Should State and Local Governments Care About the Metaverse?

Def: Metaverse generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work.

Governments cannot know for sure how metaverses will develop or if they’ll live up to the hype, but now may be the time to start exploring the possibilities and making plans to guide the space’s development.

Cities in the U.S. have left the technological development to the private sector — but a number have been making use of underlying technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and blockchain as well as 3D modeling and digital twins.

Still, obstacles remain, and many state and local governments may be taking a wait-and-see approach before getting more involved.

In Utah, it was determined that state officials would struggle to make the case to legislators that today’s metaverses offer enough return on investment (ROI) or generate enough resident demand to justify the costs of government adoption.

These early days are a chance for governments and private-sector players to help guide how the metaverses develop. Early interventions could hopefully avert some of the bias and equity issues that have emerged with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI)..

PROMISES AND VISIONS
Seoul, South Korea hopes to host metaverse-based festivals, attracting virtual tourists worldwide, and let residents meet virtually with avatars of public officials instead of traveling to city hall to meet in person.

The National League of Cities (NLC) highlighted possibilities: including a future in which U.S. residents could quickly access city services and public meetings through the metaverse in a more user-friendly manner than that offered by other digital channels.

Santa Monica, California launched an AR app where users viewed an interactive map of the local retail district and gathered virtual tokens when visiting different areas. Users could redeem the tokens for real-world items with participating retailers or use them to unlock app-based experiences.

Governments could also use metaverses to better inform residents and entice public participation. When planning construction projects, states could hypothetically spin up a 3D digital twin mockup and invite residents to virtually visit and give feedback on specific design elements.

WILL GOVERNMENT GET INVOLVED?
Ultimately, state governments will likely engage with metaverses “to some degree,” but just how seriously they do so depends on how these platforms and their use cases develop.

UNDERLYING TECHNOLOGIES
Right now state and local governments may be more interested in the technologies that underpin the metaverse. Those can include digital twins, blockchain, IoT and virtual and augmented reality.

Boston used a digital twin to model a proposed building and the shadow it would cast, leading authorities to modify the design.

Austin, Texas, explored using blockchain to securely store identifying records of people experiencing homelessness, enabling them to access medical and social services even if their paper ID documents become lost, stolen or damaged.

Public agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service brought immersive VR headsets to career fairs to show potential recruits simulations of what work at a slaughter plant looks like.

REGULATION AND INTERVENTION
This could be a prime time for governments to consider how they want to shape metaverses, even if they refrain from making investments.

It is believed that the metaverse will open new economic opportunities, in part by creating rising demand for coders and graphic designers as well as by encouraging heavier use of NFTs and cryptocurrencies.

Now is the time to ensure that marginalized communities are equally able to access and participate in the emerging digital economies, because early interventions can get ahead of equity issues while the metaverses are still forming.
Summarized from GovTech.com

How to Avoid the Most Common Causes of Cybersecurity Incidents

Cybercrime is at an all-time high. Although cyber liability insurance policies exist to help cover potential losses resulting from cybersecurity incidents, it is better to take measures to ensure these events do not occur in the first place.

3 Key Cybersecurity Measures
Protect your accounts

  • Make sure your password is secure. The longer it is or the more complex it is, the harder it is to guess.
  • Don’t share your password with people or other places. If you use your password on multiple sites and one of them is breached, it will be the first password a threat actor would use to attempt to get into your account.
  • When applicable, use another form of authentication to supplement your password. “Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)” is a common form of additional protection available via an app on your phone, an SMS (text message), a call with a recorded number, or a digital token.

Be vigilant of emails in your inbox

  • Most cyber events are a result of either poor configuration (weak passwords, insecure protocols and applications, remote access software) or a matter of social engineering where a threat actor attempts to get you to take action, following their request, that provides them direct access or compromises your account, computer, or network.
    • Common methods of identifying a “phishing” email include:
      • Spelling or grammar issues
      • A change in the user’s email address
      • Non-functional or unexpected attachments or hyperlinks
      • A sudden call to action, or sense of urgency
      • Making requests that may not pertain to you or may be outside of your normal daily duties

Exercise an appropriate level of suspicion regarding unexpected links or attachments.

