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2017 from A to Z / AI Takes Hold, FirstNet Gains Ground, GovTech Biz Grows

In 2017 Q3, government at all levels tackled driverless cars and confronted the historic breach of credit reporting bureau Equifax.


As the world braces for the reality of driverless cars, this year 21 states put legislation on the books regulating their use. Traditional rules no longer hold up against the rapidly evolving technology, and government has to keep pace. Self-driving vehicles can be spotted in tests from San Francisco to Detroit, and major car companies like Ford, Toyota and BMW have all pledged to put autonomous vehicles on the road in the next five years.

In collaboration with the SANS Institute, seven states partnered with CyberStart, a free online cybersecurity training exercise offering scholarships for students ages 16 and up to help get new talent interested in cybersecurity. As the number of open cyberpositions increases across the nation, the problem of identifying, hiring and retaining qualified workers remains an issue. Early in the year, Virginia alone saw its number of vacant security positions nearly double to 36,000.

Using artificial intelligence (AI) in everyday applications isn’t a thing of the future: It’s happening now. In July, AI startup Waycare secured a pilot project with the city of Las Vegas to use its tech to predict traffic accidents and congestion. The program crunches large data sets to find correlations where humans might not look, allowing, for example, first responders to arrive at incidents more quickly. The deal indicates that Las Vegas is looking to a future of connected and autonomous vehicles, also evident in the city’s growing innovation district.

Innovation lightbulb

In 2017 Ohio took a novel approach to an umbrella analytics RFP, hoping to move past the same cadre of legacy vendors that bid on every project. A streamlined process made it easier for smaller companies without an extensive resume of government work to respond. Ultimately 50 firms were pre-qualified to do analytics work in 14 areas, including transportation, corrections and public health. Now that the vendors are in place, CIO Stu Davis is “anxious to drop one into the cauldron and see what happens.”


Integrated Roadways, a company that’s been pitching government on its idea for years — roads that pay for themselves — finally got a bite from Kansas City, Mo. The pilot project will build sensors, phone and Internet connectivity, and other hardware into 1.5 miles of pavement that could support communication for self-driving cars or charge the batteries of electric vehicles as they drive.

2017 was a big year for government chatbots. From Los Angeles’ Chip, short for “City Hall Internet Personality” to Mississippi’s Missi, digital assistants are helping residents get more out of online public services like city websites, pothole reporting and open data. In Utah, an app for Amazon’s Alexa can help people study for their drivers’ test. More than just flashy AI-powered tech, chatbots allow agencies to automate answering simple citizen questions, giving staff time to deal with more complicated requests.

State and local officials were not immune to the frenzy of activity surrounding the total solar eclipse that crossed the U.S. on Aug. 21. Oregon was the first state in the eclipse’s path of totality, and anticipated 1 million visitors to pour in for the occasion. To bolster public safety and accommodate the influx, officials used GIS technology to share data via maps to help coordinate their efforts and track traffic congestion, air quality and wildfires, among other concerns.


Following more than a decade of development, FirstNet made some tangible progress in 2017. The public-private partnership led by AT&T will allow first responders to pre-empt other traffic on a dedicated, interoperable broadband network. As of press time, 30 states and two territories had opted in to the contract, and remaining states have until Dec. 28 to make their decisions. Opt-out states must create their own network that meets FirstNet standards. In August, Verizon, which did not bid on the FirstNet contract, announced plans for a rival network aimed at public safety, but the impacts on FirstNet are not yet clear.


As part of the ongoing conversation about law enforcement surveillance, a company called Callyo wants to make it easier for police to record their exchanges with the public. A solution to the expensive problem of data storage created by police body-camera recordings, the 10-21 Video smartphone app allows users to stream unlimited video to the cloud cheaply and easily.

In what has been called the biggest gov tech deal ever, in late September, Boston-based private equity firm Berkshire Partners acquired government permitting and licensing vendor Accela. While detailed numbers were not released, Accela CEO Ed Daihl noted that investments from Berkshire Partners are typically upward of half a billion dollars, a massive leap from the usual activity among gov tech companies, signaling a potential shift in the market.

The historic breach of credit reporting bureau Equifax made public Sept. 7 is believed to have exposed the personal information of 145.5 million Americans, although its impact on state and local government was unclear. A number of cities and states, including San Francisco, Chicago and Massachusetts, sued Equifax seeking restitution for citizens. Adding to concerns over cybersecurity, the breach on global consulting firm Deloitte announced Sept. 25 raised similar questions, but the company reported that none of its government clients were affected.


Back to the 2017 Year in Review

Lauren Harrison is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.