10 agency IT projects take 2012 GCN Awards

Ten government IT projects showing ingenuity in connecting citizens with government as well as creative ways of meeting the growing demand for information-sharing tactics and tools have been named winners of the 2012 GCN Awards for IT achievement.

The winning projects ranged from massive enterprise turnarounds to those demanding swift but flawless execution, including an application that lets truckers easily map safe transportation routes and the IT rebuild of the nation’s largest state benefits agency.

The judges this year also picked projects that reflected the need for shared services given current  financial pressures in the public sector and the use of tools to achieve that, including cloud services, open standards and the mobile Internet.

The projects “found ways to meet their objectives and succeed in a difficult financial environment,” said Kshemendra Paul, program manager of the Information Sharing Environment, and one of six judges for this year’s awards, who also noted that winning project teams shared an “entrepreneurial sensibility.”

The winning projects and their teams will be featured in the October issue of GCN and honored at GCN’s annual awards gala dinner and reception at the Ritz Carlton, Tyson’s Corner on Oct. 24.

The projects were chosen by a group of judges from across the public-sector IT community, including:

  • Elizabeth McGrath, Deputy Chief Management Officer, Defense Department.
  • Sonny Hashmi, Deputy CIO and CTO, General Services Administration.
  • Kshemendra Paul, Program Manger, Information Sharing Environment, Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
  • Simon Szykman, CIO, Commerce Department.
  • Tim Young, Senior Manager, Deloitte Consulting.
  • Natalie Givans, Senior Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton.

The judges were asked to score the nominated projects on basis of the impact of the program on the agency or public, the innovation in the project technology plan and the quality of leadership in the team that carried the projects to fruition.

“I was also impressed with the innovative collaboration models -- again reflecting the mission focus in the public sector that is shared across agencies,” said Paul.

Here are the 2012 GCN Award winners, followed by a list 10 Honorable Mentions also picked by the judges.

Texas Permitting and Routing Optimizing System
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

In 2007, the Texas DMV was slipping dangerously behind in answering requests from truckers for wide-load permits: In that year alone, a staff of 65 at the DMV had answered 90,000 calls from carriers and issued more than a million oversize permits. But a growing backup led to angry complaints from carriers to the governor’s office, lost revenue to both carriers and the state, not to mention risks to the traveling public when some carriers became frustrated and “went hot,” driving without a permit on potentially unsafe routes.

In a remarkable turnaround the DMV brought together a team of in-house IT managers, customers, permit staff and industry associations to address the problem head on. Together they helped build a system that integrates commercial GIS data with DMV routing information to map safe routes and issue oversize permits to carriers electronically. Customers can choose route points using addresses or points on a map and self-issue permits 24/7 within DMV prescribed weight and size limits. Using the system, permitting turn-around times improved from an average of three hours to 30 minutes or less. So far, Kansas has based its K-Trips system on the TxPROS project and other states are eyeing it for their use.

Supertracker
USDA Food Nutrition and Consumer Services

The Agriculture Department’s nutrition service built what at first glance might be mistaken for a simple nutrition reference or calorie counter. But that would be a big mistake. SuperTracker is a virtual data center of personal health and nutrition information, customizable to one’s dietary, physical and weight loss goals and with virtual coaching to boot. The system will generate what is essentially a scientific report measuring progress against the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Its technology is also elegantly lean: Web 2.0 technologies, including JavaScript and XML, and a tight integration with Facebook and Twitter that enables users to connect with and be supported by peers. Aside from its features, the SuperTracker merits recognition for the direct alignment of its technology features and business target: the belly of the American diabetes and obesity epidemic. Hopping on the road to good intentions, the public has responded in droves: in six months since its launch, the site had over 800,000 registered users.

Arlington National Cemetery Explorer
Arlington National Cemetery

All too often, a reliable identification system is the only thing linking a solider missing or killed in action to family and friends. So it was all the more poignant when it was discovered in that mismanagement and poor record keeping had led to improperly marked gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery. The Army responded with a full frontal overhaul of the system, fielding a integrated application that synchronized burial and scheduling related information with geospatial data to produce the first GIS-based scheduling and mapping system for a national cemetery. To do so, Army IT teams digitized over 400,000 burial records, making images of all gravesites and tagging every site with GPS coordinates to a 3-inch accuracy. Now the public has access to a preserve of over 150 years of military history and the confidence that the sacrifice of thousands has been marked with utmost care and precision.

Multi-Domain Dissemination System
Defense Intelligence Agency

In a war zone, traditional command protocols can often lag real-time tactical maneuvers. Example: A high-level officer observing a patrol has relevant information to share. But due to security clearance rules, the message has to be relayed through a third party, missing the narrow window of opportunity that presented itself. Such kinks in information sharing can spell failure for a mission -- or worse. The Defense Intelligence Agency’s Multi-Domain Dissemination System (MDDS) helps overcome such snafus. MDDS operates on a simple principle: If a document or other information source exists, personnel in the chain of command can call it up as long as it was created within a network classified either at or below their specific clearance level. The underlying system is driven by software providing secure multi-level network access and automatic file validation, paving the way for rapid data movement through networks at different sensitivity levels. DIA calls the tool the “http” of military intelligence information sharing.

