Whatever Happened To ... Texas Town’s QR Codes, Multistate Cloud Storage Initiative, Utah’s Hybrid Cloud?

Revisiting Manor, Texas QR codes; shared unemployment insurance systems; Utah's state-hosted cloud.

by / August 27, 2013
While QR codes are no longer used by Manor, the initiative brought big attention to the small town.

No More QR Codes for Manor, Texas

The Original Story: In 2008, the small town of Manor, Texas, began using free QR code technology to provide information to residents and visitors. The town — located in the Austin metro area and the setting for the 1993 film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape — was believed to be the first local government to use QR codes for this purpose.

The town affixed 24 QR code signs to landmarks and structures throughout the community. Aided by downloadable, free software for mobile phones, users could scan a QR code, which then directed them to a website for more information.

The project was spearheaded by the city’s 22-year-old CIO, Dustin Haisler, who told Government Technology in 2009 that he discovered QR code technology while looking for a way to streamline Manor’s filing system. He viewed the QR code project as an economic development tool, designed to appeal to workers at Austin-area technology firms.

Project Update: Manor’s commitment to QR codes faded with changes to city leadership, but Haisler says the pioneering deployment had a strong influence on other local governments. When Haisler left the city in 2010 for a job in private industry, City Manager Phil Tate continued the QR code program until he retired. The new city manager opted not to continue the initiative, said Haisler, who is now president of a California-based tech startup. Although the program hit a roadblock in Manor, the town’s former CIO continues to believe in the value of QR code deployments.

“The benefits were around tourism and transparency,” Haisler said. “Historical markers (and other city landmarks) had QR-codes affixed and linked to online descriptions, photos and movies that contained more information. The transparency aspects were around city projects, which contained links to a website with up-to-date information on the project, completion date, etc.”

He added that Manor’s groundbreaking project inspired new ways to make information accessible for citizens. “Today there are countless examples of communities using QR codes for a variety of purposes,” he said. “It’s been very cool to watch how they have spread from inventory tags to landmarks to full marketing campaign vehicles.” -- Justine Brown

Progress Is Mixed on Multistate Cloud Storage Initiative

The Original Story: In December 2011, Government Technology wrote about a promising effort by four states to collaborate on cloud data storage. Seeking to cut the cost of housing GIS data, the states joined together to investigate the possibility of a cloud-based storage initiative. “We’re wondering if there isn’t an opportunity to aggregate the volume, drive some costs down and work more cooperatively,” said Dugan Petty, who was Oregon CIO at the time.

Government Technology reported that in 2010, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and Montana asked vendors for input on how to store GIS data from multiple states in the cloud. After producing a request for information in December 2010, they worked on an RFP with the Western States Contracting Alliance (WSCA), which facilitates multistate purchasing.

Project Update: In some ways, the project has proceeded more slowly than hoped, and in other ways it has expanded. Paul Stembler, cooperative development coordinator for the WSCA-NASPO Cooperative Purchasing Organization, said that shortly before the RFP went out to vendors, the states asked to expand the scope to include other types of data such as video from traffic and CCTV cameras. “Basically the contract was reworked so that there was a band for GIS and a band for general cloud services. And the vendors could respond to either or both.” The awardees, selected in 2012, were Dell, Dewberry, Esri and Unisys.  

Stembler said many other states and public-sector organizations have shown an interest in participating. “As of now, we have participation addendum agreements signed by Hawaii, Iowa, the University of Maryland, Montana and Utah,” he said. “They are working on it in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, as well as Missouri.

“Negotiating the deal did take longer than most contracts, not because it is IT or cloud, but because this is a space we have never dealt with before,” Stembler added. “Anytime we are opening up a new area, we want to make sure we are asking the right questions.”

But if the contracts are getting signed, apparently the data is taking longer to actually get into the cloud. Kyle Hilmer, director of IT planning and strategy for Montana, said the state is preparing to put data in the cloud but has moved slowly for a couple of reasons: “First, we had a change of CIO in February and he hasn’t had a chance to review this yet. We also had our GIS leader for the state retire, and we haven’t replaced him.”

Montana signed addendums with three of the four vendors but still has issues to work through with Esri about terms and conditions. “We targeted GIS because it was a massive amount of data and the risk is minimal,” Hilmer said. “All of the states thought we would be further along than we are. The negotiations took much longer than we thought. And with change in CIOs in several states, there was no way around the delay.” -- David Raths

Utah’s Hybrid Cloud Dissipates

The Original Story: As early as 2010, Utah CIO Steve Fletcher was pitching the idea of a “hybrid cloud” that would offer state agencies, local governments and schools a package of software, platform and infrastructure services built upon a mix of state-hosted services and commercial products. The offerings were to be hosted within the state’s newly consolidated data center. Fletcher saw the “hybrid cloud” as the wave of the future, allowing governments to pick and choose a solution.

In a January 2010 interview with Government Technology, Fletcher said that as many as eight Utah cities had expressed interest in joining a state-hosted cloud. At the time, Utah’s Department of Technology Services was defining a package of hosted services that could be offered to these customers, Fletcher said.

Project Update: When 280,000 Social Security numbers were pilfered last year from a Utah Department of Health server, the incident forced Fletcher out as CIO — and effectively killed his vision for the state’s IT future.

Utah finished consolidating its cabinet-level agencies into a single data center, which is saving millions of dollars, said current Utah CIO Mark VanOrden. But the hybrid cloud project fizzled. Utah now has the capacity to sell hosted services, VanOrden said, but “very little of this has happened.” He cited “political reasons” as one obstacle.

“I would say that Steve’s vision did not get off the ground like he had hoped it would,” VanOrden said. -- Matt Williams

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