Government Technology News
Tue, 28 Feb 2017 15:32:03 +0100
How Apps Help Manage the Torrent of Data from Connected Devices
For the utility industry, sensors represent an opportunity — a chance to modernize and update the way power consumption is measured and monitored. But there’s also an inherent challenge.
“When you have literally tens of millions of edge points, it is not feasible to backhaul that data in real time. There is too much cost. The bandwidth availability isn’t there,” said Dave McCarthy, senior director of product at Internet of Things software solutions firm Bsquare.
A new apps community from Bsquare and utilities technology provider Itron aims to bridge that gap. It is accessible to developers working on Itron’s OpenWay Riva App platform, and is powered by Bsquare’s DataV IoT software stack, which allows utilities to dynamically and securely download apps to targeted populations of remote devices. The aim is to deliver ready access to a range of apps that will help utilities to derive the most benefit from the vast IoT deployments that are expected to coming in next few years.
BI Intelligence predicts the global installed base of smart meters will swell to 930 million in 2020. Research and Markets foresees the global IoT market in the utility industry growing to $11.7 billion by 2020.
Energy companies and other providers will need apps to manage the torrent of data flowing in off those connected devices. That’s where the new apps initiative comes into play, with 15 apps already available and more in the pipeline. These tools cover a range of potential functions in the utility IoT ecosystem.
One app addresses issues of location awareness. Meters and sensors often get mis-coded, making it extremely difficult to associate the right sensor with the right location. “So this is like a ‘find my phone’ app, except that is will find your meter,” said Itron Vice President of Marketing Sharelynn Moore.
Another app functions as a tilt sensor inside a meter. That’s not new: Sensors have long been able to determine whether a meter has been tilted, in order to alert the utility to possible tampering. But this app is different, in that it can differentiate between tampering and others causes, as for instance from an earthquake. “It helps the utilities determine the scale and scope and extent of an event in a more sophisticated way,” Moore said.
Power meters are not the only sensor-driven utility technology to benefit from the new apps. Washington State University researchers are offering an app that will help air quality researchers attach sensors to streetlamps, rather than relying on towers and other high-altitude collection sites. “They think that by moving these to street level, this could deliver a breakthrough difference in the kinds of data they are able to collect,” Moore said.
The emergence of an app store tied to the utility industry reflects the profound changes underway in what had been, until recently, a highly traditional enterprise. “We are undergoing more change in the utility industry today than we have seen in the last 40 years,” Moore said.
A range of factors are pushing utilities to seek out smarter solutions. Price pressure is intense. The rise of transactional power has changed conventional equations, with solar and wind providers feeding the commercial grid, while utilities are simultaneously losing customers to these alternate energy sources. “So they need to push new developments, they need to be more efficient and add new value streams,” Moore said.
IoT offers a way for utilities to get out in front of this cresting wave. “If utilities seize the opportunity, they can leverage this to enhance customer offerings and increase customer engagement,” said Casey Talon, principal research analyst with Navigant Research.
Apps can help utilities to make that move. Take for instance the outage management app from engineering and data analytics firm Cyient, which won Itron’s innovation challenge in fall 2016.
Itron challenged developers to produce innovative apps on its Riva platform, a distributed intelligence platform that supports sensing technologies and dynamic applications at the device level.
Cyient came up with a mobile and Web application that predicts outages and communicates critical information to customers, while also allowing customers to report outages to the utility. It offers a visualization of the outage area with near real-time notifications.
“Outage management is a challenging business operations task and most utilities respond reactively. Our app predicts and proactively communicates outages and manages estimated restoration times to achieve enhanced customer satisfaction,” Jaishankar Jayaraman, contest team leader and head of Cyient’s North America Solutions, said in a press release.
This kind of capability could help utilities take sensors to a new level of functionality. “Most utilities realize that on top of their physical asset base they need to overlay a digital layer, something to tie all those platforms together,” Moore said. “They need it to better communicate with their customers. They need it in order to get deeper visibility into every home and business.”
Utilities could leverage these tools to gain a competitive edge in a tightening market. With the aid of smart apps, “the meter doesn’t have to do just one thing anymore,” McCarthy said. “It used to just count usage. But with the incremental functionality of the apps, there are so many things utilities can do to run their business better.”
