When CDW works with organizations on hardware purchases, we talk about how staff members plan to use the devices, how much memory they will need and other factors such as processing power and applications. We ask whether people will bring their devices home or use them in an office setting. Will multiple people use the devices, or just one person? Is an executive using the device? Does the user need a touch screen? Stylus? Mouse? Dual screens? What is the organization’s goal in using laptops? Is the objective to make the workforce more mobile? The use cases for deployments such as this can be quite diverse — perhaps a city asking census questions door to door or a school district making technology available to students in a rural setting.
Understanding our customers’ missions enables us at CDW and CDW•G to do our jobs effectively. We aren’t selling widgets. We are helping cities, counties, states and agencies to meet their civic and defense missions. We do that with technology.
How Competing Objectives Become Common Goals
An IT deployment by a hypothetical state government illustrates how technology can solve several civic challenges.
In this scenario, both the legislature and the IT professionals who work for the government want to deliver results for the state’s citizens. But, as in many organizations, instead of working together, they have separate goals. In talks with CDW•G, the IT professionals mention a few:
- To reduce their technical debt, a concept expressing how work is sometimes deferred to meet a deadline but ultimately still needs to be completed
- To become a data clearinghouse and share information with citizens
- To digitize permits and licensing across the state and decrease how often citizens are required to visit a state office
Meanwhile, the legislature has its own goals:
- To reduce poverty across the state
- To increase the amount of welfare funds that beneficiaries receive
- To increase the number of children completing high school
It would be easy to look at one set of goals and not the other. If we look at digitizing the permitting process without looking at the state’s goal of reducing poverty, we might propose a solution that includes ingesting past and future data and provides an online application system for citizens, even though such a solution might be more expensive than other options. We might assume all citizens have access not just to wireless connectivity but also to smart devices that enable them to use the state’s new app for permitting. If we set milestones for this project, we might include a reduction of brick-and-mortar locations for permits — making it more difficult for citizens without smart devices to access these services.
This is where the importance of CDW•G’s methodology — and how carefully we look at all facets of our customers’ needs — becomes apparent. By combining the priorities of both legislators and IT professionals, a fuller picture of the state comes into view. The state’s residents are spread across rural environments, and not every home has access to Wi-Fi or the internet. Some citizens can’t afford a smart device. Moving the permitting and license system or even the census system online would create a hardship for many citizens. However, the state’s goals of decreasing poverty and increasing the number of children who complete their education give us an idea to marry these objectives. We can create an ecosystem that delivers internet access to even the most impoverished citizens.
Services for All Citizens
Our understanding of the state’s goals enables CDW•G to help both legislators and technologists to address them holistically. Together, we can:
- Improve education by increasing the availability of the internet to residents
- We do this by installing access points and Wi-Fi across the state.
- This has been shown to increase graduation rates in areas of lower socioeconomic status and remove barriers to higher education.
- Reduce poverty
- Internet access enables unemployed and underemployed residents to look for jobs from their homes.
- It also allows them to continue their education as they look for new jobs.
- Improve access to welfare funds
- Internet access improves the dissemination of information about welfare programs.
- Citizens can apply for welfare benefits using the state’s mobile app.
- Begin the discussion about data literacy for the state, including offering a workshop on data literacy and culture
- The new ecosystem creates data and provides a platform for data warehousing.
- We can discuss compliance, auditing, retention and storage of data.
- This includes discussion of data stewardship between the legislature and IT professionals.
- Create an application that can be accessed via mobile or desktop operating systems and provide access to government sites (for bill payments, permits, licenses and more)
Even though this seems like a lot of spending, creating the overarching infrastructure for applications, data ingestion and Wi-Fi provides an immediate return on investment by restructuring employee responsibilities. In addition, CDW•G will work with the state to leverage infrastructure components it already owns instead of purchasing all new equipment. As we develop our plan, we also focus on the goal of reducing the state’s technical debt.
An Infrastructure That Supports Services
The solution CDW•G proposes for the state includes:
- An overarching framework for Wi-Fi that will increase internet capabilities to the state
- Apple iPads and other mobile devices for government units that need mobility (such as police and public library bookmobiles)
- Applications for mobile and desktop operating systems
- This enables citizens to access permits and licenses and pay bills through an online platform.
- If citizens don’t have this available to them, they can still use tablets located in convenience stores to pay bills, freeing civil workers to focus on more urgent tasks.
- An ingest platform for data
- This will provide state IT teams with analytics on who is accessing the Wi-Fi, for how long and what they’re accessing.
- The goal is to provide services to the areas that need them. Areas that need better educational access may receive iPads or Google Chromebooks, while mobile medical units may be sent to areas in need of medical services.
- Sensors deployed throughout the state (including via smart street lighting) can track conditions such as temperature and water levels to provide immediate, accurate and actionable information to emergency services in case of a natural disaster.
CDW•G works with the state to determine what types of data it is compiling, storing and analyzing. We can show how predictive analytics may be used to provide better insight into which citizens are and are not accessing the platform. Once the infrastructure is in place, the state can add capabilities such as:
- Using video analytics to better understand traffic patterns and provide real-time assistance in case of an accident
- Ingesting logs from the website and correlating this information with social media to determine what may be causing lags before they become a problem
These advances may sound like science fiction, but our solution architects and partners build solutions like this. By putting your civic problems first, we can deploy the technology to meet your mission.