Category Archives: BlackBerry

Ten Years after the iPhone, why don’t we give Cops and Firefighters Smart Phones?

original-iphone

The iPhone is 10 years old.

 

Being from Seattle, Microsoft Country, I’ve always made fun of Apple.  When I see people using Mac’s, I’ll say “oh, you use a computer made by a fruit company”.  I talk about having a “mixed marriage”, as my spouse is a Mac user.  During speaking engagements, if I suggest doing an online search, I’ll say “Bing it” (ok, that’s technically a put-down for Google, not Apple).

When I was Chief Technology Officer (also CIO) for the City of Seattle, we brought the first widespread use of mobile phones with email capability into that City government, in 2005, by introducing BlackBerrys.  We had the support of major department directors as diverse as the Human Services Director and the Police Chief, Gil Kerlikowske.

But when I left City government in 2012, and needed to get a personal smart phone, I purchased an iPhone.  My first-ever device made by the Fruit Company.

Why?

Ease of use. Robust apps and apps catalog.  Integrated camera.  Everyone writes apps for the iPhone first.  Almost Schrier-proof.

galaxy-s7-edge

In recent years products from other companies have eclipsed the iPhone in some respects.  The Samsung Galaxy S7 (not the infamous Note 7) has a better camera, for example.  But the smoothest, most integrated experience is still probably the Apple iPhone.

 

Today, of course, most companies issue iPhones or Android phones instead of Blackberrys to their field employees.   Even government agencies do so:  when I joined the federal First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) in August, 2016, I was issued an iPhone 6.

But in Public Safety agencies – law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical response – an agency-issued smart phone to field officers is still a rarity.   Some large cities have done so – New York City for example.   But despite the obvious benefits of having a mobile computer in the hands of cops and paramedics and firefighters, the initial device costs and monthly service fees seem beyond many city and county budgets.

In other words, ten years after its introduction, the capabilities introduced with the iPhone in 2007 still evade the average police officer, firefighter and paramedic responding to 911 calls every day.

That must change.

And it will.

Here’s why.

  1. Personal safety of responders.   First responders have land-mobile radios for communication.  They are dispatched by these radio systems which are very reliable, survive disasters and allow great communications.  But these radios are voice only.  No apps, no maps, no data or information transmitted.  On December 17th Mount Vernon, Washington, Officer “Mick” McClaughry was shot and almost died when responding to a report of domestic violence.  The shooter had a long and extensive history of weapons and violence, including the abduction of four people.  This is an all-too-common story.  When police officers, firefighters, paramedics and even child protective services social workers respond to a premise they deserve to have the full history of all calls to that premise, who is likely to be on site, and everything about the history of violence and use of weapons.   Sent to their smart phone, immediately and upon demand, wherever and whenever they are.
  2. Phone calls and Siri. Responders need the ability to make phone calls from the field, using official, not personal, cell phones to continue investigations and contact victims, witnesses and suspects.  Hundreds of millions of people simply press a button on their smartphone and say “Siri, call my friend Billy.” And the phone dials (or Facetimes) their friends and relatives.  Siri, and its cousins Cortana, Alexa, Google Now, do much more than make phone calls of course.   They answer questions and do web searches.  Such capabilities would be extraordinarily helpful to first responders as they respond to 911 calls.  We can even envision a “Hey Joe” Friday voice assistant specifically trained to respond to first responder queries.
  3. evidence-digitalDigital evidence collection. Police officers, arson investigators, paramedics and other responders must collect vast quantities of information:  photographs, interviews, serial numbers, video and so forth.  Today that’s mostly done with spiral-bound notebooks, digital cameras, and pen and paper.  With smartphones and tablet computers, all this information – including video clips of witness interviews and questioning of suspects in the field – could be accomplished more quickly and efficiently.
  4. Patient care and tracking. Paramedics still, too often, fill out patient forms in quadruplicate on the patients they treat.  With smart phones or tablet computers this work could be done digitally.  Furthermore, emergency medical techs could access patient healthcare records, contact physicians and hospitals, and access a myriad of other information to better care for their patients.
  5. Situational awareness and geography. All the work of first responders involves geography.  Maps, locations, the location of other responding units, the best driving route to a location and even building outlines depend upon maps.  Responders urgently need this capability in their pocket.
  6. Many other uses.  Anyone with a smart phone can envision dozens of other uses for such devices in the hands of first responders such as reviewing and uploading body-worn video, viewing building diagrams, finding the characteristics of drugs and hazardous materials, accessing criminal history records, helping with those in crisis or mentally ill, and so forth.

