Government Technology News
Wed, 24 May 2017 07:55:12 +0200
NYC's 2017 BigApps Competition Announces Winners
Four apps were announced as winners Tuesday, May 23 at New York City’s 2017 BigApps Competition: DollarVan, On Board, Border Buddy and Kurtin, all of which fit into one of the three designated categories of knowledge, transportation and community resiliency.
The winners will receive a monetary award, admission to the Civic Accelerator program, an opportunity to pilot work on tablets throughout the city, and other developmental support.
BigApps is a large and comprehensive civic innovation competition, one filled with workshops, mentorship pairings, and opportunities for collaboration. With a history that dates back eight years, BigApps is older than most other startup collaboration efforts, having first evolved from an incentivized campaign to enhance open data and aspirations to diversify New York’s economy. In recent years, improving government efficiency and the lives of all New Yorkers has become BigApps' primary concern.
And the Judges Are ...
The 2017 NYC BigApps judges were a high-profile group of tech experts, many of which were strongly rooted in New York City’s innovation community.
John Paul Farmer, Microsoft, director of technology and civic innovation
Jen Hensley, LinkNYC, Intersection, general manager
Miguel A. Gamiño, City of New York, chief technology officer
Stephen Rooke, Robin Hood Foundation, director of campaign operations
Lori McGlinchey, Internet Freedom, Ford Foundation, senior program officer
Andy Saldaña, NY Tech Alliance, director of operations
This year’s competition broke the civic challenges it sought to address into the three categories of transportation, access to knowledge, and community resiliency. Participants were also asked to give special attention to assisting youth, immigrants and seniors. Kate Daly, senior vice president of initiatives at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, said before the competition started that specifying these goals was the result of lessons learned throughout BigApps’ history.
“Narrowing the focus has been very successful because it allows people to come together in a much more targeted way,” Daly told Government Technology in March.
The award ceremony marked the culmination of four months and seven workshops, wherein hundreds of participants formed teams, met with mentors, interviewed potential users of their tech, and began testing their ideas. This year’s BigApps garnered 150 eligible submissions, and two rounds of judging preceded the announcement of the four finalists.
DollarVan, an app that seeks to increase awareness of affordable and semi-formal van routes in New York, won the judge’s choice award.
On Board, an app that creates a public, independent database of passenger pickups, won the transportation category.
Border Buddy, an app that tracks registrants’ flight arrival info and sends a team of lawyers with relevant experience to give legal assistance if they are detained by customs upon arrival.
Kurtin, an app that seeks to improve the university graduation rates of students from minority communities.
BigApps is hosted at Civic Hall, New York’s collaboration space that houses more than 100 members, as well as the news site Civicist and a nonprofit research and development arm, Civic Hall Labs. The Omidyar Network recently invested $4 million into Civic Hall and Civic Hall Labs, a follow-on from the group’s initial $500,000 investment in Civic Hall in 2014. In late 2016, the group made a deal with a developer and several education groups to build a new, 254,000-square-foot, $250 million center in Manhattan near Union Square, according to Fast Company. Developers are expected to break ground in 2018 and finish construction in 2020.
About the Judge's Choice Winner
DollarVan, which participated in the transportation category, aims to improve awareness of a seemingly underused transportation option in New York City — vans and smaller buses that run less formal routes, often in neighborhoods with less access to the subways. This app was created by a team that met and formed during the BigApps competition itself. The developers of the app initially set out to create a map that could track the routes and real-time locations of dollar vans, before pivoting slightly to take more of an educational tact after the team noticed a massive deficit of dollar van info online.
Jason Lalor, one of the founders of DollarVan, said he has personal experience with this. A Florida native, he went to college in Connecticut before later moving to New York City, where he lived with an aunt. It was Lalor’s aunt who first told him about taking dollar vans to get around, and Lalor said his team’s sense is that most New Yorkers learn of this option the same way — via word of mouth.
Since Lalor has been involved with BigApps, he’s often had to explain what dollar vans are before being able to tell listeners about what his app seeks to accomplish. The team has envisioned a scenario where their app makes life easier for dollar van riders and drivers as well.
“Obviously we want to make the city able to do its job better, better serving these legal vans in these areas, but we also want to make sure this has some actually value for passengers. and also the drivers and operators of these vans who have been doing business in the city at the service for over 30 years,” Lalor said. “I see these guys every day, so if we do something that isn’t serving them, I’m going to hear about it. I definitely want to make sure we look out for them.”
