Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shift Technology Investments to the Field by Providing Mobile Technology to Police Officers

District of Columbia Arms Public Safety Officers With New Technology

Today District of Columbia Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, District Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Vivek Kundra, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Cathy L. Lanier, Fire Department Chief Dennis Rubin, and Office of Unified Communications (OUC) Director Janice Quintana announced the deployment of 1,006 mobile data computers to fire, emergency medical, and police officers in the field.

“Our public safety officers work hard to keep District residents safe,” said Mayor Fenty. “We’re always pursuing new methods to make their work more efficient and keep them in the field helping people, not in the office shuffling paper."

The deployment represents the latest step in MPD’s ongoing campaign to incorporate technology into its operation and to improve public safety. Law enforcement personnel are now equipped for the first time with mobile technology that will allow them to automatically generate electronic reports. This electronic reporting function will greatly improve the timeliness and accuracy of data.

Recently, MPD deployed 812 units mounted in police cruisers and assigned to specialized units. With the new laptops, police officers can perform real-time inquiries on wanted persons, drivers, stolen property, weapons and vehicles.

In the future, MPD and the District will issue hand-held personal digital assistants (PDAs) providing the same functions as the mobile laptops to officers on foot patrol, Segways, bicycles and motorcycles.

“This technology makes us more efficient. Our officers are able to spend more time patrolling our neighborhoods and communities,” said Chief Lanier.

OUC, which is responsible for 911 and 311 operations, is also responsible for the District’s radio division. The radio division provides system maintenance and support for the 9,000 radios across 18 agencies with primary users being MPD and the Fire Department. OUC will also provide system maintenance and support for the mobile data computers initiative. “Our goal is to ensure that the first responders for Fire, EMS and MPD have the latest and most reliable communication technology so they can respond quickly and safely to those in an emergency,” said OUC Director, Janice Quintana.

“Our new technology investments give us a common operating view of public safety in the District,” said CTO Kundra. “By arming our front line officers with technology, we’re ensuring that they have the information they need to protect residents anytime, anywhere.”

Fire Department
The District has deployed the remaining 194 mobile data computers to the Fire Department’s trucks and ambulances. With their new vehicle-mounted laptops, firefighters and ambulance will receive not only dispatch orders, but also maps from the District’s GIS system to direct them to the exact locations identified in 911 calls. In addition, the computers in command vehicles utilize GIS technology to map the location of fire hydrants, along with the most current data from the Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) about which hydrants are working PDAs, complete with maps, help firefighters and WASA crews manage the hydrant inspections.

In the future, the Fire Department computers will be equipped with additional software, including patient care data and floor maps of the locations of fire emergencies.

“When fire strikes or someone has a heart attack, there’s not a minute to spare,” said Fire Chief Rubin. “This technology brings even more resources to bear for our first responders, who help people every day in our city.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

District of Columbia Launches Open Innovation Challenge

Today the District of Columbia Chief Technology Office of the Officer (OCTO) announced “Apps for Democracy,” an initiative to develop new software applications to make the DC government’s data more accessible and useful for the general public and the government. Register for the contest at http://apps08.eventbrite.com/.

The District collects and maintains vast stores of data on every aspect of government operations, from government contracts to crime statistics to economic development and much more. The District has already organized and published this data in a real-time data catalog at http://data.octo.dc.gov/. The new initiative will solicit the best and most cost-effective ways to package and present this data for easy viewing, analysis, and repurposing by the public.

Technology developers are invited to compete in creating applications for popular consumer technologies like iPhones, Facebook, Map Mashups and others. Developers must use open source programming.

The contest is open to the general public and will run for a month from October 14 through November 14, 2008. The District will host a kick-off on October 16 and will conduct five open “Innovation Labs” each weekend to help contestants find collaborators. The contest will conclude on November 13 with an awards ceremony to unveil the winning applications. Additional contest details and guidelines for entries can be found at http://www.appsfordemocracy.org/.