police-mobile-computer

Of course, many departments put such capabilities in computers mounted in fire apparatus and police cars.  But once the responder leaves the vehicle, all that capability is not available.  Many responders, recognizing the advantages of mobile devices, use their personal smart phones or tablet computers, often contrary to their department’s policy.  That carries significant dangers – giving their personal phone numbers to victims and suspects, for example, or potentially having their personal device confiscated as evidence once defense attorneys learn it has been used to collect photos or other information.

And the smart devices we issue to our responders don’t have to be iPhones.  Many other companies make excellent mobile devices as well.

Private companies give smart phones and other mobile devices to their entire field workforces as well as all managers.  In City governments, most managers and all elected officials have government-issued smart phones.  We place our lives in the hands of first responders.  Shouldn’t we give our police officers, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, paramedics and other responders that same basic tool?

It is virtually criminal that 10 years after the introduction of the iPhone, we still leave most of our first responders without these devices.

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Filed under BlackBerry, Code for America, iPhone

– Are Government CIOs Irrelevant?

The Government CIO as viewed by the Business

The Government CIO as viewed by the Business

“The Department of No”. “The Geeks in the Basement”. “Expensive Projects, Always Late”.Increasingly, many IT departments – and their CIOs – are becoming irrelevant to the business of government.

Peter Hinssen is a visiting lecturer at London Business School and a senior industry fellow at the University of California Irvine’s School of Business. He recently wrote a provocative article on this subject, focused on CIOs and IT departments in the commercial sector.

But, as I thought about it, many of the same criticisms apply to government CIOs and my own experience as a City CIO.

We can really trace IT department irrelevance back to smart phones. I remember when I was approached by Seattle’s Police Chief and Human Services Department director in about 2004 regarding BlackBerrys. As those City business leaders attended conferences, they saw their counterparts doing email on their cell phones. “Bill, why can’t we do the same?”

Luckily I was smart enough to investigate RIM and lucky enough that RIM (now branded BlackBerry) had a robust enterprise solution which catered to my IT department. We quickly put up a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and at last count more than 1000 BlackBerrys powered by Sprint and Verizon were in use by City of Seattle employees.

I wasn’t unique, of course – most CIOs and IT departments embraced BlackBerrys.

The problem of course, is that danged fruit company, Apple. They launched the iPhone about six years ago and the iPad a couple years later. Apple didn’t give a dang about Enterprises. It’s “their way or the BlackBerry way”. No management software for IT departments. Most IT departments resisted the iPhone and iPad trend citing security, public records act, and lack of manageability. But City and County employees quickly embraced them. Suddenly, the IT department was irrelevant.

I’ve blogged about this before, especially when Seattle elected a new Mayor, Mike McGinn, in 2009, and he and his staff brought iPhones to work and said “hook us up”.

But we see this trend in many other things.

You want a constituent relationship management system? Salesforce can be up in a day for a few thousand bucks (depending on number of users. Installing a CRM in the traditional manner, especially with RFP and customization, takes 18 months and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You want to share files? You can install and customize sharepoint, which works pretty well, or go with any one of a number of document management systems. Again, 6 to 18 months, hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. But Dropbox or Box.com can be up and working in minutes.

You need to spin up a few dozen servers and a couple terrabytes of storage quickly to support an election application or another urgent need? You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and months buying and installing equipment, then configuring and patching it, or you can go contract platform-as-a-service from Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web services or others.

