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Public Sector IT Trends

 

PSD in conversation with

  • Chris White, Cisco
  • Christine Swenor, City of Burlington
  • Connie McCutcheon, Niagara Region

 

Information Technology (IT) is top of mind for governments around the world.

From Smart Cities to Open Data, the public sector is fast adopting cutting edge technologies in order to improve service delivery, strengthen transparency, and eventually reduce costs. PSD attended the Municipal Information Systems Associa-

tion (MISA) of Ontario Annual Conference in order to scan emerging trends in public sector IT. PSD spoke with Chris White, Cisco’s Senior VP of IoE/IoT Global Sales, in- coming MISA President Christine Swenor, and MISA VP Connie McCutcheon to find out what technologies and IT strategies should be on the radar of public sector IT managers and innovators.

 

I.   HARNESSING THE POWER OF THE IOE

 

A global IT leader, Cisco is helping governments around the world address the challenges of today’s increasingly ur- ban environments through connectivity. Cities, states, and countries are embracing the Internet of Everything (IoE), using smart street lighting, smart video surveillance, and environment and infrastructure sensing to transform the citizen experience, increase efficiency, and lower costs. With an estimated $19 trillion impact on the global economy, including $4.6 trillion in value for the public sector alone, the IoE has a plethora of benefits. The following is an edit- ed transcript of PSD’s conversation with Cisco’s Chris White.

 

How is the IoE transforming cities today and changing how government services are offered?

 

We’re seeing the public sector as an early adopter of the IoE and Smart Cities. That’s good news because the pub- lic sector has been a bit of a laggard, letting others experiment. So, with the Smart Cities initiative we’re seeing cities around the world innovate and accelerate faster than ever before. That’s the exciting part.

 

You have to ask yourself what’s changed. Is it just because we’ve replaced many mayors and we now have lots of innovative leaders? That’s part of it, but more of the components are commercially available now. We’ve moaned about traffic congestion and parking for decades. Now all of a sudden you can analyze traffic flow, you can inci- dent-enable parking spots, and you can do something about it. It’s not that cities have been doing nothing; they just haven’t had the tools or technology to really make a big impact.

 

There was a Smart Cities Expo in Barcelona in November 2014 and over 600 cities from around the world at- tended, and not just the big marquis cities. There were about 60 small cities from South America, as an example. It’s a great equalizer. Suddenly, you don’t have to have the capital of a Chicago or a Barcelona. Mississauga, On- tario putting in infrastructure to help with traffic congestion is a great example. It’s a good time for the public sector.

 

What first steps should cities seeking to be more connected and achieve Smart City status take?

 

The flippant answer is get started. There has been hesitation, asking, is it real? Is it viable? The good news – es- pecially over the past 12 to 24 months – is the emergence of numerous case studies and examples that provide people with examples of how others have done it. Step one would literally be to get started. Number two is to fig- ure out what the plan of attack is, the architectural approach. It shouldn’t just be random, irrational experimen- tation. It should be determining the challenges and opportunities your city faces over the next five to ten years, whether you’re big or small. Is it innovation? Congestion? Retaining talent from your universities? Then, figure out how an architectural approach to digitization can solve that issue.

 

You mentioned retaining talent, which is certainly a big problem for many smaller municipalities in the IT sector especially. What are some of the other big challenges you’re seeing?

 

One you can’t avoid is the overall operating efficiency of some cities. Public entities around the world are being challenged to operate like private entities. They’re asking whether they can use the IoE to not just balance the check book but also to look at areas that could actually start generating revenue. Smart lighting is a great exam- ple. Most cities have to offer lighting as a service to their citizens for safety. You can look at lighting as intelligent lighting, providing bright lighting when an area is being used and dimming the lights to reduce the energy being used when it’s not.

 

What are the IT and smart technology trends you’re seeing in the public sector? Do you tend to see comprehensive implementation of smart technologies or are cities adopting one or two digital prac- tices here and there?

 

There are some macro trends and some micro trends. The macro trends include the Smart Cities initiative, which is phenomenal. As an example. Dubai is a pretty connected city already, yet they’re feeling the pressure of the rest of the world catching up. So, the megatrends are Smart Cities and Big Data – and technology trends within that like cloud computing and virtualization that will help the transformation.

 

The micro trends, that aren’t actually so micro, are things like smart lighting. We’ve made an investment in a company called Sun City in the Bay area that doesn’t just do LED lighting, they replace that lightbulb with an in- telligent lightbulb which has multiple capabilities. It’s not just light; it provides technology and environmental tracking. If you look at the expense for cities, the cost of operating a truck to go replace thousands of lightbulbs in big cities is pretty significant. It’s about what you can do with that asset while you’re there, and thinking through the business benefits that are helping prioritize these micro trends.

 

 

 

 

How can municipalities make the most of such technological trends while still maintaining security, especially when faced with tight budgets?

 

You definitely can’t ignore it. You have to be very conscious of your security strategy. There are a couple layers to it. First, the physical security – literally using cameras and monitoring to help provide a secure environment. Then there is the network/cyber security aspect of making sure you have an architectural approach. What I’m ob- serving is a lot of money and time being spent on IT security and as these worlds converge, people aren’t thinking through the OT (Operational Technology) security side enough. They underestimate that a lot of the principles involved in securing the IT network can be very much reused in the OT world. An example can be found in Ger- many where manufacturing floors are worried about people being able to drive into their parking lots and get on their Wi-Fi network to access their manufacturing floor. If you think about it, we were dealing with that in offices at least 15 to 20 years ago. You can implement an architectural approach to security to solve that fairly easily be- cause it’s the same methodologies and much of the same technologies that you use in your IT network. So, with- out minimizing the expense, I don’t think it’s quite as expensive as some think it is. Many of the components are readily available.

