Cloud Computing in Texas, Chief Innovation Officers and Cyberthreats

News you should know about government and technology.
by | March 5, 2013

Edited by Tod Newcombe

In a sign of government’s growing confidence in cloud computing, Texas has announced plans to move 100,000 state workers onto Microsoft’s cloud. The deal is the “largest statewide cloud deployment” in the U.S., according to Microsoft. The contract will give workers access to Office 365, which includes email and collaboration tools and is in compliance with the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services as well as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act security standards.

The program’s ability to meet stringent standards was one of the main reasons Texas chose Microsoft’s cloud computing service, according to Todd Kimbriel, director of e-government for the Texas Department of Information Resources. Another reason Texas is embracing cloud computing is to hold down technology costs.

“We're paying about a 75 percent discount now compared to what we were paying a competitor four years ago,” Kimbriel said.

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Cloud computing has taken off in the private sector, but government has been slow to embrace the trend, often citing security issues and the need to keep control of data, hardware and networks. But the recession’s severe impact on state budgets forced many states and localities to adopt and use the next generation of computing at a more rapid pace.

Texas hopes to move its entire workforce onto cloud computing at some point in the future, according to Kimbriel.

Meanwhile, another legacy IT upgrade has hit the wall. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has pulled the plug on its IT modernization project after seven years of work.

The $208 million two-system project was created to upgrade legacy hardware systems for the DMV's driver's license and vehicle registration systems. While upgrades to the driver's license system are “nearly finished,” according to Christine Lally, assistant secretary for communications and legislation at the California Technology Agency, "minimal work" has been done to upgrade the vehicle registration system.

Electronic Data Systems, now owned by Hewlett-Packard (HP), was contracted to assist in the project for about $76 million -- approximately $50 million of which was paid out before the agency canceled the contract on Jan. 31.

The scheduled deadline for the vehicle registration system upgrade was May 2013, and the vendor contract was scheduled to end in November 2013. Technology Agency officials determined that the vehicle registration system upgrade would not be finished by these deadlines. So rather than continue the work, agency officials decided to break off and develop a new plan for finishing the last remaining part of the project. This cancellation, Lally said, allows for the Technology Agency and DMV to "take a fresh look at planning the vehicle registration system upgrades."

While HP is among the largest suppliers of hardware to the state of California, this cancellation represents at least the second major contract with the state that the company has lost in recent years. Formerly the contractor for the California Medicaid Management Information System, Hewlett-Packard lost a 10-year, $1.6 billion contract renewal to a Xerox subsidiary in 2010.

Move over, chief information officers. There’s a new CIO in town. From Riverside, Calif., to Kansas City, Mo., more states and municipalities are hiring chief innovation officers (CIO). But what are they, exactly?

The job description, scope of work and relationship to tech projects vary widely. Some CIO positions sound like economic development agency executives, charged with promoting job growth and luring businesses to the community. Others -- like in San Francisco -- place a strong emphasis on transparency and open data initiatives. Philadelphia’s chief innovation officer position encompasses the chief information officer role, internal business process transformation and startup tech business support.

Jayson White, project manager of the Urban Policy Advisory Group, has helped several cities create innovation positions. When the concept first started taking hold in 2008, the focus was on education reform and sustainability, he said. But once the recession hit, that focus changed to how to deal with budget cutting, economic development and job creation.

“They didn’t want to just manage decline but start an upward spiral,” said White.

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, D.C., said it’s too early to say whether these positions will catch on, but the fundamental challenge facing these new CIOs is that most governments don’t want to change in a fundamental way. It is easier to throw some data together and create new apps than to really transform an existing function of government. Read the full story, including profiles of innovation officers.

Cyberattacks continue to rise, yet questions have been raised about the amount of attention given to the threats posed by cyberattackers. The United States is vulnerable in many ways, including the energy grid, which comprises 160,000 miles of high-voltage lines, millions of miles of distribution lines and thousands of generators and transformers. Experts say it would be difficult to harden such a structure against a deliberate attack and that power could be lost for weeks or even months, causing regional chaos for which we aren’t prepared.

Jarno Limnell, cybersecurity director for Stonesoft Corp. who’s lectured at the U.S. Department of Defense-funded National Defense University and a native of Finland, talked about the threats facing the U.S. and the world and what can be done about them. Here are his edited responses from an interview with Governing’s sister publication, Emergency Management (EM) magazine.

EM: Where do the main cyberthreats come from?

Jarno Limnell (JL): At this moment, I would say that the threat comes from Iran and possible terrorist groups. But at the same [time], I have to say when we are so concentrated on cyberwar problems, I would announce strongly that thinking about the security of the U.S., the main threats in the cyberdomain are cybercrime and cyberespionage, especially espionage against your country. That is very evident and something China is doing very strongly at this moment. All the nations are dealing with the same issue against each other, but I think China is the main source concerning cyberespionage. When talking about cybercrime, Russia is the main opponent at this point.

EM: What about an attack on the infrastructure of the U.S. power grid?

JL: I don’t want to cause too much fear or put too much emphasis on this threat, but I have to be honest, especially referring to my research background. If I would like to harm your nation, I would not use any physical power. I would use cyberweapons against your critical infrastructure, affecting your power grids and transportation systems. The U.S. has become much more dependent on the functionality of the digital world. Everything in the physical world nowadays is controlled digitally.

If I wanted to harm your society, I would take your electricity and water away for awhile. And I think from a military point of view, this raises a new question because usually when we’re talking about war, it’s between armies fighting in the air and on the sea and so on. But when I think about cybersecurity and the possible targets, they aren’t military, they’re against critical infrastructure because you’re so dependent on it.

Because of this, it’s very important to raise the concept of resilience. When I think of my own country’s security from a comprehensive point of view, the main thing that Finland has as a strength is the resilience of the whole society -- meaning whatever the threat is and however badly Finland society would be harmed, damaged or even paralyzed, we have other options to work and continue to function and plans and the capabilities to re-establish our systems.

EM: How do you develop that resilience?

JL: That’s something we’re thinking about a lot these days. When I think about the future of security, especially defense, we have so many different threats that you can’t be prepared against them all. The main starting point is to build and strengthen your resilience. Whatever happens, you have to be prepared for different situations and you must have the options to build your resilience.

Read the interview in full here.

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

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