Other Finalist Spotlights
Border Buddy, a runner-up in the community resiliency category, first grew out of Hack the Ban, an event held in February to resist President Trump’s travel ban. It’s an app that developers compare to something called a dead man’s switch, a failsafe mechanism often used by train operators to prevent against lethal accidents if the user is incapacitated.
The way Border Buddy functions is simple: the app tracks registrants’ flight arrival info. If a user makes it through customs without being detained, they send Border Buddy a text to tell them they’re OK. If, however, Border Buddy does not hear from them, they send a reminder after two hours. If there’s no response, a team of lawyers with relevant experience goes to work giving them legal assistance.
Andrew Gionfriddo, one of the Border Buddy developers, said they are partnering with CLEAR, or Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility, a legal team from the City University of New York School of Law, which has been doing related work since 2009. While the impetus for Border Buddy was Trump’s travel ban, Gionfriddo said the tech and legal assistance infrastructure the team is developing can be used to aid land crossings, citizens nervous about their safety during protests, or anyone else who fears mistaken or unlawful detainment and legal hangups.
“Even if the travel ban stops, people will still be caught up while travelling into the country,” Gionfriddo said. “It’s definitely in the forefront of the political climate for the moment, but I think down the line it will still be a problem whether it’s in the public eye or not.”
Kurtin, which competed in the knowledge category, is an app that seeks to improve the university graduation rates of students from minority communities. The app provides information and other tools that go beyond academics to give perspective students a better idea of what life and culture is like at the schools where they are considering enrolling.
Mike Burns, one of the creators of Kurtin, said the idea for it was born while he was working in diversity admissions at West Point, where he also did his undergrad. In that capacity, Burns became well aware that while university enrollment rates for minorities have risen, much remains to be desired when it comes to graduation rates. The topic is a personal one for Burns, who struggled at times during his own college experience.
“It was very very tough for me,” Burns said. “I was almost one of those statistics that dropped out.”
Kurtin uses available statistics, collecting them in aggregate and presenting them in a way that’s easy for users to access. It also goes beyond that, reaching out to student groups on campus to get information directly from them, even allowing them to live stream things like finals week prep and football game tailgates. Kurtin’s team has had much success reaching out to student groups, including fraternities and sororities made up of mostly minority students, who Burns said are eager to help because they’ve seen so many of their own friends enroll before dropping out.
Tue, 23 May 2017 06:00:00 PDT
North Carolina's New CIO Outlines Top 3 Short-Term Priorities
Nearly seven weeks into leading IT for the state of North Carolina, CIO Eric Boyette, who also serves as director of the state’s Department of Information Technology (DIT), says he is excited to increase the agency’s number and scope of partnerships.
Boyette has spent most of his career in public service, and replaces former state CIO Keith Werner, who stepped aside in late January following the transition of power between former Gov. Pat McCrory and current Gov. Roy Cooper.
The newly minted spoke with Government Technology about the transition since his April 7 appointment and outlined some of his main priorities. While looking at some “common-sense governance” strategies he’d like to pursue in the short term, he will also be keeping an eye on future opportunities.
Coming on the heels of the WannaCry cyberattack that infected hundreds of thousands of computers around the world with ransomware, cybersecurity has been at the forefront of IT leaders' minds throughout the country.
The rapid response that North Carolina’s cyberteam demonstrated when the malware began appearing added to Boyette’s pride in the team. “They jumped immediately on Friday, when the first glimpse of this came out,” said Boyette, pictured below. “They were ahead of the game. … I was very proud of our cybergroup and our cyber-risk office.”
Protecting the state data and ensuring citizens are protected when they interact with the state is crucial to serving the interests of North Carolina’s residents. And while some states are taking a more centralized and consolidated strategy, Boyette does not believe that is necessary to ensure safety of state networks and systems.
“I don’t think we have to be a consolidated state to provide that consolidated effort for cybersecurity. It’s all about the management and the view from the top into the agencies,” he said, suggesting strong leadership and interagency relationships as an alternate means of alerting appropriate teams whenever a breach is detected.
The tropes of government being behind the technology curve is often overstated. However, one area where most public IT workers can agree it is applicable is in regard to modernizing procurement systems. Boyette and the rest of the DIT are no exception.
