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2019 IT trends in government and public sector

Facing only modest budget hikes, IT leaders in the government and public sector still plan to innovate.

U.S. federal, state, and local government spending on IT for 2019 will increase by 2 percent to 4 percent in many cases. Undeterred by the moderate increase, many cities will continue to pilot or launch newer technologies such as IoT, self-driving cars, blockchain, drones, and 5G wireless.

Meanwhile, big-picture worries about cybersecurity will continue throughout the public sector (not to mention the private sector) in the coming year. Elected officials and government CIOs openly worry that security gaps exist. Many governments have even rushed to buy insurance to protect against losses from cyberattacks and debilitating ransomware.

Cybersecurity worries to continue

Some IT leaders and elected officials have expressed worries that federal agencies aren’t investing enough in research to fight cyberterrorism. When President Trump’s administration eliminated the White House’s cybersecurity coordinator position, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, called the move “mind-boggling.”

Warner serves as vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He’s earned a reputation as a bipartisan leader partly because of his business acumen as an investor in tech and wireless startups prior to serving as Virginia's governor and a two-term senator.

Loss of the White House coordinator role comes “at a time when the cyberthreat to our nation is greater than ever,” Warner said via email. “Our adversaries are investing heavily in 21st century cyberwarfare capabilities. If we only view national security through the conventional 20th century lens, we’re going to find ourselves unable to respond to increasingly asymmetric cyberthreats down the road.”

On the other hand, Warner said he was pleased that President Trump’s management agenda for 2019 described IT modernization as “a key driver of transformation.” Warner led a bipartisan effort to pass an act in late 2017 to help modernize government technology. “Modernizing technology is an issue we need to get our arms around,” he said. Traditionally, the federal government spends 80 percent of its IT budget on operations and maintenance of “mostly older, legacy systems, leaving little funding for modernization,” he added.

Federal spending for 2019 basically flat

President Trump called for spending nearly $45.8 billion on non-defense, civilian federal IT in 2019, a small $221 million increase from 2018. That compares with $42.5 billion spent in 2018 on defense and classified projects.

IDC research director Shawn McCarthy anticipates overall federal spending on IT to bump up a slight 2.4 percent in 2019, allowing a continuation of a big push into data center consolidation. (McCarthy factors in non-civilian and defense spending.)

That push means there will be a strong federal interest in data center resource mapping tools and hiring of system integrators and consultants to help with the consolidation. Those jobs won’t necessarily be government staff positions, however, McCarthy notes.

State and local spending up by 4 percent

By comparison, cities and states will spend about 4.5 percent more on IT in 2019, McCarthy estimates. Most of those increases will come from spending by cities. “Internet of Things integration is huge” in cities and states, McCarthy says. Interest in blockchain technologies will be strong, with many small pilots, but it won’t produce strong spending until future years. A push for 5G in 2019 will come mainly from carriers such as Verizon and AT&T but will generate interest by city officials and some residents.

In 2019, millions more IoT sensors will be added to light poles, streetlights, and sewers in cities nationwide, with new software tools added to interpret terabytes of data generated by those sensors and often delivered to servers over wireless networks. Cities, counties, and states will also push further into cloud-based analytics systems to find novel ways to connect weather, air quality, and citizen health to violent crime, education and drop-out rates, vehicle accident fatalities, and more.

Public sector IT pay competes (again) with private sector

Generally, the public sector will continue to struggle with offering workers pay that is competitive with the private sector, even though government IT budgets on average are expected to expand only slightly faster than inflation in 2019, says Dan Lohrmann, chief security officer at Security Mentor and a former CTO and CSO for the state of Michigan.

In general, cybersecurity spending is increasing, but the public sector “still struggles to keep up with growing cyberthreats,” Lohrmann adds. He identified the leading state governments in cybersecurity efforts as Virginia, Michigan, Georgia, Missouri, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Utah. California, Washington, and Maryland come in second.

A push for private sector cyber talent

Maryland, notably, has taken a recent lead with the creation of a cybersecurity hub as part of a 235-acre redevelopment project on industrial land in South Baltimore called Port Covington. Three cyber-related companies recently committed to move to new buildings planned for opening there in 2020. One company, AllegisCyber, plans to move to the Baltimore site from Silicon Valley, partly to escape the high cost of living workers face there. 

“The fact that new cyber companies are seeking out Maryland as the place they want to do business speaks to our effort in working with them to create their workforce of the future,” said Maryland Secretary of Labor Kelly Schulz via email. Maryland, along with Virginia, benefit from proximity to multiple federal agencies.

The name of the game for state governments in 2019 will increasingly be finding ways to compete with other tech-savvy states, often by encouraging private sector firms to pilot new technologies in partnership with the public sector. In Arizona and Utah, expect a continued big push to allow testing of autonomous or self-driving cars and related wireless technologies. Waymo plans to launch autonomous taxis by the start of 2019 in Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix.