You need office software like word processing, spreadsheet and an email client? You can spend five million dollars and three years justifying budget, planning, installing and training users (like we did at the City of Seattle), or you can go contract for Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud or Google Apps and have it up in weeks.   (In fairness to Seattle, we did our email/Office project before cloud alternatives were readily available.)

I talked to a CIO last week who thankfully stopped the deployment of over 10,000 desk telephones in her organization. Desk telephones a tiny little window for displaying information and without video conferencing, presence or most other features found on even low-end cell phones these days.

Traditional IT folks will point to a variety of problems with my examples, of course – the cloud-based systems have security issues and they are not robust (supporting thousands of users). And they are not configurable to the unique requirements of a city, county or state government – although I’m convinced most of the “unique requirements” are actually just job security for those employees rather than true “requirements”. That’s the subject for a future blog post.

Ok, I’ve made my point about infrastructure. It’s a commodity. It’s easily purchased on the outside.

This is one problem.

Here’s the greater one: while CIOs and IT departments spend their time on software and services like those above, there are a ton of unmet needs. And, frankly, line-of-business departments are now tech saavy enough (thanks again to smartphones, tablet computers, and downloadable apps or software as a service), that they can go contract to meet these needs directly, by-passing the IT department. Here are a few examples:

  • Mapping. Yes, a city or county or state can install very robust configured software to produce beautiful maps using GIS analysts. But, frankly, most (not all) of a department’s needs can be met with Google Maps or Bing Maps or even Mapquest. (I could make a snide comment here about Apple maps, but I won’t). There are even specialized commercial mapping systems for some functions like crime mapping.
  • Big Data and Business Analytics. Government business departments are hungering for this software for uses as wide as traffic management to predictive policing to analysis of water complaints and electricity usage to simple dashboards of what happened overnight in the City (sometimes called “common operating picture”). This software is of huge use in managing a government. Is the CIO and IT department providing it?
  • Mobile devices and apps. When I was CIO in Seattle, the Transportation Director said he had been chastised by his business advisory board (trucking companies, retailers and others who depend upon freight mobility) because all his crews used paper for inspections and scheduling and construction work. Why didn’t I, as the CIO, capitalize on that comment and immediately get tablet computers and mobile clients for his traffic and asset management systems into the hands of those field workers? (For one thing the software companies who made those systems didn’t have mobile apps, but that’s a lame excuse.)

Is there a way out of this hell and dead-end of irrelevance for the Government CIO? I think there may be, with the trend we’re seeing for Chief Innovation Officers and Chief Digital Officers. I’ll blog about that in the near future.

In the meantime, I’m going back to configuring my server.

2 Comments

Filed under big data, BlackBerry, CIOs, government, Uncategorized

– Ghosts of Tech

Ghostly Tech

Tech Ghosts

It is the season for Ghosts. We’ve just finished celebrating the spirits and Ghosts of All Saints Day, All Hallows Eve and All Souls Day. Soon we will be visited by the Ghosts of Christmas.

Information technology has its own Ghosts, and we government technologists have our special subspecies of technology Ghosts.

We all know about technology Ghosts. The story of the ill-fated Microsoft Courier tablet, doomed to be stillborn, has been haunting the news feeds again lately. HP’s Touchpad and (maybe) WebOS were given up to an existence someplace between the living and the dead (tech Zombiedom?) earlier this year. Whole technology companies and technologies have become Ghosts or are destined for slow, lingering deaths and a future ghoulish existence. WiMax, once the darling of 4G wireless networks, is all-but-dead in favor of its big brother long-term-evolution or LTE. Steve Jobs is widely hailed for bringing Apple computer back from a Ghostlike doom; his role creating the Ghost of NeXt is less celebrated. And companies like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), once the #2 computer company worldwide, fell into the dustbin of tech history, being purchased by Compaq which in turn was gobbled up by HP. It sure seems like RIM and its successful BlackBerrys may be headed down a similar path.