Be aware of your surroundings

  • Not every cyber breach involves a cyber-attack, and in many cases passwords or compromising information can be obtained from physically entering the premises or looking through discarded paper.
    • Consider shredding any documents leaving your place of work or home
    • Don’t allow unconfirmed individuals access to your premises.
    • A threat actor may also take advantage of human nature.
    • Observe a clean desk policy as this helps encourage good password hygiene
    • Do not plug in unexpected removable media (flash drives, CDs, DVDs, etc.) as these may contain malicious software

Conclusion

Taking measures to prevent cybersecurity breaches can help greatly reduce the chances of a business succumbing to related losses and interruption. In the case that a breach has already occurred, it is advisable to seek the help of digital forensics experts as early as possible

Summarized from www.statetechmagazine.com

A City Government Begins Mining for Bitcoin

Fort Worth, Texas, has installed three Bitmain Antminer S9s bitcoin mining machines in city hall.

The six-month pilot program was made possible by the Texas Blockchain Council, a nonprofit association that works in bitcoin, bitcoin mining, crypto and blockchain industries.

To make Fort Worth a more tech-friendly city, blockchain technology and cryptocurrency mark the city’s commitment to becoming a leading hub for technology and innovation.

The overall goal of the pilot is to understand the implications and opportunities for bitcoin mining and to learn hands on.

The mayor affirmed the responsibility to think outside the box and work with private sector partners to think about what the future of the economy is going to look like.

In 2021, the Texas legislature established a working group to expand the state’s blockchain industry and recommend policies and investments, passing legislation adding cryptocurrency to its Uniform Commercial Code, making it valid for commercial transactions.

The mining machines are dedicated to solving complex computational math to create new bitcoins. Fort Worth will join the Luxor Technologies mining pool to combine hashing power (the power that a computer or hardware uses to run and solve different algorithms that generate new cryptocurrencies) with other miners all over the world to increase their chances of earning bitcoin.

The city estimates each machine will generate enough bitcoin to cover the cost of the power. By limiting the pilot program’s focus to three machines, the city can assess and execute a municipal bitcoin mining program at a manageable scale.

Summarized from www.route-fifty.com

GIS in State and Local Government: How Geographic Information Systems Aid Agencies

A recent report from the National States Geographic Information Council revealed that states are making progress on developing their geospatial data capabilities, even though the creation of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure to share geospatial data between states is still out of reach.

The profile of geographic information systems has been elevated during the coronavirus pandemic, as agencies have used GIS technology to track virus cases, help administer and track vaccines, and offer citizens a wealth of data about their communities on matters beyond the virus.

A growing number of agencies include GIS professional certification requirements for new hires and projects

GIS tools and technologies enable “better decisions at all levels of government, from people working in the field to the executives managing the government,” says Brent Jones, president of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), a nonprofit organization of professionals using GIS in government.

What Is GIS?

The U.S. Geological Survey defines GIS as “a computer system that analyzes and displays geographically referenced information” and that “uses data that is attached to a unique location.” GIS is a combination of hardware, software, data and analytical tools used to manage data and merge data sets together for better decision-making.

All data has a spatial component, which GIS leverages, enabling agencies to approach problems from a geographic perspective, leveraging location and data internal and external to the system to make more informed and better decisions.

Which Technologies Enable GIS for Government?

There are four key technology components that allow government agencies and other organizations to leverage GIS.

The first is the enterprise geodatabase, which is basically a database built to manage location, allowing organizations to use location and do spatial analysis and other analysis easily, as opposed to using regular databases with some limited location coordinates.

Cloud technologies have also enabled the growth of GIS in several ways including making GIS data accessible to everyone.

Data stored in the cloud is another key component with Cloud tools allowing organizations to easily configure applications that leverage that data.

The fourth key technology is application programming interfaces, which enable the configuration of maps and apps against that data infrastructure.

GIS in Government: How Is It Used?

GIS was born in the 1960s, for managing environmental and natural resource data for the Canadian government.

