together Superion, TriTech Software Systems and Zuercher, along with the public-sector and health-care business of Aptean. The combined entity, dubbed CentralSquare Technologies in September, provides technology solutions to more than 7,500 public-sector agencies.
AugustAs L.A. Metro builds relationships with private mobility providers such as Uber, Lyft and Lime, its TAP platform is being rebranded as TAPforce, an account-based system. It will allow riders to pay for both the Metro’s bus and light rail system and mobility providers that have partnerships with TAP, like Uber, Lyft and Lime, all within its own system.
Tampa, Fla., is experimenting with a traffic optimization solution from Waycare to better analyze data coming from its own infrastructure — sensors, cameras, and other devices — as well as data points flowing from sources like Waze to provide real-time information about traffic conditions. The cloud-based platform uses machine learning to better understand traffic dynamics and better manage traffic and the city’s response to accidents.
A startup called RideAlong is working with emergency responders in Washington state to improve their interactions with people who have mental health problems by helping providers build profiles for “frequent flyers” — individuals whose names frequently run through the 911 system. In Seattle, RideAlong studied a small group and documented a 35 percent drop in 911 calls related to those people in the six months after Seattle PD started using RideAlong.
Conduent, the large process services company, announced it would sell off six “non-core” gov tech assets to Avenu. Conduent, a Xerox spin-off, will retain most of its government business. The units it’s selling represent about 5 percent of the company’s public-sector business. Avenu, a relatively new portfolio company of Mill Point Capital, focuses on licensing and sales tax collection. Including customers Avenu already had, the deal will give the company close to 3,000 clients in all 50 states and Canada.
SeptemberGovernment Payment Service Inc., known online as GovPayNet, inadvertently exposed at least 14 million customer receipts dating back to 2012, including personal identifying information, according to an investigation by website Krebsonsecurity.com. GovPayNet issued a statement saying that it had addressed a potential issue and no customer suffered as a result of the breach.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills into law that could make manufacturers of Internet-connected devices more responsible for ensuring the privacy and security of Californians. Both bills, which will become law in 2020, require manufacturers of connected devices to equip them with a “reasonable security feature or features” that are designed to protect the device and its information from unauthorized access or modification.
As engineers prepared to remove the Bloede Dam from the Lower Patapsco River in Maryland, scientists were eager to try using drones to track the impact of the dam removal. A team of researchers led by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, planned to use small, off-the-shelf drones to track sediment movement more accurately than ever before, at a fraction of the expense.
Several troubling studies having been published on potential bias and accuracy of certain algorithms used by cities to determine things such as whether someone receives bail or where police resources are deployed. Chris Bousquet of Data-Smart City Solutions argues that the answer to bias in algorithms is to ensure that the automated tools cities rely on to make critical decisions are fair.
OctoberA new player has been added to the list of companies providing permitting, licensing and land management software to government. Oracle now offers a Public Sector Community Development product, thereby inserting itself in the market alongside Tyler Technologies and Accela. Oracle officials believe the flexibility and subscription-based nature of their cloud product will help them reach smaller jurisdictions than they typically engage with.
What does tomorrow’s police force look like? A report from Accenture released in October surveyed officials from around the globe, revealing that the fundamental job of police won’t change, but agencies need to make some adjustments in order to effectively serve and protect their communities in the future. Broader community partnerships and a more flexible, digitally skilled workforce will be needed.
Home to Chicago, Cook County, Ill., has attempted to replace its ERP before. Until recently, a ’90s-era system served the second-most populous county in the country, which operates in a highly federated environment. Announced in September by Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the new $75 million contract to upgrade the ERP uses Oracle software, with IBM serving as system integrator.
In a study of 400 state government websites by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, 41 percent were deemed inaccessible to people with disabilities. If, for example, a blind person visits a state website and the graphics aren’t correctly labeled, a screen reader cannot translate them. As government strives to be more inclusive and accessible, GT columnist Daniel Castro recommends an “accessibility first” strategy.
Wednesday Oct. 3 saw the debut of the “Presidential Alert” system, which hit most smartphones in the U.S. the same way as Amber Alerts do, with the message “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” Sent out by FEMA, the system is designed to allow the president, and the federal government more generally, to communicate directly with Americans during times of crisis.
New York City’s LinkNYC kiosks, which provide Wi-Fi access, phone chargers and more, are helping expose more New Yorkers to open data. Over 1,700 kiosks this fall displayed videos showing real people explaining how they had used some of the city’s 2,000-plus open data sets. The campaign was aimed at letting more people know that not only is open data available, it has real, practical applications.
NovemberWith hotly contested races across the country, all eyes were on election security during the Nov. 6 midterms. Utah was especially prepared to fend off potential threats at its cybercenter, an effort three years in the making. While the state receives 200 million to 300 million attacks per day, they expected that number to double on election night. In preparation, the Department of Homeland Security and Utah’s IT agency worked together on penetration testing the voting systems, which would not have been as effective before the cybercenter’s inception.
Led by the Library Innovation Lab at Harvard Law School, the Caselaw Access Project makes available online more than 6.5 million state and federal legal cases dating back to the 17th century. The initiative, funded by venture capital-backed startup Ravel Law, aims to make court opinions and other related documents free and easily accessible to anyone, and to change the way legal data is made available. “Every field is trying to learn things from big data these days,” said Director Adam Ziegler, “and this data set has a lot to say about our history, our politics and our policy over time.”