NALIT Newsletter | Spring 2014


Chair's Corner

Greetings NALIT colleagues. I hope your year has been an enjoyable one. Wait a minute … aren’t most states in session? What’s so joyous about working long hours and having an influx of BYODs? Just kidding. I know most of us are rising to the occasion and being the professionals we are. Probably no other arena demands a more diverse knowledge of technology than legislatures, but we all make it happen.

Hopefully, your time has been exciting, relaxing and rejuvenating since our NALIT PDS in Raleigh. A big shout out goes to the North Carolina IT folks and others who devoted their time to coordinating a wonderful PDS. There were great sessions and presenters, accommodating facilities, and time for networking with peers.

I’m looking forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming NCSL Summit in Minneapolis and/or at our NALIT PDS in Santa Fe. If you have any ideas for topics you would like covered at any of these, please contact members of the NALIT Executive Committee, the Seminar Planning Committee or Pam Greenberg. They would be glad to share your ideas.

—Troy Adkins, NALIT Chair; Network Manager, Virginia House of Delegates

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FootPrints in S.C.

The South Carolina Legislative Services Agency started session in January with a brand new tool as part of a plan to become a more collaborative and integrated team. This new approach is a little bit of a correction in culture, since collaborative and innovative are not inherent traits of legislatures in general, even down to our level of operations. The new tool is an incident-management system built with BMC FootPrints Service Core software, and it’s proving to be a valuable resource I now would not want to be without.

Historically, “Fast and Loose” is how I’ve described the way our legislative Support Services staff must work, especially when the General Assembly is in session. We’ve been agile since before agile was cool; and no matter what your role, it’s a literal job responsibility that comes with the territory of a legislature to appropriately “move! move! move!” By not documenting or tracking incidents in the past, we saved time and kept it simple. Providing urgent and concierge-level support, as LSA staff does, endears them to legislators and other system users. So the “Fast and Loose” way has resulted in a high sense of achievement for staff and has equaled success for a long time. In accordance with Pavlov’s law of cause and effect, legacy staff turned scrambling and reacting into a true art form to which they cling for very good reason. It’s difficult to see beyond that success and accept that this state of operation is basic, at best. Eventually, basic loses value and effectiveness. We reached eventually, and our method of incident management needed to change. We relied on memory, verbal communication and human interaction between very different levels of technical competence to resolve technical problems. This approach worked in simpler times, but in current times, it is counterproductive and creates confusion for us.

Over the course of about three months last fall, Support Services staff conducted extensive research of incident-management systems, including trials and demos, and selected BMC FootPrints Service Core for our use. We determined it to be easy to use, streamlined and intuitive, much more so than BNC Remedy software. The ability to customize the dashboard view and preferences made it very appealing. Support Services employees were concerned that there would not be time to adequately enter and process incidents and simultaneously maintain the accustomed high level of rapport with legislators and staff. FootPrints Service Core has proven so easy to use, however, that those fears have abated. We currently are testing the imaging and patch management functions of FootPrints Asset Core and hope to implement these modules soon.

There are several reasons to use the FootPrints incident-management system, and we are benefitting from many of them. It’s a great resource for metrics analysis, management reports, staff justification and knowledge-base documentation. However, the single most valuable benefit that I personally recognize is the forum it creates for effective and productive communication in problem solving. It can be configured to automatically email all pertinent parties of a wide-spread outage or critical fault; thereby decreasing recovery time. It enables us to provide integrated responses to customer service requests by creating a bridge between various levels of technical competency.

In addition, as part of our purchase agreement, BMC provided an on-site trainer who guided staff through installation and setup and provided a full week of training. FootPrints is playing a major, positive role in our change and acceptance of it. It’s a big step in the right direction for us.

—Gigi Brickle, Director, SCLSA

NALIT Elections

Would you like to become a NALIT officer? The Nominations Committee is currently seeking candidates. NALIT members will elect new officers at the staff section’s annual Business Meeting, being held during the NCSL Legislative Summit in Minneapolis, Minn., Aug. 19–22.

The three elected offices in NALIT are secretary, vice chair, and chair. Typically, the vice-chair succeeds to the chair, the secretary becomes vice-chair, and a new secretary is elected. Each year members vote for all three positions.