As I mentioned earlier, Government has both Ghosts-in-common with commercial companies and our own unique set of Ghosts.

Most government computers are haunted by the Ghost called Windows XP. Ten years old, declared “dead” by Microsoft, Windows XP is still a workhorse in many agencies, as we struggle to make sure our myriad of applications will work with Windows 7, and we try to find the dollars to upgrade. At least the Windows XP Ghost will be fondly remembered, unlike Windows Vista, which hopefully has a home someplace in a tech Hades. Mainframe computers, and especially the IBM mainframes, are alive and well, working hard in some places. In governments, however, too often they house almost-Ghostlike tax systemsor scheduling and management systems for Courts, applications which are old and creaky but mainstays for some cities, counties and states.

Some applications are wraiths, staying long beyond their normal useful lives, because they are both functional and beloved by users. Northrup-Grumman’s PRC is a public safety computer-aided dispatch system, “green screen” and command-line driven. Dispatchers and field offers became familiar to its arcane but quick-to-type commands, and memorized them. Newer dispatch systems were Windows and gooey (Graphical User Interface, a term I never liked) based. But to do the same one-line-of-text PRC function on a newer GUI system often would involve opening multiple windows, drop down boxes, address verification functions and other tasks which vastly lengthened the time to dispatch a police unit or fire call. It took dispatchers some time and training to exorcise these Ghosts.

Analog public safety radio networks are another Ghost which many cities, counties and regions use today. The counties of the central Puget Sound, including Seattle, presently have older Motorola analog public safety radio systems – in our case with over 20,000 vehicle-mounted and handheld radios. These systems are functional and critical to dispatching fire, police and emergency medical officers to every 911 call and incident. Yet they are based upon 6809 chip architecture. The 6809 chip was used in the Tandy Color Computer, which was in its heyday around 1978-1980. Talk about Ghosts – what other technology from 1978 is still functional today? Such systems won’t be supported for much longer (just like Windows XP) but upgrading or replacing them will not be easy or cheap. Yet, unlike cell phone networks, these 6809-architected systems have been extraordinarily reliable, often with 99.999% uptime.

I’m sure readers of this blog (if there are any!) probably have your own favorite technology Ghosts, many of which may still haunt your support staff and data centers – don’t hesitate to leave a comment and describe them.

And, alas, many of these Ghosts are hard to exorcise for many reasons – lack of budget for the replacement, many interfaces and dependencies, and just plain old fear of change “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.   In many cases that means the data used in these ancient ghostly systems is locked up, and hard to interoperate with or interface to other, more modern systems.

In a sense, I’m also a technology “Ghost” of sorts, I guess, spanning the time from the first Apple II computer to the iPad of today, from the Apollo moon landings to today when the little netbook computer I’m using for blogging and tweeting has more computing power than the entire Apollo system had in 1969.

But this last “Ghost” – Bill Schrier – is not going away anytime soon!

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Filed under BlackBerry, history of technology

– Web 2.0, Gov 2.0, Society 2.0

What is Government 2.0 - click for more

Government 2.0

The whole two-dot-oh thing seems so “contrived”. Like a marketing gimmick. Or selling the “new improved” laundry soap, that is, the “new, stickier, more connected, web”.

Yet there is a kernel of truth here, not so much in the technology but in the fabric of our society. It is Society 2.0.

First of all, I’m not coining the term Society 2.0. I’m not sure who coined it, but I first heard of it on Monday, June 21st, from Julius O. Akinyemi, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Media Lab at MIT. I was privileged to be one of 25 or so folks who came together under the leadership of Zach Tumin of the Ash Institute at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Zach sponsored an executive session at Harvard on the topic “Making the Move to Gov 2.0: Citizen Engagement and Empowerment”.

The phrase “Web 2.0” seems to have significant validity. Tim O’Reilly created and defined the term Web 2.0, I think. There IS a vast difference between the World Wide Web as it existed before about 2003, and the kinds of web “stuff” available in the last six years. Perhaps the watershed moment was in 2003 when MySpace was founded by Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe. MySpace is a signal achievement, marking the true “social web” where normal people could post information and easily interact with each other. Web 1.0 was about viewing information and doing transactions. Web 2.0 is about social interaction.

