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Why the Network Matters in Government

September 02, 2014

Networks enable new video services. Public officials in the city of Atlanta recently received another reminder about why a reliable and high-performing network infrastructure is essential to their goal to continuously improve how they deliver services to constituents and employees.

This is part two of a four-part series based on a strategy paper from the Center for Digital Government on how high-performance networks power the move to modern government. You can read part one or download the complete strategy paper as a PDF.

Networks enable new video services. Public officials in the city of Atlanta recently received another reminder about why a reliable and high-performing network infrastructure is essential to their goal to continuously improve how they deliver services to constituents and employees. In January 2014, a winter storm disrupted the city and caused massive traffic jams on main arteries. But throughout the snow and ice storm, the city’s core, high-speed network continued to operate, keeping communication flowing while officials confronted the emergency.

The network is essential at other times, as well. For example, the city’s Video Integration Center is where staff members monitor all city-deployed surveillance cameras, including those used by the Atlanta Police Department to oversee traffic conditions, active crime scenes and public emergencies, such as reports of school shootings. ”Having a reliable network infrastructure is essential for making all camera feeds accessible on demand or in real time,” says Noel M.A. Small, director of telecommunications and network operations for the city’s Department of Information Technology (source: information from Noel Small from CDG email interview). ”Not having a reliable infrastructure would adversely affect response time to incidents and reduce the level of security our constituents deserve.”

Atlanta isn’t unique in its reliance on a robust network infrastructure. In an exclusive new survey conducted by CDG, 40 percent of CIOs and other senior IT managers and practitioners in state and local government said their networks currently or will soon provide live feeds and real-time information through video monitoring. In addition to traffic and crime monitoring, networked video streams are important in a variety of other ways. Examples include video booking capabilities that bring together suspects and judges when face-to-face meetings aren’t practical, 24/7 oversight of critical infrastructure to guard against natural or terrorist threats, and videoconferencing that allows remote employees to collaborate within straining travel budgets.

Networks support internal IT efficiencies. Networks also support internal IT innovations that boost efficiency and reduce costs, such as data center consolidations that enable IT managers to virtualize servers, desktops and applications to deliver needed services using fewer physical resources. The right internal network infrastructure enhances security by allowing users to bypass the public Internet when sending sensitive data in favor of dedicated Ethernet connections.

Networks are the pipeline to the cloud. For similar reasons, public sector IT managers are turning to private networks when connecting users and applications to cloud solutions. These pipelines come with sophisticated controls for enforcing access rights and managing data that aren’t available with the wide-open Internet. Reliable cloud connections are becoming crucial for today’s government IT operations.

For example, 46 percent of the executives responding to the CDG survey said their IT network already has a public, private or a hybrid cloud component. In addition, when addressing the shortcomings of their network infrastructure, nearly a quarter of the senior executives cited the lack of built-in flexibility as a challenge, such as a cloud network to alleviate IT network stress. The apparent take-away from this statistic is that a solid number of managers have this option on their IT to-do lists.

Networks connect government to its citizens. The role of modern networks isn’t limited to internal government operations. Increasingly, these pipelines are helping agencies and citizens forge closer connections and enabling government to deliver valuable new services to constituents. They provide lifelines to emergency 911 communications, as well as non-emergency 311 calls that enable agencies to disseminate information or receive feedback from citizens about broken street lights, graffiti, potholes, requests for shelter or a host of other types of alerts.

Networks promote business development. Government officials also recognize the crucial role modern, high-speed network infrastructures play in promoting business development in local areas. Nearly three-quarters of the senior executives in the CDG survey said the IT network was important to economic development initiatives. Having a state-of-the-art network helps attract and retain corporate citizens.

For example, the city of San Mateo, Calif., upgraded its broadband network to link local businesses in its downtown area to high-speed Internet and telecommunications services (source: San Mateo Chamber of Commerce & Comcast Announce Completion of State-of-the-Art Broadband Network for Local Businesses). Known as the Digital Downtown, this resource gives high-tech startups, medical offices and hundreds of other businesses access to a robust optical fiber backbone with download and upload speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps) and 10Mbps, respectively.

Similarly, the Cambridge Innovation Center in Massachusetts provides office space to technology and life science companies in a city that has long been at the forefront of high-tech innovation. The approximately 500 tenant companies that lease office space receive enterprise-class network services, including a 300Mbps Ethernet dedicated Internet connection that can scale capacity volumes to meet the fluctuating needs of its tenants (source: Comcast Business Ethernet Powers Tech Advancements at Cambridge Innovation Center). As a result, at any hour of the day end users can organize video conferences — accessing online storage servers, sharing documents online and using hosted office applications.

Next: Government Network Painpoints.

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