In the following decades, as computing power increased and graphical user interfaces grew more sophisticated, GIS evolved and matured into commercial products used by both industry and governments.

GIS tools are very useful in government for visualizing and analyzing land parcels, which helps public works departments, planning agencies, emergency response teams and others in state and local government.

There are more than a dozen different disciplines for GIS within state and local government, including airports, economic development, elections, emergency call taking and dispatch, emergency management, environmental and natural resources, health and human services, housing and homelessness, land administration and land records, and urban and community planning.

Teams in these areas within government can use GIS to gather data, create digital maps and make more informed planning decisions about where and how to allocate resources based on maps.

GIS also can be used in citizen-facing applications and as a public engagement tool. Agencies can provide maps based on crime data, the locations of resources for citizens, where fires are being spotted and other useful information. It also gives citizens more direct access to government data, mapped in a geospatial manner.

GIS enables government leaders to see dashboard data at a glance in order to make quicker decisions by allowing the easy collection of data, the integration of data, and use analytical tools for quick analysis and detailed analysis.

Summarized from www.statetechmagazine.com

How Localities Are Using ARPA Funds for IT Modernization

Federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act will continue to flow through counties and cities in the years ahead for long-term upgrades.

More than a year after President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law, localities across the country are leveraging the $350 billion the relief package set aside for state and local governments to invest in a wide range of technology-related improvements.

The law gives states, counties, cities and tribal governments fairly wide latitude in determining how to use the funds. States are collecting roughly $195 billion, metropolitan areas are receiving $45 billion; and counties and other government departments are getting the rest.

In addition to plugging budget holes and making reimbursement payments, the law says the funds can be allocated for government services.

In February, the National League of Cities and National Association of Counties, together with the Brookings Institution’s Brookings Metro program, launched an interactive dashboard that tracks how 152 different municipalities are using ARPA funds. From a technology perspective, those projects range from broadband enhancements to cybersecurity investments and funding for tools to support remote work for government employees. . Governments have until the end of 2024 to allocate the funds.

Summarized from www.statetechmagazine.com

Report Outlines Broadband Fixes for State, Local Governments

How should states and local areas use federal dollars to connect the digital have-nots? A recent report aims to help governments that are looking for different options to address Internet access gaps in their communities.

In addition to broadband access, the report, produced by the NewDEAL Forum’s Broadband Task Force, examines a number of Internet-related subjects like coverage mapping, affordability, telehealth and digital skills.

The overall goal is to give states and local areas a plethora of ideas that they might draw from as they develop new programs funded by recent federal legislation.

Loranne Ausley, a Florida senator and co-chair of the aforementioned task force, said the report should be seen as closing the digital divide involving many different factors depending on local contexts.

Local areas, particularly when they’re rural, don’t always have the resources to identify a path forward when it comes to connectivity and digital inclusion. The report showcases the importance of having a state office that can support smaller community efforts with technical assistance, and underlines how critical it is to understand the different technologies that can help get households connected.

As challenging as it is for rural communities to tackle the issue of high-speed Internet access, that doesn’t mean cities don’t have major hurdles to clear. Both rural and urban areas have “serious inequity” in regards to broadband.

San Jose has had to get creative in its attempts to solve the affordability issue in some of its neighborhoods. In a novel approach outlined by the report, San Jose has formed a partnership with company to pay the Internet bills of low-income families by mining cryptocurrency and converting that to gift cards.

In Colorado, where a bill requires broadband grant applicants “to provide more granular mapping data to demonstrate the community needs”; Oakland, Calif. has managed to bring free Wi-Fi to multiple low-income apartment buildings; and Brownsville, Texas, has kicked off a plan to build middle-mile fiber throughout the city by bringing together stakeholders, taking advantage of federal funds and engaging in broadband mapping.

Summarized from www.govtech.com

Local governments are attractive targets for hackers and are ill-prepared

President Joe Biden on March 21, 2022, warned that Russian cyberattacks on U.S. targets are likely, though the government has not identified a specific threat. Biden urged: “Harden your cyber defenses immediately.”

It is a costly fact of modern life that organizations are vulnerable to cyberattacks, and the threat of cyberattacks from Russia and other nations makes a bad situation worse. Individuals, too, are at risk from the current threat.