And the term “Society 2.0” certainly makes sense to me as well.

Those of us old enough to remember life in 1980 may still remember what life was like in those days of ancient history. Typewriters, secretaries, phones with cords. Film cameras. Giant paper phone directories plopped on your doorstep. Anyone who used a computer or talked about bits or bytes (much less gigabits or terabytes) was an uber-geek who must have a pocket protector and be one full bubble off the level of normal.

Today, most human beings in the United States feel naked without at least a cell phone, but preferably a smartphone. Anyone using terms like “typewriter” or “secretary” will make listeners smile like they are humoring a very elderly relative who is suffering from dementia. Many of us have to check our e-mail constantly. Most of us use text messaging or multi-media messaging as a matter of course. And who uses a film camera or even knows a retailer which develops the stuff?

Welcome to Society 2.0. The technology-enabled society.

Government 2.0. Now that term is foreign to me.

I certainly understand “government”, as I am one (sorta). Or at least work for one.

This morning I attended Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s regular cabinet meeting. Did we talk technology? Hardly. Indeed, except for the specific details of the subject matter, this could have been a Mayor’s cabinet meeting from 1980 or even 1950. We talked about jobs – the overriding need for people in Seattle to have living wage jobs and how we, as a government, can help businesses large and small make that happen. We talked about the South Park Bridge, which will close in five days because it is rickety and dangerous, and that closure will isolate a whole neighborhood for over two years until we can find the money to replace it. We discussed the need for people to feel safe and secure on the streets, and how our departments – not just police, but transportation and neighborhoods and the electric utility – can work to help people downtown and in neighborhoods feel safe.

Sure, technology was there and it permeated the meeting – in the background. Three people, including the department director sitting my right, took notes on their iPads. I took notes using Microsoft One-Note on my HP Mini which uses Windows XP and which sat on top of the table – I’ve not yet become a fanboy for Apple technology. But I used my BlackBerry to set an appointment with the FCC and text message my deputy. Everyone else at the meeting surreptitiously checked their BlackBerrys for e-mail.

But Government 2.0? Whatever that is, it wasn’t present there, and it certainly should not have been.

Now don’t get me wrong – Government is doing a lot of innovative work with technology, and Seattle is a leader. You can follow the tweets of the Seattle police department and fire department and transportation. We’ve got a set of 15 interlinked blogs for up-to-the-minute information. You see any account balance and pay almost any bill or tax of the Seattle government online. And we do really cool stuff like a Traveler’s information map and posting Fire Department 911 calls on a map within a couple minutes of dispatch. Anyone can download a ton of information from data.seattle.gov. On Monday, June 28th, you be able to view a map showing crimes in your neighborhood and download redacted but pretty complete reports on any of them, a service probably unique in the nation.

But if websites are Web 1.0 and Facebook is Web 2.0, and typewriters/corded phones are Society 1.0 yet smartphones and ipods and email or text messaging are Society 2.0, then all that innovative stuff in Seattle is probably Government 1.5, not Government 2.0.

Government still has not quite figured out how to harness mobile phones and Facebook and LinkedIn. We still conduct public meetings with presentations by officials followed by citizens trooping one by one to the microphone to deliver a two or three minute diatribe to elected officials. We are not gutsy enough to allow even moderated comments on our blogs, or to establish a free-wheeling social network of citizens, much less a smartphone app for interacting with elected or senior government officials.

But there are glimmers of hope for Government 2.0. Mayor McGinn’s public meetings often include a display of tweets projected on a screen. The Seattle Channel has figured out ways to live-stream video from almost every major public meeting in the City. The Channel’s Ask-the-Mayor show includes interaction from constituents via e-mail, telephoned and even videotaped questions from citizens. IdeasforSeattle gives people an opportunity to suggest and rank ideas, and we’ll have a new, improved Idea generating tool later in the summer.