Information about the responsibilities of NALIT officers can be found in the NALIT By-Laws. For example, the NALIT secretary works with other members of the executive committee to plan NALIT sessions at the Legislative Summit. He or she also records minutes of membership meetings, solicits articles and publishes the NALIT Newsletter at least twice annually, among other duties.

Please consider offering your time and talents to a great organization!

If you are interested in serving NALIT as an officer or if you have questions, please contact Peter Capriglione, NALIT Nominating Committee Chair, and/or Pam Greenberg, NCSL Staff Liaison to NALIT, (303-856-1413).

Nominations are due no later than Friday, July 11, 2014. We hope to hear from you soon!

Awards Season

NALIT presents awards in two categories each year: the Legislative Staff Achievement Award and the Online Democracy Award. Both awards are presented at the NCSL Legislative Summit—this year in Minneapolis, Aug. 19–22.

Consider nominating a deserving NALIT member or staff person or team in your office, or an exceptional legislative website.

NALIT Legislative Staff Achievement Award

The annual NALIT Legislative Staff Achievement Award (LSAA) was created to recognize excellence in supporting the work of a state legislature and strengthening the legislative institution. The awards have added meaning in that they are bestowed by recipients’ peers.

All members of NALIT are eligible for this award. Nominations may be submitted by the nominee, by legislators or other legislative staff, or by other members of the association. Winners are not required to be present at the Legislative Summit to be eligible for the award.

The award criteria are listed below and on the NALIT Awards web page, along with summaries of past winners. Please send a message describing why you think your nominee deserves recognition no later than May 16, 2014, to Gary Schaefer, Louisiana Senate, NALIT LSAA Chair; and Pam Greenberg, NCSL Liaison to NALIT.

Legislative Staff Achievement Award CriteriaThe criteria for consideration are:

  • Helping to improve the effectiveness of the legislative institution
  • Supporting the legislative process and the mission of the legislature
  • Exhibiting a high degree of professionalism, competence, and integrity in serving the legislature and the public
  • Contributing to the work of the National Conference of State Legislatures
  • Contributing to the National Association of Legislative Information Technology
  • Contributing to existing knowledge/demonstrating expertise in a particular field

NALIT/LINCS Online Democracy Award

NALIT and the Legislative Information and Communications Staff Section (LINCS) came together in 2005 to create the NALIT/LINCS Online Democracy Award. The award is given each year to a legislature, legislative chamber or caucus whose website “helps make democracy user-friendly.”

Using an established ranking system based on specific judging criteria, the committee selects one legislative website from among the nominees to be that year’s award winner.

Sites under consideration for the award will be judged based on their design, content and technology.

Online Democracy Award EligibilityTo be eligible for the award, a site must be an official legislative site developed and maintained by or under the authority of:

  • a state legislature,
  • a legislative house, or
  • an officially recognized legislative partisan caucus.

Legislative websites in states that have won the award in either of the previous two years are not eligible for consideration.

The deadline for nominations is Friday, May 23, 2014. Submit your nomination online now!

Getting the Band Back Together

Editor’s Note: Background History
In 2010, Google announced plans to implement a high-bandwidth fiber network in a city yet to be determined. This announcement kicked off fierce competition between cities to prove to Google they were the right choice for the new network. The mayor of Topeka, Kan., renamed the city Google, Kan., inviting a fun response from the mayor of Duluth, Minn. Eventually, Google announced Kansas City, Kan., as the site of its first network installation. Following up on this work, Google set out to demonstrate how a municipal high-speed network could foster collaboration. This is the story of one rock and roll band’s experience using this technology.

As reunion shows go, this one was great. High-energy rock and roll, outstanding musicians playing at the top of their game, and a completely unexpected reunion. When the progressive rock band Patriarch played to a capacity crowd at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, no one, least of all the band members, thought the band they created in the 1980’s would ever have  a chance to play together again. But Google Fiber and a little device called Jamlink made it all happen—more about that in a moment.

In 1981, Chuck Huels, Gregg Anderson, Jeff Carroll and Steve Kuker were KU students. Each had played in bands in high school, loved performing and decided to form a new one. They brought in Mike Maxwell, and Patriarch was born. Briefly a cover band, they quickly focused their time and talents on writing their own music and ended up with a catalog of more than 40 songs. Although Patriarch’s music was reminiscent of Kansas and Rush, it was distinctly their own. The sixth member of the band, Jay Waller, was the sound and light man. Their aspirations complemented each other; Jay was building his sound and light company, StagePro, and Patriarch was writing, rehearsing and performing; all hoped to realize their dreams of fame and success.

