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

Ransomware attacks are complex — preventing them isn’t

As geopolitical conflicts increasingly play out in cyberspace, ransomware attacks are ravaging businesses and governments of all sizes.

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly recently implored city officials to make ransomware a “kitchen-table issue.” Ransomware must be simplified so it’s easy to understand and discuss with simple solutions and simple actions.

There are things that towns, cities and counties can do that do not require large budgets, more technology, or more staff. They require a better understanding of how ransomware attacks occur and policies that drastically reduce the ability for criminals to snatch valuable data.

The Cyber Readiness Institute provides free, easy-to-use tools and resources to help small and medium-sized businesses and government entities become more cyber-secure and resilient. Resources and guides focus on human behavior and place significant emphasis on employee education and awareness. Most ransomware and phishing incursions can be prevented by taking practical, common-sense steps.

In the case of ransomware, it is as simple as: prepare, respond and recover.

Prepare

Ransomware gangs and nation states want to hold town’s or city’s data hostage and do the most economic damage possible. To not give them leverage, regularly back up critical data and store it in the cloud or offline. Regularly test your backups.

Know the behaviors bringing ransomware risk including phishing attacks, the most popular entry point for cybercriminals. Conduct routine phishing tests so employees can detect a phishing email before clicking on dangerous links or attachments and, when possible, use anti-phishing software.

Make sure software is up-to-date with the latest security patches. Insist employees use strong passwords or passphrases (at least 15 characters) and implement multi-factor authentication, which requires users to present more than one piece of evidence when logging in to an account. This step alone prevents 99.9% of account-compromise attacks.

If an employee or your government agency is confronted with a ransom request, your organization must first assess the legitimacy by contacting your IT manager. If you have prepared and have backups that work, the ransomware attack is moot.

If the data held hostage is needed and there are no working backups, things become more complex. Check if the data exists somewhere else in the organization so you can “tape” together the data to replace what is being held hostage. If you can’t access the data, ask the following questions:
Is the data critical to your operations?
Has your organization pre-determined that it is OK paying a ransom?
Does your insurance cover it?

Recover

The scope of the ransomware attack and the severity of its impact on your daily operations will determine how much time and effort is needed to recover.

As with any security breach, notify all affected parties, reset the user IDs and passwords, update the software on all devices and reinstall your data from backups once the ransomware threat is neutralized.

Ransomware is not an incurable scourge. Protections are not limited to organizations with the deepest pockets.

Summarized from www.statescoop.com

No Strategy Needed to Start Leveraging AI in Government

While states should formulate a strategic vision for long-term use of artificial intelligence, the pandemic showed that AI can successfully assist with vital public services.

The pandemic has shown state chief information officers that artificial intelligence is within reach of public agencies, and an overall AI strategy is not needed to start leveraging and benefiting from the technology.

AI refers to systems or machines that mimic human intelligence to perform tasks and can improve themselves based on the information they collect.

When the Covid-19 pandemic started, many state governments had to adapt to chatbots, which are computer programs that simulate and process human written or spoken conversation, and other digital assistance to handle inquiries around unemployment assistance and other vital public services to deal with the increase in demand.

From the transition, agency leaders found that technology allowed them to better serve more residents with fewer resources and deploy limited staff to deal with more complicated activities.

Supporting State AI Use
For AI adoption to have long-term success, a defined strategy and vision are important with a clear framework for AI use and governance, and a defined AI vision and strategy.

Among the challenges adopting this kind of technology includes states lacking staff or contractors with the skills required to roll it out, existing computer systems that are badly outdated, and the need for a clearer framework to govern how AI and machine learning can be deployed.

Formulating a Strategic Vision
While most states’ AI efforts are in the early stages, technology leaders have an opportunity to lay a firm foundation grounded in sound strategy.

Steps technology leaders can take when looking ahead include:
Vision: Examine the full breadth of AI possibilities and limitations.
Data: Allow AI to leverage massive data sets to deliver accurate predictions.
Framework: Centralize guidance and standardized processes in an AI strategy.
Business value: Give an AI strategy a narrative of impact.
Deployment: Look at early successes with AI that show agencies the potential of technology tools, like natural language processing, machine learning and sentiment analysis.
Automation: Make sure advanced automation furthers the state’s interests.
Vendor collaboration: Employ companies that specialize in learning automation, software-as-a-service platforms and managed services as primary paths to AI systems.

Summarized from www.route-fifty.com

How State, Local Government Can Fight Disinformation

To combat false narratives and foster trust in reliable information, governments can invest in local news, support empathy-building initiatives, and ensure election processes are traceable.

The Aspen Institute took on the sweeping issue of mis- and disinformationwith the release of an 80-page report that outlines key goals and steps for government and civic society can take to reduce the harm and spread of false claims.

The spread of deliberate or accidental falsehoods undermines society’s ability to effectively tackle problems like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. It’s hard to frame goals or collaborate on solutions without first agreeing to the facts of the problem.

Information disorder is a crisis that exacerbates all other crises, because it prevents us from being able to discuss important issues with facts.

The institute’s Commission on Information Disorder spent six months consulting with experts to take a society-wide look at false information. The effort produced a set of 15 recommendations of short- and long-term actions for government, private firms, civic rights organizations and others. These initiatives are intended to bring greater transparency into social mediaplatforms’ activities; better ensure the public has access to and faith in providers of accurate information, such as libraries and local newspapers; and reduce some of the most serious damages of misinformation, such as that impacting marginalized communities, public health and elections.

Summarized from govtech.com