National Association of Legislative Information Technology

NALIT Newsletter, Summer 2011 

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In this Issue:




Chair’s Corner

By Dave Larson, Director, Kansas Legislative Computer Services

I believe that God created everything that exists. I also believe He put rules on His creation to keep it running smoothly. We call these rules the “laws of nature.” Back in 1687, Isaac Newton wrote an article defining what we now call Newton’s Laws of Motion. I happen to think these laws also apply to human dynamics and have a bearing even on NALIT.

The first law says, “a body at rest will stay at rest, or a body in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by an external force.” In other words, NALIT will not move forward unless a force (think energy) is applied to it. If we think NALIT is not going anywhere, then someone needs to provide energy and motivation to get it moving. Are you that someone? The law also says that, if you believe NALIT needs to go in another direction, it will not change direction unless someone applies force to re-direct it. Therefore, if you believe NALIT needs to move in any direction, do you have the energy to help us set the course?

The second law says, “force equals mass times acceleration.” This law means that the more people who are involved (mass) and the more excited and motivated they are (acceleration), then they exert more force than one person alone. The multiplier effect is powerful. Can you encourage someone else to become active in NALIT?

The third law says,” to every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.” Movement and change are always accompanied by resistance. It manifests itself in many forms: timidity, uncomfortableness, preoccupation or just plain uninterest. NALIT is an organization of movers and shakers. The question is, will you be a part of it? I pray that it is so.

My year as your chair is rapidly coming to a close. I have counted it an honor to serve you in this capacity. Thank you for your trust and support. I owe a whopping big thanks to Pam Greenberg. Pam you are simply the best! I also want to thank the officers, the regional directors, and NALIT committee chairs and members for their faithful work this year. Through them, we've produced several webinars and numerous presentations. Although the recession has made it difficult to travel, we have managed to keep the organization active and serve the NALIT membership and our home legislatures. I encourage you to try to attend the Legislative Summit in San Antonio, August 8-11, and/or the professional development seminar in Portland, Ore., October 2-5. Both programs will offer timely and informative presentations. I hope to see you there.

 


News from the NCSL Staff Chair

 By Tim Rice, NCSL Staff Chair, Legislative Information Services, Illinois

These are interesting times for legislative staff. I doubt that you need me to list the many serious challenges we face—you’re all too aware of them already. Of course, legislative staffs are not the only ones to encounter stormy waters. Legislators and legislatures are finding the sailing rough these days, and the people and places they represent also are having plenty of difficulties.

My point here is not to focus on the challenges, just to acknowledge our common ground. We need to recognize and identify the difficulties and the storms; to ignore them would be foolish. However, if we dwell on them and let them define us, they will. At the risk of sounding clichéd, these challenges present us with opportunities, and this is where we shine.

As staff, our jobs are always about adapting, adjusting and finding creative ways to succeed. Our best work is the result of facing difficulties and arriving at solutions that often not only overcome the obstacles but set new standards for what we provide.

I encourage you to resist pessimism and cynicism and to be realistically optimistic. Let’s respond to the challenges with our characteristic commitment, creativity and determination. Change will come, and some of it will be difficult and painful, but we have the opportunity to shape it for the greater good.

The services that NCSL provides to staff have been and continue to be some of the strongest resources we have. Our staff sections provide us with an invaluable peer network, including opportunities and tools for communicating and collaborating. Professional education and development are available via several avenues. NCSL staff provide analysis, research, technical services and consultation for all manner of concerns. I am not aware of any other source that provides such a breadth and depth of support for legislative staff.

NALIT is your connection, and it may even be your lifeline. Here are the folks who do what you do, who face what you face, and who will, like you, make a difference. These are the people who will stand beside you, confront the challenges, explore options, share failures and successes, and arrive at solutions. Maintain and nurture that network, and be an active part of it.

Use the resources that are available. Attend the Legislative Summit and the professional development seminar. Participate in webinars and other online activities. Serve as an officer. Contact NCSL staff for information and assistance.

Finally, the officers and members of the Executive Committee want to know what we can do for you. Tell us your stories and share your ideas for what NCSL can do to improve its services to you. If at all possible, come to San Antonio this August, where we’ll talk about challenges and solutions, and we’ll celebrate you and all legislative staff.