Along with pursuing the aforementioned “common-sense government,” the DIT team is working to provide as many resources to state agencies as possible without general statute or General Assembly approval.
Boyette is going to focus on what he and the rest of the team can do today to help the agencies and the vendors. "What can we do to speed up the process and make our procurement a lot easier?” One thing he has already done is started to form partnerships in order to expedite the process. “I have reached out to office of budget management our director there and our department of administration [to see what can be done],” he explained
One common vein throughout his CIO tenure will be a focus on partnerships. While it is not novel to assume that better solutions come from a team consortium rather than a single entity, Boyette sees teamwork as an untapped potential for the state to achieve better overall outcomes.
“I fully believe in partnerships because the more expertise we have around the table, the better off the state will be,” he said. Boyette, who most recently served as the head of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, brings an inside look at how the DIT should assist state agencies with the technological gaps they face.
The state launched the Innovation Center (iCenter) in 2013 with a goal of interacting with government as simple and efficient as possible. The center has more recently started a ‘try before you buy’ lab, meant to make government more customer-friendly.
Boyette sees the potential for the iCenter's role to increase. “We want to increase our partnership not only with vendor community and our agencies, but we want to increase partnerships with our universities.”
Along with the iCenter, North Carolina is also home to the Government Data Analytics Center (GDAC), which leverages all available data to maximize efficiency and improve service delivery. The CIO also explained how the GDAC recently was funded through the state legislature — an action which serves as a testament to the hard work they do, he said.
Innovation, however, will not be siloed within those separate entities. Through increased partnerships and outreach, Boyette said he looks forward to learning from all state departments. “We look forward to collaborating with and learning from all of our agencies … they can sometimes create things that are a little more nimble and agile.”
For now, Boyette will continue building upon the state's data environment, so agencies will be able to share data elements between one another. At the end of the day, a lot of the problems the state is trying to fix are just too large for any one state agency to tackle. But through effective delegation and partnerships, the CIO said DIT is committed to providing the best service it can.
Tue, 23 May 2017 04:15:00 PDT
ShotSpotter Sets IPO Targets: $10-$12 Per Share, $26.6M Raised
SST, the company behind the gunshot-detecting ShotSpotter technology, expects to raise $26.6 million in its upcoming initial public offering — half of which would be used to pay off debt.
The company publicly set targets for its stock price and fundraising totals in an amended filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on May 19. The filing sets the expected price at $10-$12 per share and specifies that SST would be offering 2.8 million shares.
The filing also estimated that the total size of the market it’s selling into is about $710 million per year — $560 million in the U.S. and $150 million internationally. That’s based on 1,400 cities in the U.S. that have a homicide rate greater than four per 100,000 residents per year, and 200 cities in designated international markets that have more than 500,000 residents. SST reported $15.5 million in revenue in fiscal 2016.
SST had already proposed a maximum of $34.5 million on the stock offering, but didn’t name an expected target.
The filing shows that the company would turn $13.6 million of the capital into an early full payment of its debt owed to Orix Growth Capital, an equity and debt funding firm serving tech companies.
SST has already raised more than $67 million in venture funding.
Tue, 23 May 2017 04:00:00 PDT
GSA Hackathon Sought Tangible AI Solutions for Making Government Data Accessible via 'Personal Assistant'
The federal government is looking to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to bridge the gap between the general public and valuable information.
During a five-hour hackathon held May 17, the General Services Administration (GSA) called on more than 100 hackers to come up with tangible solutions to make federal-level information more accessible through consumer Intelligent Personal Assistants (IPAs).
Efforts were aimed at the U.S. Federal Artificial Intelligence for Citizen Services community and were the latest offering from its Emerging Citizen Technology program, which is part of the fed’s Technology Transformation Service’s Innovation Portfolio. Earlier this year, it announced an open sourced pilot around the same idea.
Some attendees characterized last week’s gathering as more of a collaboration than a traditional hack, but were generally complimentary.
Participants included officials from Oracle, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google; development types from San Francisco, Chicago and the nation’s capital; and representatives from among the 27 federal agencies taking part in the pilot, including the U.S. Parks Service and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The goal of GSA’s Emerging Citizen Technology effort, the agency has said, is to understand the business cases and impact of technology ranging from autonomous vehicles to the Internet of Things, and to weigh opening federal programs to mobile and stationary AI and IPAs.