Local governments, like schools and hospitals, are particularly enticing “soft targets” – organizations that lack the resources to defend themselves against routine cyberattacks. For those attacking such targets, the goal is not necessarily financial reward but disrupting society at the local level.

The services provided by local governments entail an intimate and ongoing daily relationship with citizens and businesses. Disrupting their operations disrupts the heart of U.S. society by shaking confidence in local government and potentially endangering citizens.

In the crosshairs

Local governments have suffered successful cyberattacks on targets ranging from 911 call centers to public school systems. The consequences of a successful cyberattack against local government can be devastating.

A poll of local government chief security officers revealed that nearly one-third of U.S. local governments would be unable to tell if they were under attack in cyberspace.

Ill-equipped

Lack of sound IT practices and effective cybersecurity measures can make successful cyberattacks even more debilitating. Almost half of U.S. local governments reported that their IT policies and procedures were not in line with industry best practices.

A cybersecurity challenge is found where local governments struggle in hiring and retaining the necessary numbers of qualified IT and cybersecurity staff with wages and workplace cultures that compare with those of the private sector or federal government.

Additionally, local governments are limited by the need to comply with state policies, the political considerations of elected officials and the usual perils of government bureaucracy. Challenges like these can hamper effective preparation for, and responses to, cybersecurity problems – especially when it comes to funding.

Large local governments are better positioned to address cybersecurity concerns than smaller local governments. Unfortunately, like other soft targets in cyberspace, small local governments are much more constrained.

Getting the basics right

Local governments in the U.S. are enticing targets. Artificial intelligence hacking tools and vulnerabilities introduced by the spread of smart devices and the growing interest in creating “smart cities” put local governments even more at risk.

There’s no quick or foolproof fix to eliminate all cybersecurity problems, but one of the most important steps local governments can take is clear: Implement basic cybersecurity. Emulating the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s national cybersecurity framework or other industry accepted best practices is a good start.

Summarized from www.theconversation.com

AI Could Help Get Government Records Off Paper and Online

Although digitizing government has become easier, the amount of unstructured data that agencies hold remains a steep barrier to full transparency. Artificial intelligence could be the answer.

Despite years of investing in better storage and analytics, many organizations still struggle to make use of their data. Too often, agencies have an abundance of “dark data” — data that is undiscovered, underutilized or otherwise untapped. Even if these organizations have fully embraced digitization, one of the challenges is that much of their valuable data is trapped in documents such as contracts, invoices, policies and meeting minutes, and they have no effective way of getting it out and making use of it.

Government agencies have long struggled with how to make use of the unstructured data found in most documents. There are two general ways to address this issue, and both have serious shortcomings.

One option is to manually extract data from traditional electronic documents, such as PDFs, Word files or HTML documents. For structured data, such as the amount owed on an invoice, this may be simple and automated. But for unstructured data, it is less straightforward. For example, an invoice may include a description of the services provided. To process this information, project managers must review and verify whether the services align with work on an approved contract and describe work that was actually performed. This likely involves reviewing multiple other documents, all of which also involve unstructured data, and may require the specialized skills of additional government workers, such as lawyers or procurement officials.

The other option is to use structured documents — electronic documents where the various elements of the document have meaningful labels. The most common method would be to use a standard like XML. In XML, the creator of a document can use a schema that defines the elements in the document, the data types of those elements, and any defaults or attributes of those elements. Unfortunately, creating structured documents can be tedious and technical, and changes to schemas must be closely monitored and validated, otherwise nothing may work.

Artificial intelligence is creating a new option for organizations to make better use of data in their documents. Using natural language processing, deep learning and other methods, AI can help recognize and categorize data in documents and then mark up that data to create a structured document.

The challenge is not just extracting data from documents, but obtaining data and metadata to create meaning so that information can be understood in context

Using AI might help solve this problem. For example, if analysts are searching through thousands of unstructured medical documents for the word “penicillin,” they are able to distinguish between those instances where the drug is listed in reference to an allergy and others where it is listed as a prescription.