 

News from the NALIT Secretary

By Peter Capriglione, North Carolina

As everyone says who has ever held a NALIT position, “it is hard to believe it has been a year already and my term has ended.” Therefore, I will not say that. However, I have had a great time working on the newsletter and appreciate all of the articles, etc., received that made the newsletter informative for all.

As with some of you, North Carolina had a leadership change in both the house and senate. This brought along with it new ideas for IT use in the legislature, which sometimes required application re-writing or modifications to meet the needs of our new leaders. We met those challenges and are looking forward to working with leadership and members to improve upon what we have and incorporate their ideas as well as new technology, individual tablets and smartphones, into the legislative environment to make everyone’s experience doing legislative business effective, efficient and productive. 

The good news is we are out of session for a couple of weeks. This is the earliest since the 1970s that we have had a budget and a break from session. The waning days of session, as always, were fast, furious and long, and now staff is getting a breather (not all, see below next few words) and are now gearing up for the upcoming redistricting (this staff is busy) session in early July.

It was good our systems held and we had 99.999 percent uptime for our servers, network and applications. While not all in IT are happy when we are referred to as a utility—since now IT is ordinary, as are lights and clean water—it is a fact. As people presume the lights will turn on when the switch is pressed and the water will flow when the faucet is opened, the same is true for IT. When the PC is turned on and e-mail and the Internet need to be accessed, and the word processor needs to open, and the votes need to be taken, it is EXPECTED that all will work, as it did the day before, the hour before and the second before. If we do our jobs correctly, all is seamless and transparent to our user base.

While not glamorous, IT has become more vital to all functions of the legislative process, as it has in our daily lives. IT remains ever expanding and evolving, and as IT specialists, it is our job to continue to provide quality service and quality applications to help our legislators and legislative staff move forward with democracy in the 21st century.

I hope that you will be able to attend the Legislative Summit this year and/or the Professional Development Seminar (PDS). The topics are awesome and as reflected in the listserv topics, will cover a wide range of important and relevant topics. I will not attend the summit but hopefully will be allowed to attend the PDS.

Again, thanks to all who helped make the newsletter what it is, and especially thanks to Pam. As we all know, she is the glue that keeps NALIT together.


 

NALIT Professional Development Seminar, Portland, Oregon

NALIT’s Program Planning Committee members are working on agenda details for the 2011 Professional Development Seminar in Portland, Oregon on October 2-5, 2011.

NALIT is meeting concurrently in Portland with the Research and Committee Staff Section (RACSS). While the meetings are separate, there will be a few joint programs of interest to members of both staff sections.

One of the highlights will be visiting the State Capitol and learning more about our host state’s legislative systems and services. We’ll visit Salem, where we’ll enjoy a tour, briefings and sessions at the Capitol.

Sessions planned for the seminar include:

  • Five Minutes of Fame
  • Applications Development for Mobile Devices and the Web
  • iPads & Tablets: Policies and Standards
  • iPads & Tablets: Implementation
  • Constituent Management Systems
  • 7 Things You Should Know About Windows 7
  • 7 Security Tools Everyone Should Have
  • Social Media Do’s and Don’ts
  • Open Source

 See the full schedule on page 9, and check the seminar website for updates and more details.


 

NALIT Listserve Topics in 2011

  • iPad Projects
  • Voice Recognition for Transcribing Statements
  • Desk Phones/Chamber Video
  • E-mail Systems
  • Corporate Credit Cards for IT Purchases
  • Video Streaming Capabilities from within the Chamber
  • Constituent Services and Management Software
  • Visual Basic Question
  • Security/Panic Alarm Systems
  • Customizing User Desktops to Deliver Apps
  • CRM Software
  • Convert WordPerfect Documents to HTML (Keeping Line Numbering)
  • Mobile Device Support
  • Web Content Management Systems

 

Washington State Legislature Builds Own Document Management System, or They Must Have Gone Crazy Out There

 By Steve Hull and Ronda Tentarelli, Washington State Legislative Service Center

Legislatures make laws, but the main product of legislatures is documents—drafts, versions of bills, amendments, analyses and code sections. A document management system is at least as important as a database management system.

The Washington State Legislature had used FileNet Content Services since 1999. We were paying for capabilities we did not use and, since IBM acquired the product, support had become an issue. IBM announced the end of life for the products on the Microsoft Windows platform and pointed toward a different set of customers. We needed to select a successor, and we needed to choose between building our own or selecting a commercial or open source offering.