The contest will serve as a catalyst to visualize the District’s data so it will be useful to the citizens of DC, improving their quality of life; foster innovation in the DC technology community resulting in startup formation and growth; solve the technology challenges of OCTO through more cost effective open collaboration; and work towards a new model for government/private sector cross collaboration that can be utilized repeatedly to solve our challenges and serve as an example for other governments.

“The Apps for Democracy contest is part of our drive toward digital democracy in the nation’s capital,” said District CTO Vivek Kundra. “Especially in these difficult economic times, it’s crucial to the government’s mission to find more efficient and impactful methods for delivering an even higher level of service for a fraction of the cost. We are ushering in a new age of participatory democracy, one in which technology is developed by the people for the people.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

District of Columbia Opens Virtual Permit Center in Ward 5

Today District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Director Linda Argo, and District Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Vivek Kundra announced the opening of the District’s first neighborhood online service center in Ward 5.

The new Virtual Permit Center offers a popular District online service, DCRA’s “Postcard Permit” for home improvements. The Center is located at a site that is a Mecca for home improvement professionals and do-it-yourselfers—the District’s The Home Depot store at 901 Rhode Island Ave NE. The Home Depot is highly Metro-accessible, right next to the Rhode Island Ave Metro station on the Red Line.

For the first time, District residents and licensed contractors planning home improvement projects can get both the materials they need, and the required permits, all in one trip. Permit applicants can also take advantage of Home Depot’s extended, seven-day-a-week service hours: 6 am-10 pm Monday-Saturday and 8 am-7 pm Sunday.

“We are always looking for ways to make District services more accessible and convenient for our residents,” said Mayor Fenty. Now residents can combine their permit application with their visit to Home Depot and skip the trip to DCRA.”

The Virtual Permit Center is easy to find in the front of The Home Depot store. There are two self-service kiosks each equipped with computers linked to the District’s Postcard Permit system. The online process for Postcard Permits at The Home Depot Virtual Permitting Center is exactly the same as from any other computer: The permit applicant submits the information required for the particular type of permit requested (e.g., plumbing, electrical, structural), pays the associated fee with a credit card, and prints out a paper permit for his or her records. The applicant can call the DCRA Permits Customer Service Center at (202) 442-4589 at any time for assistance in completing the process.

The new Virtual Permit Center is the latest in a series of enhancements to streamline and modernize DCRA’s building permitting process. Last year, DCRA unveiled a completely overhauled and innovative new permit center at 941 North Capitol Street, NE, Room 2300, offering customers a more efficient and pleasant environment, as well as accessibility for permit applicants with disabilities.

“We know how busy people are—and how much they’re paying for gas these days,” said DCRA Director Argo. “With the Virtual Permit Center, we aim to minimize time, expense, and hassle for every District resident who’s doing a home improvement project.”

The District’s central technology agency, the Office of the Technology Officer (OCTO), collaborated with DCRA and Home Depot to establish the new Virtual Permit Center.

“We thank our partners at The Home Depot for collaborating with us to bring District government services to our customers where it’s most convenient for them,” said CTO Kundra. “The Virtual Permit Center is one of many steps we’re taking to enable our customers to deal with government on their own time and their own terms.”

Friday, October 10, 2008

Help Government Work Better, Faster by Switching to Cloud Services

Build Applications Faster, Cheaper by Leveraging Cloud Computing

Transforming Government with “Cloud Computing”

No one would be surprised to hear that the District of Columbia government gets our electricity from wall outlets and our drinking water from the tap. What might open some eyes is our use of “cloud computing,” an exciting new approach to provide email and manage our procurement much like we use these other utilities.

