INTERVIEW: David Bliss
Wyoming makes grade via ATM
Wyoming native David Bliss has seen firsthand how technology such as the state's ATM network is opening educational doors in remote high schools.
Statewide network delivers services to remote locations, says IT Division official
'''Director, Administration and
'''Acting Director, Information
'''Year 2000 Project Manager
Source: Wyoming Information
By Trudy Walsh
GCN StaffWyoming information technology officials face a singular challenge: They deliver government services to 460,000 citizens in a state where cows outnumber people by a 3-1 ratio. The conundrum is that Wyoming is the ninth-largest state in area, with 97,000 square miles of plateaus, sagebrush and ranches.
David Bliss, acting director of the state's IT Division, has been working with computers since 1959, when he graduated from high school and joined the Air Force. Since then he has worked in aerospace, banking, retail, service bureaus and government, all on the IT management side. Bliss spoke with GCN/State & Local about how Wyoming links its citizens to the future.
BLISS: When I went into the Air Force, they gave me a test and asked me what I wanted to do. 'I'd like a desk job,' I said. They said, 'How about data processing?' I said, 'What's that?' I just sort of slid into it. We had IBM Corp. accounting machines back then, with punch cards.
One of the big challenges we face in Wyoming is tying very small communities together with technology. We've only got two cities with populations of more than 50,000'Casper and Cheyenne. Then we've got plenty of small towns of 450 people, but they still need Motor Vehicle Department offices and Health Department services. So we have to deliver government services to them.
That's one reason we've put so much into the statewide asynchronous transfer mode network. Recently we completed the installation with U.S. West [of Englewood, Colo.]. Every high school has a T1 connection to the Internet. All other schools have at least a 56-Kbps connection.
Management information systems support'Provides help desk, network, e-mail and Web site support to state agencies
Systems applications'Develops and maintains agency software
Computer center'Supports mainframe operations
Telecommunications'Develops and maintains voice, video and data networks in the agencies
As a Wyoming native, I can appreciate these long distances between communities. Both my children went to high school here, and they would have to travel 350 miles to play the rival team. There are two high schools in Cheyenne, two in Casper and a total of 78 high schools in the whole state. So you can imagine how important the ATM network is to us.
All high schools are going to get a compressed video installation. A teacher in Laramie County, near the university, can teach Russian to three students at Lusk High School in Niobrara County via compressed video, something that wouldn't be feasible otherwise. Delivering education is a top priority. Kids in smaller communities really have an opportunity.
Wyoming is very scenic if you like open spaces, rolling hills and buffalo grass. But we average 55 inches of snow a year, most of which blows sideways. It's not everybody's cup of tea. And that in turn gives us another challenge.
Statewide ATM network'Connects all Wyoming public schools to the Internet and a state intranet over a frame relay network
E-commerce'Provides statutes to accommodate electronic digital signatures and lay the foundation for e-commerce in the state
Emerging technology'Fosters innovation in the agencies for programs such as the Health Passport Project, a pilot health card program that is also being deployed in communities in North Dakota and Nevada
Once we get a vendor to come out here, the trick is getting them to come back. Maintenance is our biggest hurdle. The year 2000 situation has actually had a positive side. Once we performed the inventory assessment, we knew what we really had out there. We used to be a highly centralized shop, but with the advent of PCs, a lot of that processing moved out into the agencies.
I'll be in here working on New Year's Eve, with probably 30 or 40 of my employees. We canceled vacations from Dec. 27 through Jan. 16, 2000. Everybody will be on call. The only business we're in is technology support, so we have to step up to the plate.Freedom to spend
We're a little unusual in that we've been a charge-back operation since 1974. That means that the Legislature gives us an authority to spend. Then we have to recover our expenses by charging the end users, i.e., the agencies.
We cannot show a profit, we cannot show a loss. If we have a profit, we have to cut rates. If we have a loss, we have to raise rates. It keeps us accountable, that's for sure.
As far as delivering technology, we believe we've got a good handle on it. The sparseness of the population has demanded that we use technology to the utmost.