The Legislative Service Center (LSC) put together a team to consider the options and make a recommendation. The team looked at four possible solutions for replacing FileNet:

  • IBM FileNet P8 Content Manager
  • Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007
  • Develop a custom DMS
  • Other commercial products, including open source

Cost, features, Gartner reports, product evaluations, and what it was like to work with the vendor were among the criteria the team considered. Because of cost factors and our simple DMS needs, we eliminated FileNet P8 and other high-end enterprise DMS systems. Past experience with commercial products indicated we would need to spend between 1,000 and 1,600 hours integrating the product into our infrastructure.

The team also considered open-source solutions. They, too, would require quite a bit of development and integration into our environment, and support would have been a challenge. Other considerations for not going with an open-source solution were the technologies used and lack of documentation.

The team conducted parallel experiments with SharePoint 2007 and writing our own based on SQL Server 2008. Performance, an additional development environment, and time to develop eliminated SharePoint. The team proved to itself that it more quickly could develop an SQL Server-based DMS with the features the Legislature requires. Most important, SQL Server was significantly faster and performed much better than SharePoint.

Our DMS system provides the following:

  • All database components (i.e., tables, stored procedures);
  • A comprehensive API to provide an interface to the new DMS (i.e., check-in, check-out, history, transaction log);
  • A query tool;
  • An administrative application to handle meta-data administration, security and other administrative tasks; and
  • Tools to migrate documents from FileNet to the DMS.

The technology infrastructure is comprised of SQL Server 2008, C#, CSLA 3.8, Windows 7, .NET 4.0, ClickOnce, Sandcastle and Windows Server 2008. The primary software components include the document object, document properties object, database model, security model and the search model.

Developing the new DMS took six months for a team of four developers, two testers, one DBA, and one business analyst. The timeline for developing and deploying the DMS was divided into the following major components:

  • Prototype development: 8/1/2009 – 10/15/2009
  • DMS Development: 10/27/2009 – 4/28/2010

In parallel with development, one application was converted to use the DMS as a proof of concept. This allowed follow-on applications to be converted without any difficulty.

  • 15 applications converted to use the DMS and tested: 5/1/2010 – 8/1/2010
  • Phase 1 application deployment: 8/6/2010
  • Phase 2 application deployment: 9/13/2010
  • Project completion: 10/1/2010

Deployment of the DMS to production occurred without any problems. The biggest challenge we encountered was designing the label model. Changes to a set of documents are identified by a name or label. It’s sort of like revision control used in a source code control system. For example, the RCWs (Revised Code of Washington) will contain a label such as RCW09, indicating that versions of the RCW sections with this label are for the year 2009. This enables the RCW to be revised and a new label for 2010 (i.e., RCW10) created for the next revision. In this case, RCWs can be compared between labels to determine changes made over time.

One benefit realized by building our own DMS is the ability to have database snapshots of the production system for test and development. Being able to keep these environments in sync with production allows for a significant improvement in debugging problems and enhancing existing systems.

Other benefits realized by building our own DMS include the following:

  • Developers can have a DMS created on their local machines to develop code against;
  • Improved performance;
  • Much easier back-up and restore processes;
  • Seamless integration into our software development environment and technical infrastructure;
  • Use of the most current software tools;
  • Core knowledge of the DMS is spread across the development staff, thus improving support;
  • Not dependent on vendor releases;
  • Significant reduction in support costs;
  • Improved documentation of classes and methods using Sandcastle; and
  • Use of Active Directory for user access to DMS.

Our primary technical goal was to provide a system for storing legislative documents using current architectural, design and development methodologies working seamlessly with the LSC infrastructure. In addition, to this end we were a success. The Code Reviser’s Office has been using the new DMS since August for administrative code production processes and since September for bill drafting and RCW production processes. Of course, the 2011 session will be the real proof that we did a good job.

Replacing FileNet is comparable with our efforts five years ago to move all law-making applications off the VAX/VMS platform. It is the first major hurdle in our efforts to reengineer the Legislature’s text-based systems. While the DMS team was working, another team redesigned the XML schema we will use for bills, amendments, statutes and administrative code sections. We are in the middle of a project to find an XML authoring and editing environment. (We are looking at oXygen.) Early next year, we will begin work on reengineering the tools the Legislature uses to create and process the documents related to the bill and administrative code production cycles.

