Monday, February 11, 2013

Old computers, new projects


  Are you still working on a computer system that's twenty or thirty years old, a mainframe from the 1980s? Do you know anyone who is?
  Updating and upgrading our computers as technology gets better and better is a necessity in our modern society. There are better communications, applications, and connectivity all the time, and it's important--critical, even--that we stay current.
  The same applies to state government.
  Think of all the critical information in state computers: your personal information, business filing info, bank and credit card numbers; it's an immense amount of data, and an immense responsibility to keep it all safe.
  This morning, I presented House Bill 10 to the House Appropriations Long-Range Planning subcommittee.
  House Bill 10 is the Information Technology legislation for the 2013 session. In it are contained eight projects to upgrade, update, and improve our computer systems, equipment, communications, software, and databases, and all of them serve Montanans at the state agency level.
  Public Safety Communications System--this is the interoperability network of emergency communications that reaches across the state. The dollars we invest at the state level are leveraged eight- to ten-fold with grants from federal dollars. When you call 911, the network that transmits that message and dispatches emergency services must be robust; this appropriation will complete the upgrade. Also, more work and business for Montanans is included; restrictions on how federal grants could be spent have been lifted, and so leases from our own telecomm companies will help flesh out the network.
  Statewide Data Protection Initiative--This effort will help to add security and authentication to access data in state computers, and the impetus to act quickly is prompted by recent security breaches in South Carolina, where the Department of Revenue was hacked and peoples' personal information accessed, and by hacks in Utah, Alabama, the Wall Street Journal, and our own Yellowstone County. We need to secure computer data not only with user ID and password, but also with secure ID. We'll also test by trying to hack our own system, in order to find vulnerable points of access. Then we'll fix 'em.
  Capitol Complex Maintenance Management System--In 44 buildings and 1.2 million square feet of office space, scheduled maintenance and requests for repairs are currently handled in two rather archaic ways: institutional knowledge of long-time employees who know when boilers were replaced and roofs were reshingled, and by a manual system (paperwork). A computer system to track repairs, labor, and materials will help with efficiency and timing of scheduled maintenance.
  Commissioner of Political Practices--This is the division that collects data on elections and candidates, lobbyists and political action committees. The computer system upgrade is half-done, and compatibility and app problems between two separate vendors must be fixed.
  Department of Environmental Quality--The Remediation Division Information Management System will replace a 1989 system that runs a Microsoft Access database, and both the system and database are so old that the provider is stopping support. We'll convert to a new system, transfer the existing data as well as maps and geologic data and all the rest for things like cleaning up mine tailings, leaking underground storage tanks, and solvent sites, and we'll be able to view concurrent information, too, like Superfund cleanup data.
  Department of Transportation--The IT project is for a new Maintenance Management System to replace another 1980s-era system. The upgrade will convert some manual paperwork-driven processes to a web-based system, so that snowplow drivers, dispatchers, road project workers, etc. can get information in real time, can schedule personnel and equipment for projects, and eliminate duplication with a single point of access.
  Secretary of State's office--We'll finish replacing a 1978 mainframe computer system, which will improve efficiency and information access for businesses and citizens. In support of this bill was the Montana Bankers Association, whose members use state-of-the-art computers and systems for financial information and need the same security and services from the state. The system will help with business filings, incorporation documents, etc.
  Legislative Services Division--The system and software upgrade will replace a 27-year-old mainframe computer system and outdated and incompatible software (TextDBMS and WordPerfect. WordPerfect! That's an OLD word processing program!) and will also offer some "cross-pollenation" between Legislative Services and Legislative Fiscal Division, a logical connection but one that incompatible systems prohibit now.

  The Appropriations Subcommittee will consider the funding requests of all of these projects, make amendments (there are three adjustments, for more and less money, already) and then take action on House Bill 10. Then, the bill goes to the full Appropriations Committee, goes through the same process there, then goes (hopefully) to the full House for debate and vote.
  I'm particularly proud to carry House Bill 10, for many reasons: with respect to the Public Safety Communications System, I served as a firefighter/EMT for ten years, and the importance of robust and uninterrupted emergency communications cannot be overstated! When you call 911 for help, emergency services personnel want to help you! Also, in the 2009 Legislative Interim (the period after the legislative session and before the next session convenes) I served on the Capital IT Committee, and heard details about many divisions' computer successes, problems, and needs.
  For the security of everyone's personal information, I'm proud to sponsor the legislation for systems and processes that accomplishes secure access and protection of your data.
     
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  Whew.      
  So, that's what I did this morning.
  This weekend was Governor Bullock's Inaugural Ball. Some pics from the event.