Monday, August 8, 2016

Education, elevated.

Why? Because we’re at 5,280 ft in elevation?

No; because the State of Colorado recently completely transformed the education of youth in correctional facilities across the state.

In October 2015, the Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) -- in collaboration with the Department of Youth Corrections -- formulated a strategy for the redesign and implementation of a comprehensive state of the art computing environment for the delivery of high quality educational programs and services at six youth correctional facilities and 50 classrooms. This forward thinking project included the revitalization of an outdated network and development of new mobile and wireless services that provides secure mobile training labs, administrative flexibility, educational consistency and managed internet access to higher education online training curriculums. Prior to this project each of these six facilities functioned independently through agreements with local school districts and/or a private contractors, and each was handling youth education in a different way -- with very little standardization and a host of challenges because of it.

When OIT took it over, these were the issues:
  • The curriculum planning was costly (money and time!)
  • Student did not have access to the internet or online internet educational resources
  • Student could not participate in online higher education programs due to security and privacy constraints inherent to correctional facilities
  • Computer labs were outdated, unsecured and not sustainable due to student tampering 
  • Systems were not meeting state and national security requirements
  • Facilities could not leverage modern “shared” platform technologies and were required to duplicate hardware, files storage, network and other computing assets that increased operating costs and long term support issues
  • Students and instructors were using outdated workstations with a high risk of virus/malware infection and hardware failure, and there were minimal back-ups in place
  • The computers were also isolated to one or two labs, making access a challenge
  • When a student was brought into a facility, all of his or her records and curriculum were on paper and manually processed -- if that student was then transferred to a different facility their records had to be copied to a CD and/or printed and sent over with him or her (!!!)
The solution that OIT devised to fix these issues is a single, cloud-based solution powered off the use of Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education, to leverage the best resources and lowest costs. Using these tools, including applications like Google Doc and Google Classroom, the team was able to standardize the curriculum, process and tracking across the facilities in a highly flexible way. The facilities could deliver individualized content to each facility while using a standard hardware platform and framework -- for the low cost per computer of just $270. Furthermore, no Microsoft Office licensing is necessary, it enables better management and monitoring of users with little to no extra cost, and no servers are required.

The system now has more than 350 Chromebooks, more than 60 teacher workstations and hundreds of completely cloud-based websites and educational materials -- all in an environment where the internet historically has not been available due to security and treatment issues.
This may not look like a big deal, but it is. When unable to hold class in their normal classroom due to facility maintenance, it's no problem at all with Chromebooks -- class in the courtyard!

With the implementation of this amazing project:
  • There is minimal to no risk of malware/virus infection
  • Individual Google user accounts have completely stopped computer vandalism -- students are trackable, and what’s more, they have an appreciation for the system
  • Every facility classroom now has access to Chromebooks or each student has their own Chromebook
  • There have been huge cost savings and return on investment: Devices cost less than half of a low-end laptop and require approximately one-third the time to support
  • Maintenance is reduced dramatically -- it takes less than four minutes to set a Chromebook device back to its original state
  • Community college classes offered through the web-based learning system
  • Automated, real‐time user account creation, allowing faster student and teacher provisioning 
  • Ability to allow students access to approved websites
  • High battery life -- no need for students to have a power adapter in class
  • Giant reduction in paper/printing cost across state facilities; the first classroom the system was put in led to the avoidance of more than 40 reams of paper for one semester
  • High quality education with nearly zero gaps for the student
OIT and the State of Colorado work every single day to to make Colorado the best place to live, work and play; and this project is just one example of how IT can be used to change someone’s experience.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Coverage for all! Broadband expansion in Colorado



Today, 65 percent of rural Coloradans have access to broadband internet services. Historically viewed as a luxury, broadband access has recently become an essential service for all Americans -- and a huge priority for Governor John Hickenlooper and the State of Colorado. The Governor's Office of Information Technology coordinates broadband development efforts throughout the state with the goal of bringing broadband service to all Coloradans.

To get this big job done, OIT leads numerous efforts aimed at improving our broadband environment in Colorado. These efforts range from the grassroots efforts of the Local Technology Planning Teams (or “LTPTs”) to the creation of a Broadband working group in the Governor’s Cabinet -- working closely with state agencies to coordinate all broadband efforts into a comprehensive strategy.

The broadband team’s newest project is the development of the statewide Broadband Planning Map -- a database and map that will provide a comprehensive view of broadband infrastructure from public and private sources as well as Community Anchor Institutions (CAI) across the state. This information will enable local, regional, and state groups to identify infrastructure gaps and potential resources for broadband implementation projects; and it will support statewide strategies relating to E-Rate, healthcare and FirstNet.

This map is critical to achieving 100 percent broadband coverage in Colorado: The data will fill the informational gaps and inform a more comprehensive statewide strategy. It will support and enhance our current efforts and enable Colorado to become a leader of broadband development in our nation.

As part of this new effort, the OIT broadband team has just released a data request for broadband infrastructure data from local jurisdictions and other public entities. Check out the data request here.

To learn more about our new Broadband Planning Map and all of the statewide broadband efforts, visit the Colorado Broadband Portal at broadband.co.gov.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

I love working in government

“I love working in government because it’s a place where you can actually make change. Our challenges are big. There are things like emergency response, wildfire, diabetes, counter tobacco outreach. These are issues that can’t be solved within 90 days.”

Brandon Williams is the Director of Google Operations for the Governor’s Office of Information Technology. This means that he and his team are responsible for supporting nearly 30,000 Colorado state employees using Google Apps for Government, a pretty exciting work order.

Brandon’s passion for his job is no secret. Everyone he works alongside is witness to it, and his energy is contagious. Folks outside Colorado have taken notice as well, and recently BetterCloud Monitor did a video focus piece on Brandon’s work in government, and how he and the State of Colorado have transformed the way people work. He shares with them his story of using Google Apps to redefine emergency communications, and how he leveraged shadow IT to empower thousands of employees.

Watch the video now, and get inspired to elevate your career, volunteer work, and any other way you choose to pay it forward. There are also three additional videos highlighting specific parts of Brandon’s work: Evaluating Third-Party Apps and Helping Employees Do Their Jobs Better, Working with Users to Design Long Term Solutions that Scale, and Successful Strategies for Improving User Adoption of New Technologies.

Want to hear from from Brandon? Check out last year’s guest blog on shadow IT.




Thursday, May 26, 2016

TBT: Recording breaking winds + one giant tornado


It’s another throwback Thursday, this time to the Governor’s Office of Information Technology’s essential emergency communication towers across the state of Colorado.

One of the critical tools they use for coordination and communications is a monumentally important two-way radio system maintained by the OIT’s Public Safety Communications Network (PSCN), called the Colorado Statewide Digital Trunked Radio System (DTRS).

This year, there were two impressive weather events at the tower sites, one with a pretty incredible photo: 

May 7, 2016 
An open field tornado ripped through eastern Colorado right past our Wray tower site (see above weather chaser photo). The tower was providing essential emergency communications and stood strong -- with no damage incurred -- during the tornado. 
February 18, 2016  
At the Monarch Pass location site (11,312 feet above sea level), the high mountain Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) weather station recorded wind gusts of 98 mph at 7:16 p.m. and again at 7:53 p.m.  

In between those times, at 7:36 p.m., the weather station recorded winds out of the west at 62 mph, with a gust 148 mph -- a new state record!

The previous record was in Boulder, Colo., on January 25, 1971, with a wind gust of 147 mph.

DTRS provides a near seamless statewide wireless system for direct communications between the people who need to work together during daily and emergency incidents. We are so grateful to this integral State of Colorado team.