For government agencies, this opens up new possibilities because more semantic data could help an agency not only better manage a wide variety of documents, such as invoices, contracts and proposals, but also eventually use the technology to answer questions using the data contained within them.

Summarized from www.govtech.com

How Can State and Local Agencies Enhance Their Use of Data Analytics?

State and local government agencies have been busy using data analytics tools in the past few years to give citizens access to more useful data and to improve public safety and traffic conditions, among many other uses.

While state and local IT leaders see data analytics as an integral part of modern digital government, they say they are facing many hurdles to maximizing their use of analytics tools.

A survey from MeriTalk questioned 75 IT decision-makers and 75 program managers and found that while 89 percent agree that data analytics is the lifeblood of modern government, most organizations (63 percent) are still in the early or middle stages of maturing their analytics programs.

State and local leaders say they need better workforce training, better data management and increased funding to help improve their analytics programs.

The State of Government Data Analytics Programs

While 90 percent of survey respondents said their agencies have improved their use of data analytics in the past two years, 4 in 5 said “the gap between the amount of data their organization collects and the amount they are able to use for meaningful analytics continues to grow.”

State and local agencies are also increasingly using chief data officers to help them manage and get insights from their data.

Still, agencies have made progress on data analytics during the COVID-19 pandemic. The overwhelming majority of respondents (83 percent) agreed that the pandemic has “emphasized the importance of a data-driven government.”

State and local agencies have also made progress in their data management and analytics capabilities over the past two years.

How to Improve Data Analytics in Government

Despite these advances, 78 percent of respondents felt the amount of data their organization collects is growing faster than their ability to keep up.

State and local IT leaders said they face several significant challenges to leveraging data in a meaningful way. They include a lack of staffing/workforce expertise (41 percent), lack of data prioritization from non-IT leadership (37 percent), poor data quality (33 percent) and an inability to meaningfully combine or share information (27 percent).

Agencies’ current top data analytics priorities include improving data security (53 percent), improving their understanding of the data they already have (51 percent), increasing data quality (44 percent), identifying priority metrics or data points (43 percent) and improving transparency with citizen data collection and use (39 percent).

At the end of the survey, MeriTalk makes several recommendations including: that agencies “identify a potential group of data management and analytic experts, invest in training opportunities, and increase automation to take pressure off an already overworked department.”

It also notes that “leading organizations use resources wisely — both technology and human capital — to maximize data value.” The report further says that agencies should champion CDO appointments.

Finally, the report says it is crucial for agencies to continue to mature their data analytics programs.

Summarized from www.statetechmagazine.com

New Jersey Lawmakers Propose IT Modernization

Government websites are some of the most highly trafficked destinations on the internet. However, when state and local government websites are outdated and slow, citizens have a poor user experience and may lose trust in government agencies.

Government services are some of the most important and relevant services people need access to, and government IT leaders agree it should be quick, seamless and secure.

New Jersey is attempting to meet public demand and complete a makeover of the state’s government services user experience.

New legislation, known as the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, or 21st Century IDEA, aims to update websites, implement modern customer service experiences and transition paper processes to digital formats. The act would also authorize the state’s CTO to request that agencies submit IT modernization and improvement plans.

What Does IT Modernization Mean for New Jersey?
Within one year of the 21st Century IDEA’s enactment, New Jersey state agencies would be required to submit IT modernization and improvement plans that leverage data analytics to better understand user interaction with their respective websites and digital services.

The captured data would also inform how best to enhance public-facing websites on mobile devices, improve website operation, and digitize government processes and workflows. Additionally, the plans would need to state how agencies intend to make each website used by the public mobile-friendly and accessible for people with disabilities.

Why Does New Jersey’s IT Modernization Effort Matter?
The new legislation’s impact hinges on its ability to evaluate all technology at the state level. One of the main goals is to make state government websites faster and more reliable. Within New Jersey, many residents tend to experience long wait times when trying to access basic government services.

Residents “need an easy-to-use platform” where they can access information and services. The 21st Century IDEA seeks to supply that platform and help agencies evaluate and improve their websites across the state.

Summarized from www.statetechmagazine.com