We don’t feel so much like Sisyphus rolling that stone up the hill only to have it roll back down as we do the people who paint the Golden Gate Bridge—once you get to the far end, it’s time to do it again. Ten years is a pretty good run for a DMS.


 

NALIT at the NCSL Legislative Summit

The NALIT Program Planning Committee met in a series of conference calls to identify programs for the Legislative Summit in San Antonio. The sessions NALIT will sponsor include:

  • What Can NALIT Do for You?
  • Open and Accessible Legislative Documents
  • iPads and Tablets in the Legislature
  • Social Media and Mobile Technologies: Legislative Game-Changers

Also, NALIT's annual Business Meeting and luncheon will be held on Thursday, August 11, 2011, from 12:30 pm-2:00 pm. NALIT members will elect new officers, hear about NALIT committee activities, congratulate winners of the NALIT Achievement and Online Democracy Awards, and consider other business of the association. All NALIT members—legislative IT professionals who serve the nation's 50 states, its commonwealths and territories—are invited to attend. View the full agenda online for more information.


 

Anti-Virus Doesn’t Matter Anymore

By Jerry Gamblin, Security Specialist, Missouri House of Representatives

It hurts to say that, because, as the security specialist for the Missouri House, I spend a lot of time managing our anti-virus system and making sure all our systems have the latest definitions. It had a good 15-year-run, but the days of just detecting, what the “bad guys” have written and then not letting it run is a practice that has outlived its usefulness.   “Bad guys” have gotten far faster at writing new viruses and malware than anti-virus makers can write definitions to stop them. So what will replace anti-virus?

User Education. We have done a poor job of educating our users to the real risk of viruses and malware because we often fall back on “the AV will stop it” mentality. A paradigm shift has occurred in the technology world that makes it impossible to protect our users without their help. Our users carry their data with them on smart-phones, jump drives and in the cloud. Cisco said it best when they said the borderless network is here. As with real borders, our network rules do not apply on the outside. 

We must give our users a good foundation in security awareness so they can be a partner in our security programs. All organizations need to implement a security awareness program. If you have not started, I would suggest you start by looking at http://securingthehuman.org.

Patch Management. This just is not Windows updates anymore. Hackers have (mostly) moved past attacking the operating system and have been focusing on what everyone loads on top of their systems but does not update. Adobe Flash and Reader are at the top of hackers’ hit lists because of their widespread use.

A good test to determine how secure your systems truly are is to download the Secunia Personal Software inspector at http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal and install it on your computer and your bosses’ computer to see how up-to-date your software is.

Heuristics. I have been running the beta software of the new Symantec Endpoint Protection 12.1, and it has moved from relying on its definitions and more to watching your system and making sure nothing out of the ordinary is happening. This is the anti-virus of the future. It will watch your machine, and if you try to replace some dlls in SYSTEM32 or write something to the registry, it will stop it from happening. It’s not perfect (yet) and there will be a steep learning curve, a lot of false positives, and the urge to turn it off as you did with UAC in Windows Vista.

Good luck. It will take a little good luck to get through the next two to four years in the security world unharmed until some of these new technologies mature into fully functioning products.

If you have questions, you can contact me at jerry.gamblin@house.mo.gov or on twitter @jgamblin. Until then, I will be patching software and hoping our good luck continues.


 

NALIT Five Minutes of Fame: A Brief History

The first NALIT “Five Minutes of Fame” session was held at the 2007 NALIT Professional Development Seminar in Springfield, Illinois. Tim Rice, Executive Director of the Illinois Legislative Information System (and current NCSL Staff Chair) hosted the seminar.

Instead of the usual roundtable session that had a tendency to go long, the “Five Minutes” session was created to give attendees the opportunity to hear a concise overview of accomplishments and current projects in other states and to connect with others with expertise in a particular area or with those working on similar projects.

If a presenter exceeds his or her five minutes, the “gong”—a metal trash can lid—is sounded, the audience usually breaks out in laughter, and the presenter has to end immediately!

 

1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 LINES of Fame

 Tim Rice, Illinois

  • Researching options for audio/video broadcasts of legislative activity
  • Using technology to support the committee process
  • Continuing major upgrades and revisions of legislative applications
  • Dealing with the effects of budget cuts
  • Recruiting and retaining technical staff

 Peter Capriglione, North Carolina

  • Redistricting
  • Redistricting session
  • What Tim said
  • Redistricting