As a member of the baby boomer generation I have fond memories of rotary dial telephones, party lines, black-and-white TV sets (with three channels), transistor radios, manual typewriters, Kodak cameras, and vinyl LP records. We still watch television, take photographs, type on keyboards and talk on telephones, but the digital medium and the internet has transformed our lives — and it’s just beginning to transform government, education and society at large.
Connecticut, home of many famous entrepreneurs and inventors including the first commercial telephone switchboard, has a political map that looks pretty much like its colonial antecedent. While the political map of 169 cities and towns hasn’t changed significantly, our state communications infrastructure has been transformed, almost invisibly, over the past decade. A digital high-speed fiber optic highway now connects our schools, libraries, police departments, fire stations and very soon, town halls and municipal facilities.
While other states are struggling to connect schools to the Internet with acceptable bandwidth (defined as 100 Megabits or higher), most Connecticut public schools now have Gigabit speed Internet access between most buildings and all K-12 public school districts. The state-provided CEN (Connecticut Education Network) and the Nutmeg Network bring this reliable high-speed Internet access service to our schools and multiple municipal sites in every town.
The MORE Commission report issued May 2013, summarized the potential for this statewide network: “to remove barriers, provide opportunities, and create incentives to transform the delivery of state and local government services through technology. To develop best practices and models to enhance productivity, maintain information security and reduce cost for local and regional government service delivery.” Although the Nutmeg Network optical fiber is terminated in every Connecticut town and public school, there is much more to be done to maximize this significant public investment and infrastructure.
Private, high-speed data transport available on the Nutmeg Network is critical to sharing software and applications located in high-availability data centers. Sharing database applications, referred to as “multi-tenant software,” is the game-changer for our towns and schools. So is shared infrastructure known as Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) from private sector providers like Microsoft, Amazon and Digital BackOffice.
High-availability data centers are capital- and knowledge-intensive, but the power of today’s processors combined with server virtualization software is driving enterprise computing to the “cloud” and multi-tenant data centers. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), a global provider of market intelligence, public IT cloud services spending will reach $98 billion in 2016, with a compound annual growth rate five times the growth of the IT industry overall.
Unfortunately, the MORE Commission report does little to define or encourage a role for private sector application developers or IAAS providers. Considering the significant state and federal investment in the infrastructure, Connecticut would be well served to embrace and incent private sector investment and innovation on the Nutmeg Network. Private technology initiatives and private capital have a greater potential to transform the delivery of government services than public sector or non-profit initiatives. The Nutmeg Network has great potential but like any building, highway or railroad, it requires ongoing operating funds, maintenance and patronage to succeed.
Ultimately the market place will determine a role for the private IT sector as well as the future of the CEN/Nutmeg Networks. Technology will continue to transform our lives, but in order to transform government we need to unlock the potential of the CEN/Nutmeg networks. Angel investors and state-funded economic development programs can incent entrepreneurs and the technology industry to develop applications and services shared by all state and local government agencies, schools libraries and first responders.
The Cloud Industry Forum (cloudindustryforum.org) and other industry groups or standards bodies can provide our administrators and legislators with a framework for best practices, governance and service level objectives. Private-sector IAAS providers already offer service level agreements that guarantee performance and metrics for measuring service levels.
We encourage state executive agencies, local officials, regional planning teams and our legislators to “remove barriers and create incentives” for private sector partnerships with the CEN/Nutmeg Networks.
Dale Bruckhart is vice president of marketing for Digital Back Office in Milford.