In 1986, with two albums, hundreds of shows and a devoted following, Chuck, Steve, Mike and Jay hit the road to New York and L.A., shopping their tunes to record companies. They came very close to a recording contract. They had real interest from several companies but, ultimately, returned home empty-handed.

Now it is 1987, college degrees were completed, marriages made and babies born. Real life was front and center. The dream of Patriarch was set aside. After years of playing together, rehearsing three nights a week, daily sharing every moment of their lives, the move to new careers outside music and far from Lawrence, Kan., was heartbreaking. There was always talk about getting the band back together for at least one more show, but as time passed and members spread across the United States, that became more difficult to even imagine.

Jay, though, realized his dream. He grew StagePro from a small, local business into a national, multi-million dollar powerhouse that provided sound and lighting to national acts. In January 2014, he discovered a device called Jamlink, manufactured by Musicianlink, which allows musicians to plug in their electric instruments, connect over high-speed broadband service and play with other musicians.

Once the device obtains an IP address from the user’s home network, it connects directly to the MusicianLink website. Through their PCs (connected to the same network as the Jamlink device), users then can select musicians with whom they want to play—similar to “friending” on Facebook. Up to four musicians can play together over individual broadband connections.

Jay showed Jamlink to Mike, Steve and Jeff, the three band members still in Kansas. It was just a matter of connecting with Chuck in Georgia and Gregg in Florida. E-mails and phone calls were exchanged, a date and time were set, and the band was back together, albeit in an unexpected, totally modern way.

Google Fiber heard about their rehearsals and the band’s creative use of broadband. Since Google Fiber is about making connections, it was eager to talk with the band, hear their music and learn more about their plans. Their plans were to play together, rekindle the creative spark and simply enjoy being part of each other’s lives again after so many years. That wasn’t enough for Google. They wanted to film a Jamlink rehearsal and sponsor a reunion show.

So, on Feb. 27, Jeff, Mike, Steve and Jay met at the Google Fiber offices in Kansas City and rehearsed with Chuck and Gregg, who were thousands of miles away. Then, on March 10, Google brought all members to Kansas City for live rehearsals and the concert. For the first time in 27 years, all members of Patriarch were in the same room, playing their music. After three days of intense rehearsals, Patriarch performed to a full house at the Uptown Theatre. Fans and family members cheered and roared, singing along with tunes they had heard only on the albums. Google filmed the entire event and the video, “Getting the Band Back Together,” was scheduled to be on Google Fiber’s YouTube site sometime in April.

Google Fiber’s motive, of course, is to show how the Internet can affect people’s lives in a real, positive fashion. For Patriarch, though, it was a chance to connect again, not only as old friends, but also as musicians who are using technology to pursue what was once a lost dream.

—Jeff and Laura Carroll

Three Pain Points

What are your top three pain points? What causes the most headaches in your legislative IT world?  Vinay Dattu, Director of Legislative Office of Information Systems, Tennessee, posed this question at the NALIT seminar in October. He’s offered to compile our responses; hopefully, working together we can find solutions. Please send your list to Vinay.

Jim Miller, Kansas Legislative Chief of Information Technology Officer, lists these three:

Lack of long term persistence on strategy—Changes in legislative members and leadership through election cycles impacts our ability to maintain long term persistence on strategy. We’re often asked to integrate a technology that a new member is familiar with, but may not be the best fit with the strategic vision.

Islands of IT autonomy—Technology use evolved at different speeds for different legislative departments resulting in each department having staff who are part-time application support and part-time data analyst. Enterprise applications and IT consolidation reduce costs and improve service levels, but leave these staff wondering where they fit in the IT culture. Gaining their buy-in on long-term strategy and open communications can be challenging.

Staff retention—It’s obviously difficult to retain good staff without adequate compensation. Long term staff tend to stay because they like the excitement of session and working in the Capitol even though compensation is lower than the private sector market. Ideally, staff would choose the legislature for the challenge of learning new technologies and opportunities for growth while being compensated at local market rates.

NALIT Agenda for the 2014 Legislative Summit