30 Years of Service: The Evolution of State I/T by Jim Edman
Deputy Commissioner- BIT
In 1984, David Zolnowsky hired me out of USD as a new programmer / analyst. I was integrated into many good projects which provided opportunities to learn Natural, Adabas, Cobol, SAS & other technologies. Our unit had 8 green screen monochrome terminals in a glass room we all shared and used to create and test our programs. Soon we had our own dumb terminals on our desks & eventually those were replaced with leading-edge AT&T dual-floppy 6300’s on a token ring network with an emulation card. Livin’ large! Flow charts came from a template, pencil & lots of erasing. Later I had the opportunity to move to the “network group” during the “Great Email Meltdown of 1990” resulting from the upgrade from Network Courier to Microsoft Mail 1.0. Even in 1990, only after a couple of years of use, e-mail had become a mission-critical application.
Network expansion over the past 30 years has been astronomical. Agency and our backbone networks began as Token Ring 4Mbps & 16Mbps ‘rings’ built with thick Type 1 cabling. It was my first exposure to something called a “hermaphroditic connector” (use the Google machine for that one…). Wide area network technology has become much simpler and more efficient. 9600 baud SNA networks just couldn’t accomplish much—56Kbps digital circuits weren’t much faster. T1s and ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) technology provided a revolutionary advancement but just whetted clients’ appetite for more. Wide area Ethernet made connecting offices much more efficient but more importantly it allowed our clients to use technology to a far greater advantage.
It seems all great advances are accompanied by setbacks. The advent of the Internet brought the invention of viruses, malware and cybercrime. The role of Chief Security Officer is a daily challenge. Today BIT cyber security staff invests an incredible amount of effort to protect confidential information entrusted to state agencies on a daily basis. This is a very difficult endeavor because security is not convenient. Passwords, controls, specific configuration limits, policies all infringe on one’s “individual rights”. Remember though, sometimes the greater good of the organization needs to outweigh those of the individual.
I’ve been fortunate to work on many exciting projects over the years.
• Consolidating I/T from across the departments into a single organization and the birth of BIT in 1995 – 1996 allowed for improved in efficiencies in state government. That project provided a foundation for the many technologies introduced subsequent to consolidation. South Dakota was far, far ahead of the other 49 states with this effort to consolidate agency staff from their own “kingdoms” to an “enterprise” organization. Difficult times but great folks stepped up and tackled the challenges. One never forgets watching one consultant fire another consultant on the spot. ‘We just don’t need your help anymore.’
• Consolidated networking, a single email system, migrating to TCP\IP, standards for hardware and software, distributed pc support, development standards, a single active directory domain, security, etc. are all enterprise (state wide) technologies we take for granted. Many states today still struggle with those technologies. We’ve been through those challenges and have become a far better customer service organization because of them; state government is tremendously more efficient because of the visions of a few individuals.
• Network migration projects define their own story. SNA multi-dropped 9.6 circuits 56K / T1 point – point - T1 frame relay & ATM – DS3 & OC3 ATM Ethernet of 10, 100, 1000 & 10,000. Each an era with migrations of different equipment but all with the common denominator of more speed for the clients.
• Our K12 technology exceeds that of any other state in the country and I had the great pleasure of working with this project from the ground up. Starting with inmates wiring the schools in the mid-1990’s, through linking all of them together in 1999 – 2000 to build the Digital Dakota Network (DDN) provided South Dakota K12 schools a technology infrastructure unprecedented in any state government at the time. The premise of the DDN was (and continues to be) to provide technology services that can be aggregated and relieve the local school district of that financial and technological burden. The Department of Education and Dakota State University (DSU) have been great partners in this endeavor. Today we have a statewide student information system, managed high speed networking, professional security expertise, a help desk, support expertise available to the schools, web hosting, virtual schools, etc. All of this began with the goal of connecting schools to the Internet and providing teachers with a safe and secure email box. Because we continue to strive to improve services, 15 years later this continues to be a great success story.
• One of the greatest networking projects was the Research, Education & Economic Development (REED) Network, a 10Gbps network connecting state government, public higher education institutions, research centers, and national research networks. Built on-time and within-budget, it is a network that will continue to serve state government, higher education and the private sector far into the future.
• Today we take the Internet and specifically high-speed Internet for granted. In 1993, we started with a 56Kbps link through DSU. (Your home cable modem or DSL circuit dwarves that speed today). Web sites & online transaction are commonplace today. Then newsgroups delivered content and Netscape was our 1st browser. The web hasn’t always been popular though—many agencies were reluctant to post information. There was a significantly different definition to the term “open government” a few years ago. Fortunately, the phenomena of ‘technology inertia’ was strong enough to convince folks to move on. As one consultant famously said in 1996 - “That Internet thing is a fad. It won’t last”. Today our Internet capacity is at 10 Gbps. 10,000,000,000 vs. 56,000. That’s a heckuva fad.
• Wireless and mobility is incredible. Our kids these days take for granted being able to drive the road & have access to games, movies, etc. The future in this area is going to be huge. Technology efficiencies in this area are going to make the services we offer to our constituents far more convenient not to mention the quality of life enhancements we’ll witness.
The people within BIT are the glue that keeps the states technology services humming. Usually it runs pretty smoothly – sometimes Mr. Murphy shows up and there are times where we invite him due to our own sloppiness, but most of the time he comes on his own accord. I like to remind staff that we earn our money when problems occur. It takes far greater expertise to troubleshoot and fix a problem than to configure and turn something on. There have been and are some incredibly sharp people within BIT. The Development, Data Center, SD Public Broadcasting and Telecommunications divisions have very talented and motivated individuals. It is impressive to reminisce on the talent that has gone through BIT over the years—certainly Fortune 500 levels. I have had the privilege of working with many states across the country and we don’t need to take a backseat to any of them. South Dakotans are very humble and modest, but we are also talented and creative AND we can compete on many levels.
As Commissioner Z fondly and regularly reminds me… The 1st 30 years were relatively easy; the next 15 will be the real challenge!