Back to School or Not? Options Abound

By Charles Castelly, SLED Analyst

With the expected return of students back to school in the fall, most counties are trying to figure out the best way to facilitate a safe and orderly process.

School systems are facing many challenges right now — the first being how to keep social distancing. Secondly, they will need to manage remote learning environments — and find a way to pay for new technologies that are required to support them.

Lots of decisions still need to be made and school systems are using all available resources to resolve outstanding issues — and they are reaching out to parents for their input.

For example, Fairfax County, Virginia has given parents two options. A virtual learning option would involve students logging into a virtual classroom for interactive instruction four days a week. The second option would require students returning to school three days a week and spending two days a week at home learning virtually.

Whatever the decision, virtual or hybrid classroom, there will need to be technology enhancements to successfully adapt to the new reality. Other school systems will likely face similar challenges.

Cybersecurity will be a crucial piece. With students and teachers accessing information from multiple devices, endpoint protection is vital. Students will need to be able to access the school’s network virtually or in the classroom without putting their data at risk.

Cloud applications are another crucial piece of the puzzle. With many school systems transitioning to the cloud over the past couple of years, classroom management and learning applications have become great tools for students and teachers alike. With the potential of a fully virtual or a hybrid experience, being able to access resources from wherever students are located will be vital to success.

As school systems work through what the best course of action will be for the fall, the safety of students and teachers will continue to be the top priority. Vendors will need to partner with school systems to understand their specific needs to find best the solutions for them. There will need to be a true collaborative effort between all parties to make the remote learning experience successful.

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Cybersecurity Spending Continues in State Government

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

By now, most of us are aware of the budgetary restrictions many states will be under due to reduced revenue collections. Arkansas will experience cuts of about $250 million in the next fiscal year. Utah could see budget cuts up to 10%, while Vermont may see budget cuts of up to 25%. This will most likely restrict the number of new projects, but one area many state CIOs expressed continued support for is cybersecurity.

During recent round table discussions hosted by NASCIO, budgets and budget cuts were top of mind for CIOs as they shared top priorities for the coming fiscal year. Many stated that they were continuing with their initiatives as best they could, balancing funding with requirements. Initiatives include projects like service digitization, automation, customer relationship management, and in many cases, improving cybersecurity frameworks.

Some states are planning to leverage funding they receive through the CARES Act for technology, while others are trying to find alternative ways to finance new and ongoing initiatives alike. Despite budget cuts, there is one area continuing to receive CIO attention — cybersecurity. Here’s a snapshot of what’s happening across the country:  Read more of this post

Remote Work Is Here to Stay in SLED

By Charles Castelly, Analyst

This year’s NASCIO’s mid-year was full of insightful information on how states are adjusting to the new environment and how they plan to move forward during the upcoming fiscal year. One of the topics discussed was the transition to remote work and how each of their states are managing the change.

As part of this transition, CIO’s explained how they handled the immediate demand for more laptops and VPN capacity. Beyond the nuts and bolts of working remote, many CIOs also addressed their future workforce plans once restrictions are lifted. Here are some examples of what Maryland, Georgia and Missouri are doing, which may lead to other states following suit:

Maryland — Creating a Virtual Agency

Michael Leahy, Maryland’s Secretary of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, stated that remote work is likely going to be a major component of his staffing strategy going forward. Leahy said that he has given serious thought about having his staff work remotely full time, creating a “virtual agency.” A virtual agency would enable his department to save on real estate and help ease the pressure from expected budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. Read more of this post

State & Local Governments Focus on Continuity of Operations

Rachel Eckert

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

Fiscal environments at the state and local government level are very different today than they were even a few weeks ago. Budgets presented earlier this year are now being adjusted, as many governments face an upcoming revenue shortfall.

Taxes that would have been collected on our trips to the movies, restaurants and shopping malls are now not flowing into government treasuries. Fairfax County, Virginia, for example, is predicting significantly less revenue due to drops in sales tax collections, hotel occupancy taxes, car taxes, business taxes and more. With less revenue, they will have to delay some or all new programs, including additional funding for school technology purchases, police body cameras and affordable housing.

The impact is felt beyond Fairfax County. Seattle, Washington is predicting a revenue shortfall of $110 million. The State of New York comptroller has estimated that the current crisis could cost the state $7 billion in lost revenues for their fiscal year 2021, which started April 1.

State and local governments will still need to acquire IT though. As they navigate the current fiscal environment they will only be able to think about what’s most essential for their continued operations. Here’s how you can help support their critical needs: Read more of this post

If You Want to be Successful in SLED, the Right Contracts Are a Must

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

State and local governments buy a wide variety of goods and services – from food stuffs and linens to police radios and technology. They also buy large volumes of goods and services, which could present a financial risk if they’re not purchased from a reputable source at a fair price. That’s why competitively bid contracts are essential to both government and vendors.