Gov 2.0 in Seattle - Click for More

Gov 2.0 - Ideas-for-Seattle

A true Government 2.0 needs to be more interactive.  Government 2.0 will be about inclusion:  elected officials having the ability to listen to a large number of constituents, not just the NIMBYs (not-in-my-backyard) who can show up at a meeting, or the lobbyists with the clout to get a face-to-face meeting with the official.   Government 2.0 needs to be about drafting new solutions from a wide variety of people (“crowdsourcing”), not just those who have the time or media attention to relentlessly push forward their own agenda.    Gov 2.0 will be empowering people on their own blocks and in their own neighborhoods to have more control over and take charge of their safety and quality of life.  Fundamentally this requires a change in culture in government from “we’ll collect the data and make the decisions, and let you review them” to “let’s collaborate and work on this together”.**

Technology has a role in this.  For example, by using tools to harvest @replies from Twitter.  Or to engender comments and discussions on Facebook or blogs without having the conversation degenerate when a few anonymous people use four letter words to viciously attack government and elected officials, a problem old and new media outlets face every day. We need ways that a “public meeting” can span two days allowing everyone to attend and discuss the topic and voice and debate ideas with online and video tools, without the need to travel downtown to City Hall for a meeting at fixed time. 

And we – government – need to harness the tools which the “normal” people of Society 2.0 use every day. Their mobile phones, and smartphones and Facebook. We need to harness those tools, so that our constituents don’t have to come “downtown” or come to government to use services or give input on policy. So they can use tools they already use – the Internet and Facebook and mobile phones – to interact with officials at meetings or to give feedback to elected official.

Interacting with your government should be as easy as posting to your Facebook wall or texting on your smartphone or adding a comment to a blog.   But it will also be hard because it will require every constituent – as well as our officials – to listen to the ideas of others and interact, discuss and collaborate in new ways beyond giving a two-minute speech at a public meeting or writing an e-mail message.    When our culture changes that way,  then perhaps we’ll have “Government Two dot Oh”.   (And we’ll be talking about Gov 3.0!)**

**These paragraphs changed from the original post due to Jon Stahl’s comments, below.

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Filed under BlackBerry, egovernment, social media, Uncategorized

– Kurmudgeons and Kids

Am I a Mac or a PC or Bill Schrier - click for more

Bill Schrier: Mac or PC?

Oh gee, I think I’ve become a Kurmudgeon. Or maybe a naysayer. Or maybe just a Buttoned-Down Corporate IT Technocrat. Or maybe, and this is most frightening of all, PC – and I don’t mean “politically correct” – but rather the character played by John Hodgman in the “Get a Mac” advertisements

Bill exchanged his draft card for his blog - click to see more

Bill's Draft Card and Blog

But I know I’m anti-establishment, because I marched and protested the Vietnam War. I actually participated in a sit-in demonstration. I crossed a police barricade during an anti-war protest in Madison Wisconsin (ok, so it was St. Patrick’s Day, I was drunk, twenty-three years old, on my way to work, and headed to get a cup of coffee to sober up – I still “crossed the line”, ok?). Gee Whiz, I almost burned by draft card (oh my gosh, am I that old, that I still have a draft card?)  How could a militant activist plebeian, farm-kid like me become the ultimate embodiment of “The Man“?

What happened?

Elections.

Yup, we’ve had a few recently in Seattle.

We have a new Mayor, a new County Executive, a new City Attorney, and two new City Councilpeople.

And they are all younger than me.

Worse yet, their campaign staff – who are now working on their transition teams – are college kids or twenty-and-thirty-something young people who have all these odd and annoying habits.

They use I-Phones. Gee, I can’t even spell I-Phone (correctly).  We corporate IT types use proper BlackBerrys or proper mobile phones that fold out when you want to talk.  (Although I did give my wife an I-Phone for Christmas – does that count?)