In the near future, apps will enable a higher degree of interaction between sensors at the edge, as utilities look for ways to process and react to information faster. With potentially tens of millions of sensors in play, hauling data to headquarters for analysis will be less effective than using app-based data management to create ad hoc processing in the field. “It’s better to move the logic to where the data is, than to move all that dada back to where the logic is,” McCarthy said.
If apps can in fact deliver in-field processing, with nodes readily able to exchange and analyze information, that in turn could drive improved services. Power grids could self-heal more readily, responding to disruption with far less need for human intervention.
“Ultimately we want to provide some autonomy for the meters to understand what is happening and to be able take action,” McCarthy said. “That’s where this is heading."
Fri, 24 Feb 2017 04:00:00 PST
Virginia Expands Cybersecurity Training for Veterans in Bid to Fill Vacant Positions Statewide
Roughly three months after it began, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Cyber Vets Virginia initiative to retrain veterans to work in the tech sector is expanding with the addition of two academies this spring, said state officials who hope the program will grow even further.
Announced on Veterans Day 2016, the Virginia governor’s plan focuses on filling vacant cyber and tech jobs. As recently as November, the state was believed to have 17,000 vacant cyber-related positions. But Karen Jackson, the state’s secretary of technology, said the number of empty posts has now more than doubled to 36,000.
“Obviously, that’s a real eye opener," Jackson told Government Technology. "The world is your oyster right now if you happen to be a cyberprofessional. Part of that, we think, is a heightened awareness on the part of non-tech companies that they need cyberworkers — the hospitals, the manufacturing companies moving into the IT sector.”
According to a 2016 Business-Higher Education Forum Report on Cybersecurity Jobs in Virginia and the DMV prepared by Burning Glass Technologies, there were 348,975 postings for cybersecurity jobs nationwide from Oct. 1, 2016, through May 31, 2016.
During this period, Virginia had the second highest posting count in the nation at 36,342 jobs, trailing only California.
Currently, demand is so high that the state has zero unemployment in cyber-related jobs, Jackson said, adding, “The problem is trying to push enough people into the pipeline to chink away at some of those openings.”
Maxwell Shuftan, director of SANS CyberTalent Solutions, which includes overseeing the academies, attributed the boom to breaches at major companies like Target and Home Depot, and to the rise of the Internet of Things.
“When you see a Fortune 500 company experiencing that kind of breach, it sort of gets the attention of everybody,” Shuftan said.
Debbie Hughes, the Business-Higher Education Forum's vice president of higher education and workforce, also credited “hypergrowth in the area of companies hiring for positions, all the investment that has been made, all the publicity around cyber.”
And despite warnings that degrees are required and no entry-level cyberjobs exist, she said veterans could be uniquely qualified to find work after training. “With the veterans, it’s awesome — you can take this pool of folks who already have this work experience and then supplement them in and get them into the jobs that are hardest to fill,” Hughes said.
On March 20 and again on April 24, veterans will have their chance. Those are the start dates for the SANS Institute’s two new entirely scholarship-based VetSuccess Immersion Academies.
Following a screening process to assess skills and aptitude, vets will have the chance to take as many as three SANS courses on topics including security essentials, hacker tools, incident handling, intrusion detection and network penetration testing. After finishing each, participants will take exams for Global Information Assurance Certification before beginning the next course — and, should they not pass, they’ll get a second try.
Established in 1989 as a cooperative research and education organization, SANS’ programs now reach more than 165,000 security professionals worldwide. In a statement made Jan. 30 when the academies were announced, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs John Harvey Jr. called the state’s partnership with SANS a big win and said it will boost opportunities for veterans and service members.
Enrollment for SANS’ first academy in McLean, Va., which will last four to five months, drew 82 applicants when organizers expected only 40 to 50. Enrollment for the second academy in Virginia Beach is open through March 17, and so far 35 people have applied for about the same number of spots.
Joseph Robbins, a 2015 academy graduate who’s working as a cybersecurity analyst for ISHPI Technologies, praised the academy’s training for getting him the job, in a statement. “Without the academy, I’d have finished my degree and would still be looking for a job,” Robbins said.
