Networking the CityBy Eileen Feretic Print
Carole Post, CIO of New York City, has one of the toughest IT jobs in the world. Undaunted by the challenge, she has developed a technology road map to move the city forward.
Networking the City
In response to another recommendation in Post’s 30-day plan, DoITT will create a new Office of Telecommunications and Broadband Policy. This office will be responsible for developing, maintaining and implementing the city’s telecommunications strategies. It will also coordinate efforts “to increase public access to broadband technologies through public computer centers, school programs and the expansion of WiFi in parks.”
Communications technologies play an important role in the life of the city. The NYC Wireless network (NYCWiN) is a high-speed mobile data network that is operational across the city’s more than 300 square miles. DoITT operates NYCWiN, launched in May 2009 in conjunction with Northrop Grumman, as an extension of CityNet, a fully redundant fiber-optic network.
“We’ve been running the fiber network for a number of years and have been upgrading it over time,” Bimonte said. “We now need to make the next big upgrade, WDM [wavelength-division multiplexing] capacity, and that’s currently in the works.”
Though most agencies use the city’s network, some still run their own. However, DoITT is in the process of moving some of these agencies to CityNet, which will save them a significant amount of money. At this time, an analysis of the move is taking place at the Department of Education.
The wireless network was developed primarily to support public safety, and it gives first responders high-speed access to large data files. DoITT is planning a major upgrade in police cars and fire engines that will enable the police to transmit warrant photographs and streaming videos to police cars, and the fire department to send maps and building layouts to fire fighters on their way to a fire.
But the city’s broadband initiative goes far beyond the agencies. “We’ve applied for two grants on the broadband stimulus from the federal government,” Post said. One recently resulted in a $22 million award to provide free computers, discounted broadband service and support services to more than 18,000 low-income sixth-grade students and their families. This is part of a program to increase broadband adoption among underserved populations. The second grant is for a program to expand the availability of public computer centers in the city’s highest poverty areas.
New York City has a number of partners involved in this initiative, including Verizon and the cable companies. However, the initiative depends on getting the broadband stimulus funds from the federal government.
Another major networking goal is to make WiFi available as widely as possible. Later this spring, DoITT will release an RFP to expand the availability of WiFi in public spaces.
Mobile technology is another communications arena managed by DoITT. It currently hosts 20 to 25 mobile solutions, which are a boon to agencies that have a lot of field workers. These employees can handle all their work remotely, without having to go to the office, and this has resulted in a huge increase in productivity for the agencies.
Securing New York
Information security is a huge challenge and an onerous responsibility for every CIO, but when you’re responsible for the security of New York City’s IT infrastructure and data, the task can seem Herculean in scope.
“We’ve made some great strides is this area,” Bimonte said. “We’ve developed a number of IT security policies, including acceptable-use policies for employees and application accreditation policies. And the IT security office sends out cyber-security awareness materials on a regular basis.
“In addition, we’re entering into an enterprise license agreement with a top security provider to make it easier for agencies to procure a standard set of security products. Rather than having each agency go through the procurement process on its own, we could do that once for the whole city, which would save a lot of time and money.
“We’ve also introduced some standard procedures so that a new application has to have a thorough security accreditation before it’s put into production. All our Internet-facing applications are set up in a way that protects our internal systems, so no one can use an application to get into our systems.”
Another growing security challenge is social networking, which has been “growing organically throughout the city,” according to Post. Until recently, there hadn’t been any central oversight of these efforts, but that’s about to change.
“In partnership with the city’s Law Department and policymakers, we are going to encourage the use of creative networking sites, with appropriate guidelines and structures around them,” she explained. “We will serve as something of a moderator for these sites, creating policies for the agencies to follow. We are not looking to police them or limit them, but we don’t want agencies to unilaterally develop social networking policies.”
The city agencies will be asked to register their social networking efforts with DoITT so that it can centrally track these sites and accounts.
The massive technology changes taking place in New York City government are requiring an equally huge cultural change. To facilitate this change, DoITT is working with agency CIOs to relieve them of technology obligations that are not core to their mission.
Post put it this way: “If the agencies let us manage their IT infrastructure, we will save them money and time, and enable them to focus more effectively on their core missions.”
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