Megan Vorland, director of programs at D.C.-based graduate-level accelerator Dcode42, told Government Technology the hack was really “a lot more one-on-one meetings or one-on-many meetings on ‘What should the solution look like, what are your challenges?’”
In some cases, she said, it helped federal agencies narrow their focus from potentially offering weather data, for example, to one day releasing more pressing information on natural disasters like hurricanes. In other instances, she said officials learned the value of having good use cases; an up-to-date road map for where they hope to go; and, perhaps especially, good data to make available.
“I think even if the chatbot is not specifically created to x-y-z as laid out, it’s on the radar of all these public agencies, which is good news for them and good news for the American public," Vorland said. "Because it only gets cooler from here; the chatbot only gets cooler from here.”
In one collaboration, CFPB officials were able to work virtually with officials from San Francisco-based Coseer, a cognitive computing technology company with a focus on language and “trying to teach English to computers,” CEO Praful Krishna told Government Technology.
On its GitHub pilot webpage, CFPB indicates it is “interested in seeing the opportunity for people to get answers to financial questions and to provide just-in-time financial education to better help them navigate their financial choices.”
CFPB officials presented 50 to 100 pages from their website of frequently asked questions pertaining to automobile loans, Krishna said, and Coseer demonstrated how those could be imported to its platform and to its chatbot, which had been prepped beforehand.
“And we demonstrated it to them on like how a discovery of knowledge hidden in 50 pages can just become a matter of typing the right question and getting the answer then and there. The whole idea was that it’s actually that simple,” said Krishna, who pointed out the collaboration is expected to lead to a follow-up meeting.
Justin Herman, who heads the Emerging Citizen Technology program office, said on Thursday, May 18, in tweets that the event had been the “largest #AI for Citizen Services hackathon in the U.S.,” and advised readers to “forget ‘the future’ of public services: we now have prototypes for efficient, self-service programs in development now.”
Tad Anderson, venture capital and startups manager for Amazon Web Services Worldwide Public Sector, said via email the company was invited to participate as an industry collaborator and “provided subject matter expertise related to Federal AI/Virtual Assistant technology," and how it could be leveraged to build "more advanced ways of providing information to the public.”
Many agencies in attendance, he said, gave overviews of what types of public data they have, how those are accessed, and in what format they exist — focusing on frequently requested information ranging from student loan qualifications to parks information to applying for a passport.
“While I can’t comment on GSA’s ability to build and share solutions that incorporate public data in AI services, the event was a great platform to highlight potential solutions for agencies to leverage, as well as share best practices and common challenges to keep agencies exploring ways to use new technology to meet their missions,” Anderson said via email.
Even if any contract agreements were reached at the hackathon, Krishna estimated a working connection between federal-level data streams and IPAs or chatbots would take at least a year due to production constraints. But, he said, the overall mood was one of intense interest.
“We’re already seeing relationships come out. Now where do the relationships lead is something that’s yet to be seen," Krishna added. "Cautiously optimistic is probably a cliché, but that’s where people are: very intrigued, very interested and [they] have that sense of urgency that this needs to be done in the next couple of years.”
GSA officials could not be reached for comment by press time.
Tue, 23 May 2017 04:30:00 PDT
IT Legislative Lookback: Where Are They Now?
At Government Technology, we talk a fair amount about what is coming around the legislative corner in states around the country. While some of the proposals we focus on succeed and ultimately become law, others wither and die on the vine.
From preparing for the seemingly inevitable onslaught of autonomous vehicles on U.S. roadways to reworking the physical structure of state IT agencies, lawmakers use their proposals to highlight what they see as important priorities.
Looking back at the landscape and taking stock of these successes and failures can be a good indicator of the overall health of a state’s IT environment. In this retrospective piece, you’ll find the status of many of the bills we looked at earlier in 2017.
Autonomous Vehicle Testing on California Roads: California Senate Bill 145 aims to amend the state’s vehicle code to streamline the application process for autonomous vehicle (AV) testing. The bill would eliminate the requirement for the Department of Motor Vehicles to notify the Legislature upon receipt of AV testing application on public roadways. Additionally, the proposal eliminates the 180-day delay of the application prior to approval. As it currently stands, the bill passed, as of May 4, and is being reviewed by the Assembly’s Committee on Transportation, as of May 18. A similar bill in the Assembly, Assembly Bill 87, seems to have lost steam as of March 20.