Moved by the overwhelming response from applicants, Shuftan said the institute may add seats to the first academy, and it's contemplating holding a third academy this fall.
“We know from a large perspective we’re making a small dent in a number that’s hundreds of thousands [of empty positions] throughout the year,” Shuftan said. “Getting 100 people through in a year and placed isn’t going to change that, but it’s still something that we think is impactful," Shuftan said, referencing a rough number of total academy graduates per year.
After completion, Jackson said, veterans should find it increasingly easy to either enter the workforce or continue their education to a graduate or postgraduate degree. “As long as they work in Virginia,” she said jokingly. “We want them to stay here.”
This highlights a longstanding issue for public agencies that find it difficult to hire and keep talent because they typically don’t pay as much as the private sector. In Virginia’s case, Jackson said the state has set up a scholarship program, covering veterans’ education costs on a one-to-one ratio if they go to work for the state — paying one year of tuition in exchange for one year of service.
But Hughes suggested compensation isn’t the only reason employees may stay in the public sector.
“People who are going into the public sector, especially in cybersecurity, have already made a decision that it’s not about the money. It’s about driving the mission and making folks feel connected to the work, feel important, and making them feel like they’re contributing to something important,” she said.
Thu, 23 Feb 2017 01:00:00 PST
4 Safeguards Cities Should Consider When Collecting Constituent Data
Recent moves by the Trump administration make it critical that cities rethink their approach to certain aspects of citizen data, or else risk legal peril.
That’s the conclusion reached by the open data advocacy group the Sunlight Foundation in its recently released white paper on protecting data and safeguarding citizens’ rights.
The paper lays out 10 municipal guidelines for the collection and management of citizen data. While most of these practices should already be familiar to those concerned with civic data, they have lately taken on a new urgency, said Emily Shaw, an author on the report and a former senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation.
Of particular concern here is the Jan. 25 Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, which effectively makes it a criminal act for cities to fail to comply with certain federal requests for immigration data.
“There are some communities that may have local laws that say the federal government needs to show a warrant if it wants to collect this data,” Shaw said. In adhering to its own such statutes, a city could find itself in violation of federal law. If on the other hand the city ignores its own rules and discloses sensitive data, it could jeopardize citizens whose immigration status is questionable.
Hence the need to reiterate safe and smart data practices, beginning with a fundamental precept that here becomes doubly urgent. Simply put: Don’t collect information unless there is a compelling reason to do so.
“Rather than put yourself between a rock and hard place, the better position may be to simply not collect anything you don’t need to collect. If you don’t need information on someone’s immigration status, don’t collect that information,” Shaw said.
For data junkies — policy chiefs with a passion for numbers-driven decision making — there’s always a strong temptation to assume that more is better. The more data points we have, the more complete the picture will be. But as the recent executive order suggests, it may sometimes be possible to know too much. If collecting a resident’s immigration information may put that resident at legal risk, some cities may wish to defer.
In practice, this means taking a thoughtful approach to all data-based efforts that touch on citizen information. “You want to clearly map your questions to the purpose of the program that you are collecting information for. Is there a clear mission-related reason for collecting this particular piece of information?” Shaw said. “You don’t want to collect something just because it might be useful somewhere down the road. You can just grab a list of questions from a central template, but each time you collect a piece of information, you are potentially putting people at risk.”
Rules of the road
The white paper delves into a number of other best practices for cities looking to engage with citizen information.
Where sensitive information is concerned, cities may consider going verbal. Rather than collect formal documentation around a statement, city workers can glean the data in conversation and take appropriate action, without recording an answer that might later put the citizen in jeopardy.
Departments should delete data regularly and often. Policy should generally seek to “minimize, as much as possible, the official retention periods for that data,” the report noted.
Be cautious when storing data with third parties. Once data leaves the city’s possession and goes to a third party host, U.S. law offers it less protection. “As a result, where departments collect data which reveals citizenship or other vulnerable status, they should avoid hosting or sharing it with a third party vendor,” the authors noted. If an outside vendor is needed, consider an international provider whose data may be outside the reach of U.S. laws.
