Year in Review 2015: Innovation Takes Off

In the second quarter of 2015, a few states created digital registries to track medical and recreational marijuana distribution centers, Facebook unveiled verified pages for government and transportation officials in Missouri unveil plans to launch America’s first smart highway.


The Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Medical Services contracts Hewlett-Packard (HP) to implement one piece of its $190 million Medicaid Management Information System. HP is charged with implementing the core module of the three-part system — the other two parts are pharmacy and decision support modules. The modular design allowed the state to stay flexible, adjusting quickly to new state and federal policies, while continuing to process daily Medicaid claims.


Through partnerships with NIC, Hawaii and Maine debut online systems to help better track medical and recreational marijuana distribution centers. By embracing digital systems, both states saved hundreds of hours of worker processing, while also slashing fraud and making it easier and faster for medical professionals to consult an official centralized database.


Facebook unveils verified pages for government. Before this, verified status was reserved for large companies and well-known people. The trend toward legitimizing the identity of government agencies on social media was embraced by Twitter too, and in today’s climate of growing cyberattacks and parody social media accounts, verification is as important for government as ever.

As many parts of the country embrace electric vehicles (EV), Georgia takes a step back in repealing an EV tax credit. Local car dealers estimate the move will lead to a steep decline in EV sales. The 17-year-old alternative fuel credit was originally passed after Atlanta found itself in violation of federal air standards. In part repealed for its generous size, a smaller EV credit may be considered next year.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announces “the pLAn,” a sustainability road map and data-driven performance metrics website for city operations. Statistics like average daily water use, air pollution and job growth are all easily trackable from the site, with deeper analysis of each statistic just one click away. The city uses the tool to measure department heads against their goals and provide a benchmark for overall progress.


Los Angeles' performance dashboard tracks the city's economic and environmental goals.

Despite their initial reluctance to make the jump to cloud-based infrastructure, state CIOs said the need to cut costs and modernize vital systems is making cloud technology an attractive business solution. A number of CIOs at the NASCIO Mid-Year Conference said their plans include an aggressive push to replace traditional data centers with hosted centers within the next few years. While there’s growing interest in moving away from clunky legacy systems, decision-makers are aware of the challenges posed by retraining staff and meeting the network capacity in some parts of the country.

A three-year, $42 million What Works Cities initiative is announced by Bloomberg Philanthropies, an effort to help U.S. cities with between 100,000 and 1 million residents put their data to work. The program connects 100 cities with expertise from organizations like the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Performance Lab, Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Government Excellence and the Sunlight Foundation to build upon or establish data-driven programs and tech tools that improve quality of life for citizens.

Sounding Off

Minnesota CIO Tom Baden
On innovation:
“When you see disruptions happening around you — which are generally signaled by customers knocking at your door asking for something you’ve never heard of — you need to lean in and ask them, ‘How can I help you?’ instead of saying no. You can’t predict the future, so the next best thing is to be able to adapt quickly when change finds you." -- Steve Nichols, CTO, Georgia


The unsanctioned use of hardware and software by government employees has been an ongoing concern in public-sector IT, but the growing popularity of the cloud has added another facet to security concerns. The potential for data leaks from unregulated systems has administrators worried about sensitive information like Social Security numbers getting into the wrong hands. With staff using so-called “shadow IT” against policy, CIOs have had to look at new ways to manage their data and employees to prevent unauthorized use of technology while not stifling innovative impulses.


President Obama launches the Police Data Initiative to increase law enforcement accountability through the use of data. The program is part of the larger Task Force on 21st Century Policing, announced last year, and will open police data from participating agencies for public use and review. Twenty-one cities across the U.S. are taking part in the program.

The Internet of Things is the tool behind a New Jersey Turnpike Authority plan to collect and use data to better move traffic along the complicated and popular roadway system. With the help of IBM, the agency created the Advanced Traffic Management Program as a centralized command and control system charged with monitoring traffic flow on the Turnpike and Garden State Highway. By leveraging assets like embedded roadway sensors, controllers can monitor slowing traffic speeds.