They use Macs. Yes, Apple Macintosh computers – (not the Ronald McDonald type of Mac).  We corporate IT types use proper Windows XP computers manufactured by prim and proper corporations like Hewlett Packard with proper advertising campaigns, thank you very much. (My always-suffering wife is a Mac person – does that count?)

They don’t use anti-virus software.  Anathema! Heresy!   My Chief Information Security Officer is writhing on the floor. There ARE viruses which affect Macs, he says.  And how about all those I-Phone (I still can’t spell it right) apps which are written by hackers and can be downloaded?  Oh wait, I-Phone hackers aren’t trying to create bot armies, they’re just trying to modify the software in the phone and bend it to their will.  Gee, does that make Apple Engineers and Programmers and Executives Buttoned-Down corporate IT types like me?

These kids – they tweet and twitter and blog and facebook (is that a verb?) and post video they take with their danged I-Phones to YouTube and create legends for their innovative use of cell phones to collect last minute ballots on election night. 

Where is my defense from all this anarchy?   Where is my official City of Seattle Information Security policy when I need it?   Where are my guidelines for the use of social media like Facebook and Twitter and Blogs (oh my)?  Where is that holy grail of all Chief Information Officers and Buttoned Down corporate IT types – “standards“? 

At least I can take comfort and wrap myself in my reduced budget (Macs and I-Phones cost more to buy and manage) and my economic development (gee, Microsoft DOES employ 40,000 people in the Seattle area and it DOES, after all, make software for Macs, too).

They are challenging my policies, these kids. They are challenging my assumptions. They don’t care for my technology standards. They have taught me how to spell iPhone.

They are challenging my very identity as the Chief Technology Officer for the City Government of Seattle.

And I love it.

4 Comments

Filed under BlackBerry, blog, budget, iPhone

– E-Mail Mangling

e-mail-hellMost people complain fervently about how electronic mail they get. My opinion: electronic mail is the best invention since sliced bread – or, at least the best since the Internet.

When you scratch the surface (or “open the envelope”), most of us are probably addicted to electronic mail and its newer cousins BlackBerrys, text messaging and twitter.

I know what large organizations did before e-mail. They wrote memos. They wrote stacks and stacks of paper memos. There were legions of clerks and secretaries who prepared memos for their bosses on typewriters.

I learned to touch-type on manual typewriters at North Tama High School in Traer, Iowa, a rural community school which wisely foisted typing class on every student, boy or girl. Why it was mandatory, I don’t know, as secretarial jobs were seen as menial even then. Perhaps the principal Bob Clark clairvoyantly foresaw (even before Al Gore) the Internet and computers? I know he died without a lot of wealth, so he wasn’t clairvoyant enough to buy Apple or Microsoft as startups, but clearly he was a prescient educator.

With paper memos (and carbon paper), bureaucracies took a loooong time to make decisions. And those decisions were hard to communicate other than via staff meetings or the ubiquitous company bulletin boards.

Usually very few people were involved in such decisions because of the amount of paper, the interoffice mail deliveries, and the slowness of the whole process. Beyond typing memos, pre-e-mail bureaucracies (to include corporations and private businesses as well as government) made a lot of decisions via small face-to-face meetings and the telephone – usually one-on-one phone calls.

E-mail changed all this. Now information can be rapidly disseminated to an entire company, or indeed, the entire world (skirting those ubiquitous spam filters). Through prudent and frugal use of e-mail, information can collected and decisions made, often without the need for face-to-face meetings. We’re more productive. We get more done in a shorter period of time. And we can get input from throughout our organization, not just the people we see face-to-face or in meetings every day.

Certainly millions of secretaries have been put out of work, but millions of much-higher-paid and more respected geeks (aka information technology workers) have been put INTO work, not just for managing e-mail, but also for all the related technologies (servers, storage, spam filters and so forth).