Other significant safeguards include:
1. Encrypt sensitive data and communications: Data encryption practices may include deploying HTTPS across all municipal Web services, requiring full hard disk encryption on servers and other devices, and using end-to-end encrypted methods of communication rather than those that are not end-to-end-encrypted.
2. Take an inventory of all policies and practices that result in the sharing of information on individuals’ citizenship or other sensitive status. Every department should develop a complete inventory of the ways in which it formally and informally provides access to such data. All such policies should be reviewed in light of recent legal changes.
3. Publicly document all policies around data sharing. Governments should tell people what data is available and can be shared with the federal government, so that individuals can opt out of sharing their information where possible.
4. Limit individual employees’ discretion on data-sharing. If a government wants to limit data-sharing about sensitive issues to situations where there is a clearly legal requirement for that sharing, it can create policies around this. Such policies could for example explicitly allow employees to resist requests for information made without a court order.
Finally, the foundation encourages municipalities to form oversight bodies to ensure the cities’ data protocols are appropriate, legal and well observed. This broad-based body would be a focal point for decision-making on issues related to sensitive citizen data.
Given the complex legal nature of such questions, overlaid with the technical issues surrounding data capture, storage and retrieval, “you need to have some people who have some degree of expertise,” Shaw said.
“You need a legal expert, a law enforcement expert, somebody who really knows cybersecurity and somebody who knows how to review policies for accuracy, a detail-oriented person who knows how to read contracts,” she said. “The team needs to be able to review government practice, to think about the full range of risks around security and data sharing.”
With the executive order of Jan. 25 the nation entered an era in which, perhaps to an unprecedented degree, cities may hold data the very existence of which engenders profound personal peril for a group of citizen.
If cities wish to ensure residents of their continued safety in these circumstances, “they will need both to positively communicate this intention to their residents and also to ensure that they are, in fact, effectively protecting their residents’ information,” the authors wrote. Sound data management practices will be an integral part of that effort.
Wed, 22 Feb 2017 04:30:00 PST
OpenGov to Offer Third-Party Software to Help Governments Produce Reports
As part of its budgeting push, OpenGov has partnered with Workiva to combine the companies’ software into a single package for government customers.
That means OpenGov will be selling customers not just on its Budget Builder and Intelligence products, but on Workiva’s Wdesk platform as well. The OpenGov products, which are part of its Smart Government Platform, are all about enabling collaboration, tracking changes, and generating content for use in budgeting and decision-making; Wdesk will add on data-linking and user-control functionality.
In a press release, OpenGov billed the expanded offering as a way for local governments to more easily produce documentation such as comprehensive annual financial reports.
“OpenGov will offer Wdesk as part of its complete cloud-based budgeting solution, enabling customers to easily publish budget books based on their preparation done in OpenGov Budget Builder,” the statement reads. “The joint offering will also help governments create CAFR reports, quarterly management reports and other related documents.”
Tue, 21 Feb 2017 03:45:00 PST
Vievu Sues Taser for Interfering with Phoenix Body Camera Contract
Vievu, a police body camera and video evidence firm, is suing Taser over a contract dispute with the city of Phoenix.
The company is alleging that Taser caused the city to go back on a contract it was planning on awarding Vievu for police body cameras. Vievu scored more points than the other bidders on the contract, and Phoenix announced in September that it would award the contract to the company.
But the city decided to scrap the $3.6 million deal and go out to re-bid on the contract in January, according to AZcentral.com. The city maintains that the move was done to give a new police chief a say on the contract, but Vievu is alleging that Taser employees and Chief Executive Officer Rick Smith approached Phoenix officials repeatedly to sway them from Vievu.
It’s the second such tussle between the two companies this year. Vievu also beat out Taser for a $6.4 million contract with the New York Police Department, but recently the city’s comptroller decided not to proceed on the deal. Vievu has blamed Taser for that roadblock as well, but has yet to go to court over the incident.
Taser is largely dominant in the police body camera space, but Vievu has been winning local government contracts lately in several places, including Miami-Dade County and Aurora, Colo.
Thu, 16 Feb 2017 02:00:00 PST