Transportation operator Robert Strauss uses traffic management software in the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's Command and Control Center that helps manage traffic and congestion on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, two of the most heavily traveled highways and busiest toll roads in the United States. Photo by Mike McLaughlin/Feature Photo Service for IBM

foster-care-data-map-dqc.jpgSharing data across the child welfare and education systems is a key step in breaking down the barriers between foster youth and their education. In California alone, the mobility rate of foster children is roughly four times that of other students. According to a report from the Data Quality Campaign and the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, states that securely share limited, critical information between schools and child welfare staff can help with timely enrollment and transfer of credits if a school change is needed; identify the need for educational support; work with school staff to address attendance and discipline issues; and assist with transition planning to post-graduation activities like higher education.


Where does the future of government portals lie? The ongoing debate between mobile apps and mobile-responsive websites may lead many decision-makers to take a moderate approach, where both strategies are employed to meet the needs of the populace. While each method has strengths and weaknesses, the hybrid approach to reaching an increasingly mobile-dependent audience has proved to be the best bet for many organizations.


David Puntenney, IT director of Westminster, Colo., calls hybrid apps a “tempting proposition.” Photo by Paul Wedlake

After starts and stops, North Carolina first responders finally have access to Band 14, a frequency earmarked for public safety use. In addition, police and fire agencies in the state will have the ability to share information with personnel in the field through the use of upgraded 4G devices, allowing for greater access to GIS mapping systems and crime analytics programs. Officials had some reservations about relying on private-sector partners, but ultimately said the costs of a government-owned system would have far exceeded the current arrangements.

Seeking to root out fraud in state social service programs, Georgia awarded a four-year contract to Pondera Solutions in June. Pondera is set to have a system operational by January that will cross-check information between data sets, including addresses, Social Security Administration deceased records and multiple people sharing bank accounts. The system will then create a “fraud score” for state government users.

Transportation officials unveil preliminary plans to rework a 200-mile stretch of Missouri’s Interstate 70 in the hopes of claiming the title of America’s first smart highway. I-70 is a vital roadway for businesses in the state, and more than 31 million tons of freight, valued at $59 billion, travel the route each year. The Missouri Transportation Department called for residents, industry and entrepreneurs to submit ideas for what they would like to see in the initiative, named the Road to Tomorrow.

Sounding Off

Minnesota CIO Tom Baden
On open data:
“Until we understand and analyze our own data, we’re going to waste money and time at the agency level. So it isn’t just about citizen engagement or valuable research around our data that can benefit society. But also this idea that by bringing our data together and sharing it with each other we can save staff hours and get more done for the state. " -- Janet Gilmore, digital government director, Texas

As IT staffs age and the competition for young blood in the private sector heats up, public CIOs are turning to outside help to pick up the slack. CIOs at the Texas Digital Government Summit said they’ve outsourced functions such as data center services and hired third-party contractors to augment permanent staffs. Meanwhile, the Texas Workforce Commission has set up an internship program to help draw in younger employees.


Stephen Elkins, CIO of Austin, Texas, says he will utilize flexible sourcing to deal with the impending baby boomer retirement wave. Photo by David Kidd

Automated license plate recognition systems
have gained recognition from law enforcement agencies nationwide as a valuable tool in the fight against crime. From locating stolen cars to helping solve murders, the technology is loved by some but raises privacy questions for others about how long the information is kept and who has access to it. A number of states have either legislated use of the systems or were working to create legislation in the 2015 session.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency releases an updated version of its open data in the form of an interactive disaster map. The comprehensive online tool chronicles man-made and natural disasters throughout the U.S. and breaks the types and numbers of incidents down by state and county. Though the information was already released by the agency, the new map format makes it easier for users to access data.

The FEMA data visualization tool breaks down how many disasters have hit each state and county, and what types of disasters were experienced. Click the image to visit the tool.

Chicago’s Department of Finance put a new tax in place in June that applies to cloud-based services like Netflix, causing outcry from critics who say that only elected officials can levy new taxes. The department is pushing into new legal territory — one observers expect will end up in court — but it’s not alone. The Washington state Legislature, along with the Michigan Department of Treasury and Alabama Revenue Department, have also attempted similar taxes.

Back to the 2015 Year in Review

Miriam Jones is chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. She joined e.Republic in 2000 as an editor of Converge magazine.