Government Benefits From Competitively Bid Contracts

To guarantee that the state or local government is getting the best value and a fair price, state and local governments leverage a competitive process to determine the vendor(s) who best meet this criteria. This competitive process results in one or more awarded contracts that specify what the government may purchase, from whom they can purchase and a guaranteed maximum price. This reduces the overall risk for the government – something extremely important to ensure their continued ability to serve their citizens. Read more of this post

State Budget Documents: Treasure Troves of Information for IT Vendors

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

State budgets are certainly not the most exciting topics in the world, but they offer many clues into key areas where you can target your sales campaigns. Budget documents provide insight into the areas state and local governments plan to invest funds, identify areas of concern and often outline key priorities for the upcoming year or two.

Most state governments operate on a July 1 through June 30 fiscal year. The process starts with agencies receiving guidelines from the governor on priorities and mandates for the upcoming year. This typically occurs during the fall and is the best time to work with agencies as they scope out their business cases for inclusion in next year’s budget.

Agencies work with their budget office to finalize budgets before submitting final documents to the governor. With the governor’s approval, final budgets are submitted to the legislature, typically in the winter. The legislature is then tasked with reviewing, reconciling and approving before the start of the next fiscal year.

By the end of January, most states have submitted their budgets to the legislature and governors are beginning to make their “State-of-the-State” speeches which outline their budget priorities. While you can find the text and video recordings for each of these speeches online, here are some of the key themes you’ll see in many FY2021 budgets and what they might mean for you:   Read more of this post

Fed and SLED IT Managers Are Buying Into AI

Tom O'Keefe

By Tom O’Keefe, Consultant

According to a recent study, 90% of public sector IT managers have observed a noticeable shift in the adoption of AI at their organizations over the last two years. The research report, “AI Is Out There: Early Adoption in Fed & SLED Agencies, ” explores government agencies’ interest in AI and seeks to understand current usage of AI technology in the public sector.

The study highlights IT managers’ and public sector leaders’ interest in gaining an edge by becoming early adopters of AI technology. Of surveyed respondents, 77% view AI as an asset to their organization’s ability to deliver on its mission, while 85% agree AI will be a game changer in how their agency thinks about and processes data. Some agencies have started to initiate AI pilot programs with 14% already reporting benefits from the technology. Currently, 61% of respondents report the use of at least one foundational AI technology such as voice assistants, high performance computing, and virtual customer assistance or chatbots. Read more of this post

States Improving Cybersecurity Posture Through NGA Partnership

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

The National Governors Association (NGA) recently announced a partnership with states and territories that are looking to enhance their cybersecurity posture through the implementation of key controls to mitigate future attacks.

After a competitive application process, the six states and one territory chosen were Arkansas, Guam, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio and Washington. Through a series of workshops between now and the end of the year, NGA, along with their respective homeland security agencies and National Guard units, will coordinate with state agencies, local government and K-12 schools to develop methods of improving existing cybersecurity approaches.

During the workshops, participants will brainstorm new methods to protect critical infrastructure, and vendors may discover new business opportunities. In addition to developing more comprehensive strategies and collaborating with neighboring governments, the participants will be focusing on implementing six key controls outlined by the Center for Internet Security:

Read more of this post

What is a Smart City?

By Rachel Eckert, SLED consultant

Most of us who have been in and around the state, local and education space (SLED) have seen the term “smart city” more times than we can count. A simple search for “what is a smart city” returns dozens of examples, definitions and solution sheets that explain specific implementations being done under the heading of “smart city.” In a nutshell, a smart city is one that aims to improve the delivery of services to its citizens using technology.

That’s a simple definition and easy enough to understand, but, how does a city become smart? What technologies do they use to be smart? How does a vendor approach a city to make it smarter? And when you add in the typical SLED wrinkle with each city being its own fiefdom, finding a common definition and a strategy to target a smart city is understandably difficult.

Let’s dive into that definition a bit deeper. Cities provide all sorts of services to their citizens including public safety, transportation, health care and more. Each year, cities see their populations grow, thus increasing the number of people to whom they must now provide those public safety, transportation or health care services. The problem is that most cities aren’t seeing the same increase in budgets, leaving them with taxed resources and an ever-growing mission.

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The latest on FirstNet and its future opportunities

By Rachel Eckert, SLED consultant

The new year is upon us and with that comes a flurry of activity for FirstNet now that all 50 states and territories have opted into the network. If you haven’t been following FirstNet let me catch you up.

To start, FirstNet will be the nationwide first responder interoperable broadband network. The FirstNet Authority and its partner AT&T (who was awarded the build-out contract) will be building out and/or upgrading the broadband infrastructure across all 50 states and territories to ensure that in the event of an emergency, first responders can communicate and respond effectively.

Read more of this post

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