Like California, lawmakers in Texas have been eyeing AV testing on public roadways throughout the state. On May 20 the House tentatively approved legislation that would allow manufacturers to test driverless vehicles on public roads with the requirement they meet federal and state safety standards and carry liability insurance.
Privacy and Security in Washington: In Washington, House Bill 1421 was proposed as a means to remove sensitive payment information from state data systems. Under the proposal, payment information would need to be handled and retained by a third party. The effort, which was reintroduced via resolution April 24, was returned to the House Rules Committee for a third reading. If successful, agencies currently storing payment data would have until July 1, 2020, to remove applicable data from state systems. The last day of the regular legislative session was April 23; the special session convened April 24.
Alabama IT Gains Autonomy: Senate Bill 219 brought Alabama’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) out from under the umbrella of the state’s Department of Finance. After some coordination between OIT Secretary Joanne Hale and her finance counterparts, the IT agency was granted autonomy May 9 when Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law. While the change doesn’t come with a host of new power, it represents what Hale described to Government Technology as part of the evolution process of state IT. The newly minted law will officially go into effect Oct. 1, 2017, though the agency has already been operating under its new charge for the last several months through an interagency agreement.
Florida IT Agency Escapes Legislative Assault to Autonomy: House Bill 5301 was launched out of a House subcommittee in late March, with the intention of kneecapping and rebranding the Agency for State Technology (AST). The proposal not only would have taken away the IT agency’s authority over the state’s data center, but also would have crippled the enterprise structure, allowing data center customer agencies to unilaterally move to cloud solutions. Though state officials and industry leaders spoke out against the proposal — spearheaded by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-District 35 — it moved along the legislative process tied to the state’s budget. After some negotiation, AST was able to solidify its funding, saving it from the legislative assault. The attempt to restructure and/or defund the agency is just one of a handful of attempts in recent years.
Private-Public Partnerships in Montana: Efforts to codify new rules around public-private partnerships throughout the state fell short after Senate Bill 335 failed on April 28. The proposal would have opened the door to the use of the partnerships as an alternative means to other procurement methods through state and local government. Though the legislation would have allowed public-private partnerships in a number of arenas, it would have also allowed state and local entities to pursue tech-centric projects. The legislation was initially proposed in November 2016. The last day of the legislative session was April 27.
Reduced Barriers for Telemedicine in Texas: A bill reducing the restrictions on telemedicine passed the Texas Legislature May 18. Senate Bill 1107 allows medical professionals to establish the doctor-patient relationship via electronic/audiovisual means, while holding them to the same standards as an in-person encounter. Under the legislation, the requirement that approval is sought before telemedicine services can be reimbursed has been removed, as has the stipulation that a so-called "telepresenter" be present with the patient at the time of the appointment. The governor is expected to sign the legislation.
Getting Tougher on Cybercrime: In Texas, House Bill 9, which would stiffen penalties around malicious disruption of computer networks, is with the Senate awaiting a vote after passing in the House April 13. Under the terms of the proposal, felony sentences could be applied to network disruption and the use of malware or ransomware for profit.
Though similar in overall objective, Vermont’s House Bill 474, has not moved since Feb. 24. Like Texas’ version, the bill aimed to stiffen the penalties associated with cybercrime.
Minnesota’s slightly more focused anti-cybercrime proposal, HB 817, would have applied incremental penalties to hackers interfering with point-of-sale terminals, ATMs and gas pumps. The last action on the legislation was March 9, when amendments were made and it was rereferred to the Committee on Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance for review.
Washington Codifies Biometrics Laws: Gov. Jay Inslee signed two pieces of legislation relating to biometric identifiers on May 16. Under House Bill 1493, companies must receive consent before being allowed to collect customers' biometric data for commercial purposes. Key examples of biometric data are iris scans or heartbeat identifier data. Similarly, House Bill 1717 requires state agencies to obtain constituent consent before collecting biometric data. The new rule applies to data like iris scans, facial geometry, fingerprints and DNA, though law enforcement agencies are exempt from the collection of fingerprints and DNA and are subject to other guidelines.
Mon, 22 May 2017 04:00:00 PDT