The Benefits of Drones, Police on Pinterest, and a Successful IT Consolidation

News you should know about government and technology.
by | April 2, 2013
 

Edited by Tod Newcombe

Are privacy issues keeping state and local governments from enjoying the benefits of drones? Drone hobbyists and public safety officials are pushing governments to keep an open mind when it comes to the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that have been used in the war on terrorism.

In recent years, drone technology has dropped in price, and the machines have become easier to pilot, according to experts. At the same time, the fiscal squeeze on state and local budgets has various agencies looking for more economical ways to provide services – and that’s where drones come in. Law enforcement agencies consider drones an inexpensive way to get better situational awareness during dangerous operations, such as drug busts and hostage situations. Firefighters are also investigating drones and how they may help them scout wildfires, identify hard-to-locate hotspots, or find trapped people in areas that helicopters can’t reach.

Currently, the use of drones in the public sector is tightly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. But efforts are underway to make it simpler for public safety agencies to get authorization to fly the unmanned vehicles.

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Meanwhile, drone hobbyists are spreading the word to government agencies about the benefits of drone technology. Public safety agencies can purchase a turnkey drone system for as little as $40,000, according to a hobby group in Oregon known as the Roswell Flight Test Crew. The group has given field demonstrations to and held talks with a number of public agencies about the cost, operation and maintenance of drones with mixed responses, according to Patrick Sherman, a member of the Roswell group.

Law enforcement agencies continue to pursue new uses for social media. The latest is Pinterest, the photo-sharing website that allows users to create theme-based image collections. The Kansas City, Mo., Police Department has created what it believes is the nation’s first crime-fighting Pinterest board, according to Sarah Boyd, a public relations specialist with the department.

Some of the items the police have “pinned” to their board include images of street drugs and paraphernalia to help parents identify different types of drugs. The board also features the latest household items that people are using to get high, including bath salts and hand sanitizer (which, when ingested, can have the same effect as drinking multiple shots of liquor).

“Pinterest offers an audience that I think isn’t traditionally in touch with law enforcement, and that is women,” said Boyd, adding that recent statistics show about 80 percent of Pinterest’s approximately 11.7 million users are women. “We thought it would be a really neat way to meet stay-at-home moms who aren’t getting information about what street drugs look like if they found them in their kid’s rooms.”

States and localities continue to streamline and downsize their sprawling IT operations. The latest state to tackle the problem head on is Oklahoma, which has saved $90 million since it began consolidating the servers, storage systems, software and networks for nearly 132 state agencies inside one data center. Getting the legislature to approve the changes necessary to reach this level of savings, however, was neither easy nor quick.

Oklahoma’s IT transformation story started back in 2008 when two state lawmakers, Reps. Jason Murphey and David Derby, pushed a bill through the statehouse to appoint a cabinet-level chief information officer and perform a statewide assessment of Oklahoma’s technology operations. The bill ran into opposition from Democrats, who saw it as an attempt to shrink state government, as well as Republicans, who thought the creation of a new cabinet-level position was an expansion of government.

Eventually the bill passed, and the state hired Alex Pettit, the former CIO of Denton, Texas. Pettit launched an IT assessment that concluded that Oklahoma could save more than $100 million within the first three years of consolidation. The assessment found expensive duplicate technology throughout the state government, including 76 financial systems, 48 reporting and analytics applications, and 129 email and BlackBerry servers.

Derby then introduced a second bill aimed at actually consolidating all the systems, and Gov. Mary Fallin called for IT consolidation in her 2011 State of the State address, making it an important part of her effort to close a $600 million budget shortfall. While the bill proved to be contentious at times, it finally passed and became law on May 25, 2011.

Besides saving the state $90 million so far, Pettit expects another $40 million in cost reductions along with an additional 3 percent savings annually for the consolidated agencies. Besides cutting out redundancies, state IT services now operate under a shared services business model and are subject to performance metrics. Read the full story here.

Government Technology has announced this year’s winners of its Top 25 “Doers, Dreamers and Drivers” award for technology innovation in the public sector. The annual award has recognized nearly 300 people since its inception in 2002. Recipients are chosen based on their record of using technology to solve problems, improve citizen services and transform internal operations.

This year’s honorees include technology professionals from state and local government and higher education, along with elected officials, emergency managers and representatives of innovative nonprofits and private companies. Among the winners are: Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker; Minnesota CIO Carolyn Parnell; Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder; Fort Worth, Texas CIO Pete Anderson; and Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, an online shoe and clothing store.

Information for this newsletter was compiled from news reports published by Govtech.com.

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