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2018 NYS Digital Government Summit

2018 NYS Digital Government Summit

On September 20, 2018, I was given a day of training in the form of going to the New York State Digital Government Summit.¹ The summit itself was two days, and held at the Albany Capital Center² on Eagle Street in downtown Albany. Both days offered carefully curated educational programs, varying between stimulating keynote speeches, policy discussions, and topics discussed in the smaller breakout sessions. Networking breaks in between sessions also helped to advance organizational goals and promoted career interests.

Kicking off the summit was Robert (Bob) H. Samson, the Chief Information Officer of New York State.³ After congratulating the new Chief Technology Officer of SUNY, Brian Dingman, Bob took us back six years to when Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out the Sage Commission’s requirements that all information technology (I.T.) projects be; “horizontal, transformational, and secure.” Bob then gave us a glimpse into our collective future through a semi-daunting presentation of five “mega trends” in information technology;

  • Ubiquitous computing,

  • Data is the new oil,

  • Cloud computing,

  • All I.T. is cyber, and

  • Innovation accelerates.

The foray into the Internet-of-Things was particularly interesting as a ubiquitous computing topic; as devices are currently collecting data on everything from the newly constructed Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge,⁴ to milk producing cows.⁵ The segue from collecting all that data to using analytics and artificial intelligence (A.I.) to analyze it was well thought out. Bob also reminded the room, half filled with vendors and policy makers, and half with state I.T. services staff, that New York’s data growth is between thirty and forty percent year-over-year. Bob is all about solving grand challenges through machine learning, predictive analytics, and better data visualization.

Something Mr. Samson has touched on at previous speaking engagements is the state’s private cloud computing platform, dubbed the Excelsior Cloud.⁶ While I can personally attest to its present stage of growth, Bob was happy to laud our progress in containerization, and rapid application development lifecycles. Taking from cutting edge industry practices, the state is also engaging in blockchain development projects,⁷ and implementation of microservices across multiple agencies.⁸ This lead Bob quite handily to his fourth point that all information technology is cyber. He went on to link the cyber infrastructure to broader concepts in cybersecurity such as anomaly detection and intrusion prevention systems.

Bob finished by wrapping his talk up under the idea that the previously itemized mega trends do not and cannot exist in a vacuum. They’re linked together because innovation in one area accelerates progress in others. Through what he called the “instrumentation of everything” he promised to keep New York ahead of “technology’s relentless march,” while reminding the audience that our “workforce paradigm shift” has as many as 19 other states looking to New York for influence and guidance on projects of their own.

Our keynote speaker, Rahaf Harfoush co-founder of Red Thread Inc.,⁹ launched immediately into what I considered to be the most informative presentation of the entire day, if not also the most ephemeral. Her slides and choice of words were thoroughly engaging, and the presentation itself, titled Constantly Connected – The Role of Humans in the Digital Revolution, was packed with great bits of information about artificial intelligence, technological intimacy, and something she referred to as “informational zen,” where society would move from knowing, to a constant state of prioritized learning.

Ms. Harfoush labors as a strategist, digital anthropologist, and best-selling author. She focused her presentation on the intersections of emerging technology, the cycle of innovation, and the realities of a post-work society. Rahaf was the Associate Director of the Technology Pioneer Programme at the World Economic Forum in Geneva¹⁰ and currently heads a think tank and special projects agency that supports modeling digital trends in search of strategic openings. At the end of her keynote, she reminded all of us that issues of this scale are leadership issues, not technology issues, and that organizations and institutions must “recognize the unfinishedness” and “reclaim learning as a core executive function” in order to avoid “information complacency.”

After taking advantage of the networking break, as well as pastries and several cups of coffee, I made my way down to the first breakout session for a presentation titled A Pathway to Migration and Modernization. Andrew Morris, Director of the Office of Processing and Taxpayer Services for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance,¹¹ laid out his office’s roadmap to modernization. Through a series of best practices, novel approaches, and key success factors, Mr. Morris demonstrated how agencies are often responsible for many legacy systems that are very resistant to change.

He explained that leaders need to recognize and embrace new or enhanced applications. He also encouraged the use of collaborative and more efficient processes to discuss strategies and develop best practices for application modernization and migration. Initially I thought the presentation would be about infrastructure modernization, but I wasn’t disappointed when the content skewed almost exclusively towards software development.

After a light lunch, Dr. Steve Bennett, Director of Global Government Practice at SAS,¹² delivered a less than savory reminder that government as a megalithic whole may have all the data it needs to make decisions, we just lack the ability to correlate everything to the benefit of our citizenry. His talk, Data Driven Decision Making, introduced the audience to decision science and the possible roles of analytics in Government. Dr. Bennett focused on the events of September 11th, 2001, and how he led design and application teams to inform some of the United States’ post-Patriot Act security decisions.

After Dr. Bennett’s presentation, I decided to take a deeper dive into both data collection, and data analysis with Kay Meyer, Senior Manager for Industry and US Government Consulting, also at SAS.¹³ Her presentation, Edge Computing and Federated Analytics, hopes to deliver on the Internet-of-Things promise that Mr. Samson mentioned briefly in his opening remarks. Ms. Meyer aims to help organizations “remove the human bias” from our data and our processes by enabling analytics at edge sites where the data itself it collected.

New and developing business models, she says, will enable us to sense, understand, and act on data as it comes in. From operations to monitoring, analytics will be delivering the future, filtering the volume, velocity, and variety of big data to uncover the breadth and depth of what we really need to know. She let us know that generating the data is only a first step. The next step is a combination of I-o-T devices and cloud processing, which will revolutionize governments’ distribution, processing, and analyzing of data.

Prof. James A. Hendler of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute¹⁴ was the final featured speaker on the topic of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. He spoke about the possible near future when human intelligence would be replicated by machines. By intelligence, he means decision making ability, which would likely be the most disruptive technology in the history of humanity. Where other presenters mentioned machine learning, and A. I., Professor Hendler also roped robotics into the mix. New advancements in robotics inch us closer to mimicking human thought and actions through software and hardware interactions.

As usual, I’d like to thank the sponsors of the event, Government Technology¹⁵ and the New York State Office of Information Technology Services¹⁶ for putting on the summit; with the former giving me the opportunity through my employment as an I.T. Specialist II to attend this summit while on the clock. Though I’m not a policy maker, I enjoyed the ability to address the most important policy, management, and technology issues surrounding the future of digital government in New York, and beyond.


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