Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Bimodal Operations During a Global Pandemic

Digital Government has become firmly entrenched as the way to do business for states in the 21st century.  Although I have continued to work on new initiatives over the past two years, there is now so much content on the subject that I have not felt compelled to add to all the noise. I can leave that to groups like 18f.

Now we have something new. Over the past few weeks, government IT has sprung into action in response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus around the world. States have been meeting regularly to discuss their responses and the critical use of technology as an integral factor in our ability to continue working throughout the crisis.

The response is bimodal. First of all, state IT agencies provide important utility-type services that keep government running: network connectivity, productivity support, data centers or cloud hubs that enable large-scale government services like unemployment, public health, and education to scale to the public. The biggest disruption to these services was to network connectivity and it was swift and dramatic. Overnight, IT needed to provide secure home connectivity to thousands of workers who were sent home. In Utah, this meant providing VPN service to thousands of new remote workers. Fortunately, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox had already supported a growing pilot of telecommuters that were already comfortable with the digital workplace.

Utah migrated to Google Apps for Government in 2012. In 2009, the state first developed a plan to implement a hybrid cloud environment. Workers began to increase their mobility beginning in 2007, when they rolled out the first government iPhone app and adapted to the use of tablets with the release of the Utah iPad Guide a few years later.  These early movements towards developing a digital workplace and digital dexterity among the state workforce paid off during the COVID-19 response.

Through the first few weeks of the pandemic response, an all-hands team met at least daily to coordinate the support issues associated to working with a new remote workforce. The team met using Google Meet and was able to quickly coordinate the response and address any issues that surfaced.

The second part of the response or mode 2, involved the creation of new services or capabilities unique to the pandemic itself.

This was my original outline of our response after about a week.

Agencies then identified additional needs as the pandemic progressed. We needed a more robust dashboard with detailed information on hospital rooms, ventilators, PPE availability, etc. with detail at the county and local level. We began to work with the larger IT community in Utah. Silicon Slopes, working with the Governor's Office, developed the TestUtah application that surveyed thousands of Utahns for possible symptoms of the virus, while also supporting new drive-up test facilities to expand testing availability across the state.

The Division of Emergency Management worked with UDOT and DTS to stand up entry.utah.gov, a way to survey anyone entering the state, either by driving or through the airport.

We're not done yet and this post is certainly not comprehensive of the state response. I'm looking forward to a few updates in the next few weeks

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