Betting on more connected vehicles in 2019

The Utah Department of Transportation plans to spend much more in 2019 than in prior years on connected vehicle data technology used with city buses and snowplows, according to Blaine Leonard, a technology and innovation engineer with the Utah DOT. Data collected from buses and snowplows in Salt Lake City will help the city and commuters make decisions about real-time travel.

“We’re proposing to give snowplows traffic-signal preemption, which gives them extra green time and a chance to keep moving if the plow is down,” Leonard says. “We would tap into that onboard data, and if the truck is approaching a traffic signal, we’d get a wireless communication that says, ‘I’m plowing—stay green.’” That technology would rely on wireless channels called dedicated short-range communications (DSRC).  

The snowplow technology that the Utah DOT is planning will cost less than $1 million in 2019, but “there’s big bang for the bucks,” Leonard says.

Utah is keenly interested in research into autonomic and connected vehicles (AV and CV), part of a trend that affects nearly every state. “Most of us in the industry are talking about AVs and CVs a lot, and it’s getting more and more prominent. With the vehicle manufacturers, it’s becoming more real,” Leonard says. A completely driverless highway system is far into the future, possibly several decades from now, but Leonard said the groundwork for a driverless world is going to escalate in 2019 with states in partnership with private companies.

“Once we have vehicles communicate [with one another and nearby traffic signals] and we get enough of them doing so, we could take one lane on a freeway and allow those vehicles to platoon with one another," he says. "The technical capability is there now, but the critical mass of vehicles will take time.

“Vehicles need to be automated to drive the same speed, but who controls the speed—is it DOT or the vehicles? There are still a lot of unknowns. Heavy trucks are already starting to do platooning using vehicle-to-vehicle communications and DSRC. We’ve done testing here with one company, and our laws allow us to do so,” Leonard notes.

Self-driving research to get hotter as states share insights

More than 40 states have made attempts to approve autonomic vehicle testing, and six governors have signed executive orders to permit them. “There’s a general, but not ubiquitous, consensus that AVs provide increased safety, and a lot of states see the business the technology can generate when companies come to their states to do it,” Leonard says.

While states compete, they are still willing to share information about driverless vehicle technology and best practices. Under the Trump administration, federal transportation officials have become less regulatory, which has suited conservative Utah well, Leonard says.  

Prior to President Trump’s election, federal officials were set to mandate that DSRC technology be installed on future cars. However, the Trump administration backed off, letting the auto industry figure out the direction of wireless communications for future vehicles. 

“I’d have preferred the feds be more regulatory…and stayed the course on mandating communications technology,” notes Leonard.

With all the data Utah and other states will be grabbing from vehicles, there will be increased focus in 2019 for cybersecurity and data privacy. “All the states are working on those concerns and how to get the communications technology set up without opening the door to cyberattacks,” he says. “We don’t want personal data; we want traffic data.”

Transportation departments everywhere will have access to enormous amounts of data that they didn’t ever access in the past. “With connected vehicles, we will be harnessing data to manage traffic and freeways. With that data, you’ll have better zoning and planning and traffic management,” Leonard says.

If state and local governments haven’t already faced it, 2019 will be the year public sector IT leaders—especially highway departments—and elected officials truly confront the adage that “data is the new oil.” 

A tale of two cities in 2019: Las Vegas and Louisville

Trends in city government IT will vary widely in 2019. While some cities won’t substantially grow their overall IT budgets, there will remain a keen interest in IoT and other tech innovations.

The cities of Las Vegas and Louisville, Kentucky, both have big research plans, even if their budgets aren’t growing much. 

Louisville Metro Government expects to make an incremental increase in IT services, software, and hardware in 2019, according to Grace Simrall, chief of civic innovation and technology. Over the past three years, Louisville invested $3 million in cybersecurity and doubled the size of its IT security team.

Louisville has recently pioneered open data and crowdsourced data technologies to manage air quality and traffic congestion. The government also applied for a grant to add drones that would be integrated with a gunshot detection platform to lower violent crimes.  

“We don’t see data security and privacy as inhibitors to growth,” Simrall said. “Smart cities need to be digitally resilient cities.”

In Las Vegas, the city’s investment in IT services, software, and hardware will remain at 2018 levels, about $14 million, but that’s hardly an indicator of the city’s keen interest in new technologies.

The city will continue to implement connected and autonomous vehicle technology, which started with its introduction of a downtown driverless shuttle in late 2017. Plans include blockchain for the city’s asset management system as well as video analytics to bolster public safety, according to Don Jacobson, enterprise project manager for the city.

Like other cities, states, and even federal agencies, Las Vegas faces the difficulty of attracting an IT workforce with the necessary IT skills, especially with data analytics, Jacobson says. “Automation and data generation from IoT are outpacing our ability to keep up,” he says.

Both cities illustrate that the drive by governments with limited budgets is toward finding technology innovations with big rewards at low cost. In that regard, 2019 is not vastly different from any other recent year for government IT at the local, state, and federal level.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.