2016: The Year in Tech / Breaking Down Barriers to Data, Access

In the first quarter of 2016, innovation, open data, Wi-Fi and the GovTech 100 list took center stage.


In early 2016 we looked at small cities using their size to tackle innovation. Palo Alto, Calif., launched its first Civic Technology Center, a place for municipal innovation, where startups can pitch ideas and citizens can test their skill at hacking city services. Bloomington, Ind., launched a platform aimed at providing renters with up-to-date information about prospective new homes, and Evanston, Ill., kicked off a program that makes restaurant inspection information available to patrons via text.


Jilly’s Cafe in Evanston, Ill., is one of the many local eateries where residents can text for food inspection scores. Jilly’s boasts a score of 98 of 100.

Internet access in libraries is no revolutionary concept, but the idea of taking it home with you is. In Spring Hill, Tenn., a town of around 35,000 people, the public library kicked off a program to improve access to the Internet through rentable Wi-Fi hot spots. Library administrators said the program was a welcome addition to the list of services that offered patrons greater flexibility and connectivity when traveling or at home.

January also marked the release of the first GovTech 100 list, a veritable who’s who of companies focusing their efforts on government technology solutions. As an industry, the private sector’s focus on the public-sector market accounts for more than $180 billion in state and local government business. 2016 GovTech 100 companies average a youthful 9 years old, yet are stiff competition for their much older industry rivals. Look for the 2.0 version of the list in next month’s issue.


The GovTech 100 list is a who’s who of companies focusing on government technology solutions.

Wyoming, a state known for cloud leadership, is the first to make the leap to an as-a-service Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS) deployment, and many other states are paying close attention. Traditionally an expensive, custom-built system, MMIS in the cloud allows states to use a modular approach that can more nimbly satisfy changing requirements, as well as enable new vendors to get in the game.

Just eight days into the New Year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Hochul announced significant high-speed broadband initiatives. Their announcements: A recently approved merger between communications moguls Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications would increase connectivity to 145,000 underserved customers, and a $500 million push from the state is aimed at bringing high-speed Internet to every New Yorker by 2018. The announcements signaled the first phase of the New NY Broadband Program.

The city of Los Angeles was hoping mapping would be the tool to break down data barriers, when Mayor Eric Garcetti and Esri founder Jack Dangermond announced the launch of GeoHub Jan. 29. The idea behind the partnership: centralizing access to a range of useful geographic data sets and empowering agencies to make better-informed decisions. At the time, Southern Edison and the U.S. Geological Survey also demonstrated interest in the project.



New York’s Office of Information Technology is, by CIO Maggie Miller’s calculations, facing a staffing crisis in the next few years. During legislative testimony, Miller cited a potential loss of up to 25 percent of staff to retirement, reducing the state’s average level of IT experience considerably. While the issue is a familiar one to CIOs at every level of government, Miller’s workforce challenge is amplified by union rules that mandate that external hiring can only be for entry-level positions.


New York CIO Maggie Miller. Photo by Jane Shauck.

In February, Las Vegas declared its downtown an “innovation district,” in an economic development move. Public Works Director David Bowers was given authority to lay out policies and procedures for testing emerging technologies in a real-world environment. Officials were hopeful that opening their streets to pilot things like automated vehicles would provide incentive to companies looking for a new place to set up shop.

California began its next-gen open data portal pilot in February. Innovation and Accountability Deputy Secretary Stuart Drown unveiled the website, meant to house all public agency data in one place. The initiative was to replace the state’s original open data website, Data.ca.gov, by June.

Montgomery, Ala., became the first city in the state and just the fourth in the southeastern U.S. to launch an Internet exchange point, the Internet equivalent of a freeway interchange. Instead of Internet service providers, content delivery services and educational institutions routing traffic through Atlanta, they can now route traffic and store data locally. Montgomery’s main ISPs can now serve local customers more easily than if they needed to run backhaul to Atlanta, and many ISPs from Atlanta asked to connect to the new exchange point to add redundancy to their networks.


Thanks to a new Internet exchange point, Montgomery, Ala.’s main ISPs can now serve local customers more easily. Image via Shutterstock.

In an effort to cut down on fake government social media accounts, the U.S. General Services Administration’s SocialGov program released the U.S. Digital Registry, a one-point verification source for agencies using one or more of 17 different social networks. Federal officials said the registry will help ensure safer interactions between citizens and verified agencies. Agencies interested in using the tools first need to authenticate their identities.


In an effort to better prepare for an aging population, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology announced 12 recommendations to help meet growing health and mobility needs in March. The call for research, the promotion of wearables and robotic technology, and improved telehealth technologies were among the priorities outlined by the council.


The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology outlined recommendations to help governments better prepare for an aging population. Image via Flickr/S P Photography.

Google Fiber made headlines in 2016 as municipalities began to embrace the “hyperfast” Internet service — but not all of the news was good. Google set up an office in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood in late March, bringing the potential for as many as 4,000 new jobs. Portland, Ore., and Salt Lake City also welcomed Google offices in late August. But in Austin, Texas, the initial hype around the service gave way to construction-related aggravations and accusations that the project had caused flooding.

The draw of quantum computing is the idea that it is smarter, faster and more powerful than existing computing methods. The manipulation of subatomic particles gives quantum computing its edge, but it also adds a layer of complexity scientists and technologists continue to grapple with. In a look down the road — roughly a decade, according to Bill Gates — the technology could be applied in the cloud.

The chief data scientist has become a more prevalent figure in public-sector IT as government works to put its data to use to serve citizens and internal operations. The White House has one, as do a growing number of states and localities. Boston’s Curt Savoie, who has since snagged a similar position with Massachusetts, worked to develop data literacy among management staff, while in Florida, John Kane helps manage data for the state’s Medicaid program. In Washington, D.C., DJ Patil focuses on using data to better inform federal policy.

DJ Patil

DJ Patil, formerly of LinkedIn and RelateIQ, a subsidiary of Salesforce, is the chief data scientist of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy. Photo via Flickr/ Kmeron.

Due to declining numbers of career public servants, government is getting creative in luring new talent to the public-sector workforce. In addition to recruiting people with nontraditional IT backgrounds, government IT managers ultimately see fewer full-time IT positions in-house. As full-time baby boomers retire, some IT shops are replacing them with part-time positions and outside contractors. The rise of deployable solutions is also pivoting IT skill sets toward project managers, system integrators and user experience specialists, as opposed to the programmers and coders of old.

Back to the 2016 Year in Review