"Cloud computing" provides an innovative way for technology consumers—including governments—to obtain technology resources and services simply and cost-effectively. Cloud computing is to technology what the electrical grid is to the delivery of electricity or the public water-supply system is to the delivery of water. Once, every household, or every little town, had its own generator; every farm or village once had its own well. Households or villages had to maintain their generators and wells and protect them from weather, theft, and other harm. Today, consumers obtain electricity by simply plugging an appliance into a wall outlet and get clean water by simply turning on the tap—because large public utilities like the power company or the water and sewer company can meet these needs. In the same way, we can meet technology needs by reaching into the "cloud". In the cloud are companies like Google that maintain extensive technology resources, leveraging economies of scale to offer these resources to customers at a reasonable price.

With cloud computing, government technologists can obtain services from the cloud instead of maintaining their own hardware, software, and facilities and staff to house and operate them. Take email, for example. The District's email system serves 38,000 people. Previously, providing this basic technology service required us to purchase and maintain hundreds of servers, software to run on them, data centers to house the servers, security staff to protect the data centers, electricity to power them, and staff to operate and manage all this hardware, software, and real estate. In addition to incurring tremendous cost, we always had to worry about strains on the capacity of our email system, and we were effectively in many other businesses besides technology—like power, real estate, and security. With cloud computing, we can now obtain virtually unlimited email capacity at a much lower cost. Our technologists can get out of the real estate, power, and security businesses and instead focus on deploying technology solutions to meet our government service needs—like improving community policing, human services, education, and "back office" government operations.

This new strategy has already helped the District inaugurate a new era of transparency in one of the most time-consuming aspects of government operations—procurement. Using technology tools obtained via cloud computing, we have created government wiki sites to publish Requests for Proposals, solicit feedback, and share updates with vendors and the public for major procurements such as a new Evidence Warehouse for the police department and staff augmentation for our technology agency. We have harnessed YouTube to broadcast bidder conferences and other information to vendors and the public. Our cloud computing tools have also helped us launch procurements faster by enabling government employees to collaborate in creating procurement documents online.

The result is not just faster procurements, but more effective and more equitable ones. All interested parties get the same information at the same time, and a much broader range of potential vendors can participate than ever before. With more vendors participating, we extend procurement opportunities to more businesses, and government saves money through broader competition.

In the background, cloud computing is transforming everyday work life for District employees by arming them with more flexible, convenient tools for doing their jobs. Our cloud computing tools now allow employees to connect to District systems from anywhere they have an Internet connection, and to use the consumer technology they know and like—cell phones, iPods, PDAs, YouTube, Facebook, and more.

Ultimately, cloud computing will help us create the mobile, "anytime, anywhere" workforce. Government employees like police officers, human services caseworkers, building inspectors, and teachers can spend more time—as they should—keeping people safe, caring for citizens in need, teaching our children, and keeping buildings up to code--and still have all the benefits of government technology resources. As a result, customers from tenants to students will have much more immediate access to District employees and can make their needs known and voices heard more powerfully and effectively than in the past. Workers who need to telecommute or adopt flexible schedules will be able to do so even more easily without losing access to technology tools or compromising their effectiveness. Our ability to offer more innovative, flexible, customer-friendly technology will also help us meet the challenge of recruiting new employees.

Last but certainly not least, cloud computing allows us to make smarter use of taxpayer dollars. Overall, the fees we'll pay for cloud computing services will be less than our costs of buying, maintaining, housing, and operating hardware and software. In addition, our specific uses of cloud computing offer many opportunities for savings. To cite one simple example, with our new procurement wiki sites, we can upload videos of bidder conferences to YouTube quickly at no cost—whereas in the past, producing and posting a single video cost the government thousands of dollars. Multiply this savings by thousands of procurements each year, and the savings mount up fast.

Cloud computing offers enormous opportunities to shift our government resources from maintaining basic technology support to creating innovative technology solutions that improve government services. Cloud computing sits at the heart of our efforts to make government services more effective, accessible, and transparent. By deploying this powerful new tool, we'll continue to transform the District government for the benefit of customers and employees alike.