eRecords Conference 2013: What’s Next for Government Technology?

erecordsslogo-300x261This is the second post of a multi-part recap of the 2013 e-Records Conference. Some presentation materials from the e-Records Conference are available on the e-Records 2013 website.

By Marianna Symeonides, Government Information Analyst

L-R: Todd Kimbriel (Interim Chief Operations Officer, Department of Information Resources); State Rep. Larry Gonzales; Mark Smith (Executive Director, TSLAC)

L-R: Todd Kimbriel (Interim Chief Operations Officer, Department of Information Resources); State Rep. Larry Gonzales; Mark Smith (Executive Director, TSLAC)

State Representative Larry Gonzales kicked off eRecords 2013 with his keynote address on technology in Texas government. Representative Gonzales worked nine regular legislative sessions before being elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2010. He serves District 52, which is in Williamson County and includes the cities of Round Rock, Hutto, Taylor, and parts of Georgetown.  In addition to serving on the Local and Consent Calendar Committee, he is also the only member of the House who sits on both the Appropriations Committee and the Technology Committee.  His primary focus is the state budget, as well as public education and technology issues.

When Rep. Gonzales first started working at the Capitol, they didn’t have Windows – they were using a DOS system. Needless to say, technology has changed a great deal since then. We all know that technology is a great tool for facilitating many different aspects of government operations. But the money for that technology has to come from somewhere. Gonzales works on committees to figure out how to appropriate funds to ensure our access to information and to take full advantage of modern technology. One of his overarching goals is to improve efficiencies with public-private partnerships, or PPPs. However, there are a few obstacles. Elected officials are not as educated about technology as they could be, and the media is filled with stories of technology failures such as HealthCare.gov. As a result, people tend to remember the failures while forgetting successful partnerships.

Training

Rep. Gonzales believes that training can help combat anxiety or lack of knowledge about the benefits and risks of using technology. Several years ago, when email and the Internet were still fairly new, House members would receive intensive trainings about what to do and what not to do in order to ensure the security of the network. For example, everyone knew that you shouldn’t open unsolicited emails or suspicious attachments. But nowadays, it’s assumed that everyone knows about these security precautions, so security training is no longer a priority. Gonzales asserts that this has to change, especially in light of changing security concerns. For example, “white hat” hackers (hackers who work to improve cybersecurity for organizations, rather than attacking them) can demonstrate how easy it is to hack into somebody’s social media accounts. They pull a few pieces of information from a public social media profile – a pet’s name, favorite color, favorite sports team – and use an algorithm to generate possible passwords a million times per second. So security training also needs to focus on new strategies such as locking down your social media accounts and creating very strong passwords.

Rep. Gonzales would also like to see more technology in schools. Children who go to school today are constantly connected to technology. They’ve learned how to manage multiple devices and social media accounts. They are used to technology and can use it to learn their school curriculum. Some school districts and instructors have learned how to use technology effectively in the classroom, but others still lag behind in technology adoption. Rep. Gonzales proposes that before teachers get their degrees or certificates, they should receive mandatory instruction in using classroom technology. That way, the incoming generation of teachers will be up to date with the same technologies as the students that they will be teaching.

Moving Forward with Technology

Rep. Gonzales addresses the crowd

Rep. Gonzales addresses the crowd

Rep. Gonzales and the Technology Committee had several other suggestions for how the Texas state government can improve their use of technology:

  • Standardization and consolidation of software. For example, a lot of agencies use Microsoft Word, but there are still some agencies that use WordPerfect. And while many agencies use Microsoft Outlook for email, others use GroupWise or Lotus Notes. More compatibility would lead to more efficiency.
  • Hardware and software: new data centers and adoption of cloud services
  • Possible adoption of new security techniques such as 2-factor identification, physical or gesture based identification (performing a unique gesture on a touch screen in order to unlock the device), or security tokens (carrying a “token” which you can plug into a USB port to unlock a device)
  • More PPPs. For example, TxDOT has successfully privatized all of its IT functions, which proves that successful PPPs are possible.
  • Make sure to carefully examine the terms and conditions of any private companies that you work with.
  • Let programmers code certain products for the state and then keep the license to the code. This goes against the current paradigm in which a programmer creates a program for a client, and the client owns the license to the code. But it’s a win-win situation – the programmers have more incentive to create a solid program because they can go on to sell the program to other clients, and the state will benefit from the programmer’s expertise.

For now, the focus is on figuring out what to study until the next legislative session in January 2015. That’s the earliest they can file a bill, and changes proposed in that session wouldn’t go into effect until September 2015. The challenge therefore becomes: how do we not only make sure that we can keep Texas current with technology, but also predict where technology will be in 2015 and 2016? Our biennial legislative sessions mean that a bill put forth in 2015 will have to carry us until at least 2017 – but how can we know what technology will be like in three or four years when it’s changing so rapidly?

How (and Why) to get the $$

Of course, none of these changes can ever come to pass without money. Rep. Gonzales had a few suggestions for how to convince backers to give you the funding you need. First, sell your competency – show them that you can do what needs to be done. Second, sell your success – use past achievements to prove that you have what it takes to successfully complete a project. Once you have sold your competency and your success, sell your future, ideas and directions you want to go. You can’t present your vision for the future without showcasing your past success. Most importantly, you want to emphasize the ROI – return on investment. Show that the money isn’t just going towards something cool or fun, but that it will fund something practical and useful for a large number of people.

The future of technology in Texas government is bright and exciting. Whether it is something as simple as getting new computers (like we just did here at TSLAC!), integrating technology into the classroom, or embracing PPPs, technology has a place in almost all aspects of government. It can help streamline processes, facilitate communication both with the public and within government, and provide easy access to information and (of course) records.  Having people like Rep. Gonzales in government will help ensure that we are able to keep taking advantage of all the exciting advances that technology can offer us.