Global Logistics Modernization with Federated Private Cloud
U.S. Marine Corps

The timely delivery of the right supplies at the right place and time can mean the difference between life and death for troops on the battlefield. Yet modern warfighters have the ability to abruptly out-distance supply lines developed in rear echelons. This can lead to gaps in supply fulfillment, compromising readiness and ultimately the safety of troops. To help close this critical loop, the Marine Corps used a federated private cloud and data synchronization techniques to give war-fighters the same logistics integrity in theater that they would have in garrison anywhere in the world. The system has led to striking performance gains: requisitions requests that sometimes took days can now be accomplished in a matter of minutes, according to project managers, bringing accuracy to logistics process at “the tip of the spear.”

Department of Defense Enterprise E-mail
Defense Information Systems Agency

The Base Realignment and Closure Act giveth and it taketh away. As a part of the global facilities reorganization effort, DISA is moving 4,000 employees to a new campus at Fort Meade, Md. The IT services agency is using the move to undertake a massive upgrade of its IT enterprise, with the goal of establishing a core of networks, data centers and “Internet-like information services” to support its operations. In 2011, DISA took a big bite out of the project in setting up a new enterprise email infrastructure designed to scale to 4.5 million users. Through modifications to Microsoft Outlook, Windows Server and Exchange, users can find anyone who has a Common Access Card, whether he is Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, civilian, military or contractor. And there’s something in it for the general public: the Army says it has identified savings of $75 million in the system’s first year.

Pension System Resumption (PSR) Recovery Project
California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS)

CalPERs coordinates benefits for 3,000 public employers of the state’s 1.6 million workers. Yet for years it was supported by 109 separate and antiquated systems, leading to an epidemic of data gaps and errors throughout the system’s 3 billion records. These had to be painstakingly remediated, adding additional cost and further delays. Although attempts had been made to overhaul the system, it wasn’t until late 2009 that PERS board got serious, mobilizing an effort that involved retiring 200 interfaces, 90 databases, 109 silos, not to mention managing a small army of 550 staffers working on 50 subprojects to manage the project. In less than two years, the system was turned around with blended project teams, streamlined oversight practices and a “holistic” change management strategy. Today, all health and retirements benefits have been paid on time, over 460,000 page views are accessed daily and more than $10 billion in contributions and 10 million transactions had been processed by December 2011.

National Broadband Map
National Telecommunications and Information Administration/Federal Communications Commission

The NTIA/FCC’s National Broadband Map is a precursor of public information services of the future: a massive reservoir of digital records made available to help the public make data-driven policy choices and decisions. A relative of the Obama administration’s open-government projects such as data.gov, the National Broadband Map is a more specific data set, created to support the president’s goals of making high-speed Internet services available to all Americans and helping policymakers make good funding decisions. Using open source tools and agile software developments methods, the NBM team built a map that disseminates data on demographics, broadband providers, technology and bandwidth availability based on tens of millions of records collected from 1,865 providers. And to allow developers a means to create their own mashups, the site includes a trove of application programming interfaces. All in all, an original way of investing in public records to benefit the public interest.

Virtual Remote Interpreting Initiative
Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida

Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit has neatly addressed a challenge that most government agencies still have on the back burner: how to communicate with people who are not native English speakers. In this area, Florida is an outlier. While it spends $40 million annually interpretive services for Spanish and Creole speakers, it also has a surging demand for Mandarin, Russian Vietnamese translators. Responding to the situation, a team from the Ninth Circuit developed the centralized, Virtual Remote Interpreting System, which provides on-demand virtual language services to the courts. Using video and audio feeds from the court’s existing network and remote workstation terminals, interpreters are able to securely interact with the court via Web browsers from any computer attached to the court’s network. On average the court conducts 325 hearings a year that require translation services. An effective system that may or may not be picked up by other jurisdictions. Notes Matt Benefiel, the Ninth Circuit’s Trial Court Administrator, “the legal world is very slow to change.”

DHS Common Operating Picture
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

“Situational awareness” is a term that is often short on detail, conveying an all-seeing eye in the sky. The Homeland Security Department’s Common Operating Picture project brings that all down to Earth. In fact it’s mission is blunt: to “establish a common operating picture” for federal, state and local governments during a natural disaster or terrorist incident. The key objective: “ensure critical terrorism and disaster information reaches government decision-makers.” To meet the mission the COP uses both public and private cloud services, with base map, imagery services, street views and geocoding provided via the public cloud. The benefits of the system include alerts, advanced analytics, data visualization and collaboration and supporting homeland security officials at the White House and DHS. The COP has been operational since May 2012 and has been used to support operations including wild fires, floods, severe weather and national security special events.

Honorable mentions

The following 10 projects were also recognized by the judges, who awarded them honorable mentions for IT achievement:

Austin Finance Online
City of Austin

BEP Enterprise Project
U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing

SD Fusion
San Diego Sheriff’s Department

JaxReady Mobile Application
City of Jacksonville

Project Management Accountability System
Department of Veterans Affairs

Land Use Big Data Initiative
Fairfax County

Interactive Zoning Information System
District of Columbia Office of Zoning

Mississippi Asset Management Website
Mississippi Development Authority

Data Center Environment
Department of Homeland Security

Self-Service Entity Status Letter Project
California Franchise Tax Board

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