The City of Seattle is deep in the throes of converting from Novell GroupWise to Microsoft Exchange/Outlook for electronic mail. This $10 million project (including standardization on Office 2007) represents the 4th generation of electronic mail for us, starting with IBM’s CICS Office, thru a Diaspora of LAN-based e-mail systems to standardizing on GroupWise and now to Outlook. A team of 20 technology employees is hard at work at this conversion.  I’m looking forward to June 24th, when I (as CTO, Chief Geek, and Chief Dog-food-eater) become one of the first log-in to my newly-minted Outlook.

E-mail: the bane of our existence? A vast improvement in productivity and decision making? A way to flatten and democratize our existence? Yeah, it is all that and more.

E-mail: I like it.

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Filed under BlackBerry, e-mail

– Tech Nightmares Frighten a CIO

Tech Horror

Tech Horror

Sometimes my job as a City CIO keeps me up at night. There are some pretty horrible things which can happen to the technology which keeps City and County governments running. Halloween seems like a perfect time to confront a few of our most frightful fears, and here are a few of mine.

Water. And Fire. Or Fire followed by Water. In my data center. The City of Seattle has multiple data centers, but our main one, constructed in 2001, has well over $15 million of stuff in it. Things like the e-mail servers used by the entire City government, or the disk array holding all our financial data. And about 500 mid-range servers. Our data center is in one of the most modern, earthquake-resistant buildings in town. But my real fear – and much more likely than the predicted 8.0 earthquake – is a fire or a gushing water leak. I guess it’s time to test that disaster recovery plan again!

E-mail Horror

E-mail Horror

E-mail. Gosh, e-mail is the most important application we have – more important than utility billing systems or computer-aided dispatch or financial management systems. We all get an avalanche of e-mail every day, and the City of Seattle’s great Postini spam filter from Google cleans out most of the viruses and junk mail. But it is really the content of the e-mail which scares me. Like that occasional email which says “hey, we’ve decided to cut your budget for xxx (fill in the blank) by $500,000 but you still get to do the project, on time, with reduced budget” or “oh, hey, Mr. CTO, your Wi-Fi network in the University District is down. Again. And the Mayor has a public meeting there at 3:00 PM”. The only thing more frightening than some of the e-mail messages is arriving in the morning to find that the e-mail system is … ah … “down”. And down HARD!

Tablet Computer

Tablet Computer

Tablet computers. Ah the great promise of laptops and tablets! You sit at your desk, and it is a desktop computer. You unhook it. You take it to every one of your meetings so you can view documents electronically, and don’t have to print paper to take along. You take notes using Microsoft One-Note on the tablet, rather than writing stuff on paper (and, like me, promptly losing the paper in one of the giant piles in my office). You demonstrate that you are “friendly to the environment” by personally reducing your paper use by storing everything electronically. Then you forget to back the tablet up, you trip on the stairs with the laptop in your hands, and it crashes. Into the wall. Literally.

BlackBerry

BlackBerry

BlackBerries. An extraordinary combination of the two most nefarious technologies known to humankind, the cellular telephone and electronic mail. Now you get to be available to your customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The real killer is discovering, one September day, that one of my last havens where most cell phones and BlackBerries didn’t work – beautiful little Republic, Washington – had been jerked into the modern era (see blog entry Fossils and Technology). The Blackberry worked there! Arggh. The only thing worse than a fully functioning BlackBerry is one which doesn’t work, so you are out of touch! Arrgh!

Mayor’s briefing. You show up to brief the Mayor and his senior staff on your latest new hotshot tech project, hoping to convince them to make a relatively small (less than a million bucks) investment. But, as you walk into the Mayor’s Office, the Dow drops 500 points, Lehman Brothers fails, AIG needs a $85 billion bailout, sales tax revenues drop precipitously right along with consumer confidence, Boeing goes on strike and the room’s technology systems go on the fritz.

The Help Desk. So you call the Help Desk (206-386-1212 for the City) about any one of the problems above, and they fix the problem over the phone. Quickly. Efficiently. Surprisingly well. And you – the Chief Technology Guy – are really frightened, because the problem was “user error” and the user is you!

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Filed under BlackBerry, disaster, e-mail