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Technology Insights for Leaders in State & Local Government

Ahead Of The Wireless Curve

Technology Investment Curve (TIC) survey shows how states are using wireless network access to increase productivity and information throughput.

posted October 31, 2006  |  Appears in the October/November 2006 issue of StateTech Magazine.

A new CDW•G Technology Investment Curve report focuses on purchasing trends for wireless technology among cities, counties and states.

The use of wireless technology is on the rise nationwide, and state and local governments are among its most enthusiastic practitioners, with a number of states leading the way in buying wireless products and initiatives to better serve their constituents.

Which ones? To find out, a new report, the State & Local Government Technology Investment Curve (TIC), focused on the latest purchasing trends for wireless technology among the states. Conducted by CDW Government Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of CDW Corp., the report assesses state and local government technology purchasing behavior since 2000.

Here’s how we came up with the answers. The TIC study, the second in a series of CDW technology purchasing assessments, maps state, county and city government customers against five years of CD W•G customer data. The report covers all 50 states, more than 100,000 products, and a thousand manufacturers, plus thousands of state and local government customers. It provides a vendor-neutral assessment of state and local government technology investment.

CDW•G, in conjunction with the Center for Digital Government, defined the sampling of possible customers at the state, county and city levels for each state. The report’s findings are based on a survey of governments and a state-by-state analysis. CDW•G analyzed the purchasing records for customers between 2000 and 2005, focusing on Wi-Fi technology, a commonly used term for networks based on the 802.11 wireless communications standard.

INVESTMENT LEADER

Of all the states, Rhode Island is the sole “lead investor,” according to the report, with an 802.11 wireless investment profile 147 percent higher than average. Lead investors are described as state and local governments that “understand the value of technology and its impact on the business of government,” are tolerant of the risk of new technology, capable of managing it, and have legislative and institutional support for technology initiatives. Rhode Island “demonstrates significant, committed investment in 802.11 wireless technologies at all levels of government, and over the entire time span of the assessment,” the study notes.

The state is followed in wireless investment by “early investor” states, including Ohio, Colorado, Utah, California, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, with investment profiles between 43 percent and 82 percent higher than average. Early investors are described as savvy technology practitioners that readily translate technology to value, continually look at best practices and adopt IT products as needed.

The leading states have realized significant benefits from wireless technologies. Some have established municipal wireless networks that provide widespread Internet connectivity to select user groups, increased government workers’ mobility and productivity, and improved citizen services. Other characteristics shared by lead and early investors include strong public-private partnerships; wireless initiatives often driven by public safety; significant private sector leadership in generating wireless hot spots; and a strong executive at county and city levels.

RHODE ISLAND LEADS

Rhode Island’s most significant wireless technology initiative is the Rhode Island Wireless Innovation Networks (RI-WINs), launched in 2005 by the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), an independent, nonprofit organization that helps public and private organizations collaborate to explore new solutions in health care, public safety, education and other areas.

RI-WINs, designed as a statewide, border-to-border, wireless broadband network, recently began several public sector pilot programs. One is a food-inspection initiative by the state’s Department of Health. Inspectors in Providence use wireless technology while performing inspections at food-processing and eating establishments. They access a Web-based inspection application and other information via handheld tablet PCs.

In another pilot, the state government uses RI-WINs to establish a secure, broadband wireless communications network for waterborne first responders, which allows for the distribution and use of sensitive information via text, voice, data and video in emergency situations and daily. Having a secure wireless system will give first responders access to valuable real-time information.

The results of these pilots will be measured over the next six to 12 months, according to BIF. The RI-WINs initiative “has captured the attention and imagination of individuals and institutions representing both the public and private sectors,” says Saul Kaplan, executive director of Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and founder of BIF.

“Rhode Island’s location, size, and accessible public and private sector networks create a real-world laboratory where wireless technology can flexibly connect and coordinate activities across organizations,” Kaplan says. “We [can] get the key players to the table easier here than in most parts of the country, where states cover a much larger geographic area. We’ve been able to bring municipal and state officials together alongside the business community in a relatively short fashion.”

Tracy Williams, CIO of Rhode Island, says RI-WINs “will bring wireless access to our state government by allowing us to outfit mobile workers — including restaurant inspectors, wetlands engineers, social workers and transportation workers — with access to their back-end office systems, greatly increasing productivity and information throughput.”