 

With the IoT/IoE, what do you foresee cities looking like in five to ten years?

 

When you think of connectivity today, it’s a pain in the neck. When travelling, for example, you have to go to Starbucks to access Wi-Fi or consider whether your hotel provides guests with free internet access. You can’t un- derestimate the ubiquity of connectivity. It’s a big deal. Being able to get connected and have the bandwidth you really need to experience a digital future is paramount. Being connected in parks and cities, having an insatiable amount of access to video content, is transformative.

 

Secondly, with global urbanization taking place, more people are coming to cities. My local city of San Diego is a great example. It claims to be one of the most connected cities in the United States, with 250 acres of Wi Fi con- nectivity. Once they’re online cities are asking themselves what else they can do with it. If you think about flying into a city, you might be connected on the plane, you might have Wi Fi in the airport, you might go get the city app or the stadium app – but that’s a pretty cumbersome experience. What I think you’re going to see is a more seamless transition from one digital environment to the next. Your smart phone will automatically configure to your environment, so we won’t have to experience the inconvenience manually. All that being said, I can try to predict what things will be like five to ten years from now but I think it will be a wildly conservative estimate be-

        cause things are going to change at such a great rate.                                                                                                           

 

 

II.   THE MUNICIPAL PERSPECTIVE

 

In Ontario, the IT sector is thriving, though not without challenges. Over 100 municipal IT professionals and private sector partners gathered in London, Ontario in June 2015 to share knowledge, technologies, and strategies. PSD caught up with Christine Swenor, MISA President and Director of Information Technology Services at the City of Bur- lington and Connie McCutcheon, MISA Vice President and Senior Business Analyst at the Regional Municipality of Niagara to discuss the IT trends and challenges faced by Ontario municipalities and the initiatives currently being adopted by their respective municipalities.

 

What IT initiatives do your respective cities have underway?

 

Christine Swenor: We’re just wrapping up an eGovernment program to focus our online service as a channel that is centered on the customer. It involves bringing our customers to the web to do business with the City of Bur- lington, making sure they feel comfortable doing that and creating convenience. The eGovernment program con- solidates 11 projects that were being managed individually. So, we’re focusing on some new, transformational ini- tiatives, but also on keeping the house in order through disaster recovery, making sure our systems are reliable.

 

Our council is currently undertaking a Strategic Plan. In parallel to that I’m going to be leading a Corporate IT Strategy. We’re going to be defining what we need to do in technology as a corporation over the next three to five years. Open data is top of mind for us, and it’s interesting how different municipalities are taking different ap- proaches. We’ve actually incorporated it into our eGovernment program.

 

Lastly, we’ve adopted BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – which has been received well by our staff because they can bring their own device to work instead of having to carry two devices. We’re recognizing that mobility and connectivity are really the way of the future.

 

 

 

 

 

“Open data is top of mind for us, and it’s interesting how different municipalities are taking different approaches. We’ve actually incorporated it into our eGovernment program.”

 

 

 

Connie McCutcheon: In Niagara, we’re working to implement our council’s vision, which is fostering an environ- ment for economic prosperity. So, a lot of the IT initiatives tie directly into that. It looks at how we might be able to do business differently and be more responsible to our customers through customer service, so Niagara Region can work efficiently as a whole. IT is one element of creating that environment.

 

What are the biggest public sector IT trends you’re currently seeing?

 

Connie McCutcheon: IT governance, Open Data, and Open Government are a big focus. Oftentimes we look to our partners in an organization like MISA to help us understand those trends. From another perspective, munic- ipalities are creatures of the province so the province often helps. With things like Open Government, the Prov- ince of Ontario just declared that it is going to be open by default and they’re doing a lot of citizen engagement around that. The federal government has done so as well with the G8 Charter on Open Government. So, we’re trying to work more and more collectively with all levels of government to achieve synergies.

 

How is data being used to better your respective communities?

 

Christine Swenor: There is so much data generated within and outside an organization. That data can turn into really useful information and can help the organization make decisions, both on a daily basis and looking forward strategically. Internally, we have terabytes upon terabytes of data. So, we need to learn how to manage that data and use it effectively. Most organizations and municipalities have performance measures that they use to report performance to the public, but they also use them internally to monitor how they’re doing in each business area. That requires data. There are tools in the marketplace that allow you to extract data from different resources, and perform analytics and predictive analysis.

 

We have a major project in the City of Burlington to implement the tools we need to make that happen with the plethora of data that we have. Environics Analytics provides great data. We’ve signed up with them for three years. For example, they provide us with community data. Our Fire Department will take some of that data, as well as our own map-based data and determine where the pockets of risk are in our community for fire. Then they’ll use that information for fire prevention.

 

Connie McCutcheon: In the keynote [at MISA Ontario 2015], it was noted that there’s more data now created in one year than the previous 5,000. That really hit home for me. Releasing that data as open data as much as we can, and the innovation factor for our citizens is unprecedented as we look at data in ways that we haven’t before. There’s potential even between departments within the same organization that may or may not have shared data before. We’re getting much more efficient within our own organization as we embark on sharing it with the out- side world.

 

What challenges do you face in the IT sector?

 

Christine Swenor: Things change so quickly. When you’re in a municipal IT department, agility is a difficult thing. You can’t do everything. But, mobility is not going away so there are certain things that are necessary to tackle. It just takes time.

 

Connie McCutcheon: Overall in IT, it’s the speed of innovation. Every day we wake up and there’s something new. The challenge is deciding which wave to ride. We have to look at what meets the needs of our organization, stra- tegically speaking. That’s why it’s so important to be aligned with your council’s business plan.