Currently, Williams says, restaurant or nursing home inspectors arrive at a site with paper inspection forms, complete them by hand, return to the office and key the information into a system. “The lag in the process, as well as the quality of information that gets lost when you go from paper to system, is an issue that can cause major consequences,” she says. “The use of wireless technology in government will vastly improve our value to citizens.”

CALIFORNIA INITIATIVES

California is deploying wireless technology in a number of areas, says Clark Kelso, state CIO. About 18 months ago, it began an initiative to make wireless hot spots available in 65 of its most popular state parks. While wireless service won’t be available throughout the parks, it will be provided near buildings and where people tend to congregate.

“I think it’s been the most expansive rollout [of wireless technology] within a park system” in the United States, Kelso says. “We’re providing people with an opportunity to go out with the family to a park and still be in touch. They can access the Internet even while they’re at the beach or in the mountains.”

Other wireless initiatives involve turning public buildings into Wi-Fi hot spots. For example, wireless systems are being installed in court buildings where potential jurors wait. Kelso says the government is considering the conversion of the state capital building in Sacramento into a wireless hot spot.

In the meantime, wireless service is provided in other buildings in the capital and in major cities, enabling government employees and the public to use mobile devices as needed.

“We’ve been encouraging state departments to look at wireless” wherever feasible, Kelso says. Still, he adds, wireless technology will not completely replace ordinary wired networks. “Wireless has some limitations in bandwidth,” he says. “And we still have security concerns that have not been completely resolved. So we’re being careful about our deployments.”

One of the keys to successful wireless technology deployment in California has been public-private partnerships, Kelso says. For example, hot spots in state parks are being created in partnership with a major service provider.

“We’ve also had lots of conversations with both private industry and local governments about a broadband build-out that includes wireless,” Kelso says. “It typically takes a lot of collaboration and cooperation between multiple government entities and the private sector.”

OHIO COMMUNICATES

Another state, Ohio, has been aggressively investing in wireless. One effort, called the Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS), is an 800MHz, two-way radio system built primarily for 10 state agencies. It includes 203 radio towers and supports wireless digital voice and data communication systems.

MARCS was built for in-vehicle mobile radio coverage of 97.5 percent of each of Ohio’s 88 counties, according to Mary Carroll, director and state CIO. Some metropolitan counties have 97.5 percent in-building coverage for portable radios. She says MARCS was driven by the need for interoperable communications between public safety first responders.

“The system is fully functioning and has more than 15,000 voice customers and 1,500 in-car computers connected wirelessly,” Carroll says. “The original 10 agencies have grown to more than 500, and include hospitals and local fire, emergency response and law enforcement agencies.”

EARLY MAJORITY STATES

A third group of states in the study, called “early majority investors,” represents “proven technology leaders with a firm grounding in both technology and policy.” This group includes Florida, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Connecticut, Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nevada, Indiana, Maryland, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina and New Hampshire.

CDW•G is conducting the TIC series to track major technology purchasing trends across the $48 billion state and local government IT market (expected to reach $70 billion by 2010). The first of the reports, on information security, was released earlier this year. CDW•G notes that 802.11 wireless is a key technology for government agencies. “Investment in wireless technologies is an important step in driving collaboration and information sharing, while reducing networking costs for state and local government agencies,” the report says.

The TIC provides a way for technology managers at state and local government to compare their IT investments with those of similarly sized government organizations. It also provides a road map for vendors to better understand what types of products state and local government IT departments are deploying.

CDW•G notes that the TIC isn’t meant to be a qualitative ranking of performance or IT leadership, and the latest report isn’t intended to show how well a particular state is using wireless technology compared with others. The curve is a quantitative, relative index of wireless technology investment.

STATE AND LOCAL TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENT CURVE — WIRELESS

LEAD INVESTORS
Rhode Island

EARLY INVESTORS
Ohio
Colorado
Utah
California
Oregon
Washington
Wyoming

EARLY MAJORITY
Florida
New York
Massachusetts
Michigan
Connecticut
Virginia
Illinois
Wisconsin
Nevada
Indiana
Maryland
Alaska
Arizona
North Carolina
New Hampshire

ALL OTHER STATES

Bob Violino is a freelance technology writer in Massapequa Park, N. Y.

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