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Can you Hear me Now? Cell Service in Rural Pennsylvania

Photo Credit: Reposted from JEFFREY ALDERTON jlalderton@times-news.com 7.21.18 Tribune Democrat

Photo Credit: Reposted from JEFFREY ALDERTON jlalderton@times-news.com 7.21.18 Tribune Democrat

 

Cell phone service has become a vital, and often available, necessity in the United States. Occasionally, there may be a “dead-zone” but a few quick steps in a new direction and reception is normally found. However, that is not always the case in many rural communities. Looking in Pennsylvania alone, the Federal Communications Commission reported that 800,000 residents of Western PA (about 6% of the population) do have access to reliable service[1]. Apart from being inconvenient to residents, this problem has proven disastrous for first responders.

One example of this issue focuses on a small community in Bedford County called Hyndman. On December 29, 2017, four tanker cars carrying hazardous materials derailed leading to the second town evacuation in 2017 alone. Communication was little to none on the day of the derailment because Hyndman (population 910) and surrounding areas do not have cell service for miles.[2]

Director of the Bedford County Planning Commission Donald Schwartz said to local news station WJAC “First is the issue of safety, as we found out recently that lack of cell service can be truly a hazard to health and safety. There are large parts of Bedford County that have no cell service.” [3]

Not only does lack of technology directly affect physical health and safety, this poses a problem to population retention and economic growth. Without service to rural areas, there is a loss of professionals and business to boost the economy, leading to lack of essential services.

Seeing a problem and a desperate need for a solution, local officials took action. Partnering with AT&T’s rural technology platform, FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority), Hyndman, PA and surrounding Bedford County areas will now have the technology needed to connect the critical information they need. Every day. In every emergency.[4]

With an expected start date in the latter half of 2019, this service will cover a 2 mile radius with a plan of expansion. “AT&T/FirstNet will advance our 911 services as a starting point, with the expected potential of coverage for all residents,” says Bedford County Commissioner Josh Lang. [5]

New broadband capabilities could have long standing positive impacts on not only health care for first responders, but new telehealth options in the community. One of the main barriers to tele-mental health in the United States is infrastructure and technical support. With inconsistent service and limited connectivity, there is zero chance of providing services in rural America. Commissioner Lang went on to say that the point is to increase communication with one another and with the larger population as a whole. [6]

Now in the beginning stages, the Hyndman Cell Tower Project could set a standard for other projects of the same type. As part of the AT&T partnership, Bedford County set up a Broadband regional taskforce to continue pushing for technological availability for residents. This taskforce is now being looked at as a potential state model for other areas in need.

“Bringing a cell site to this area is exactly what the community and public officials have asked for, and I’m pleased that the FirstNet Authority and AT&T are upholding their promise to fill in rural coverage gaps…,” said U.S. Senator Bob Casey.[7]

As a new year approaches, Bedford County residents can feel more secure that they will be able to reach help. As Commissioner Lang said, “It is a great day for the Hyndman community.” [8]

 

[1] https://whyy.org/articles/rural-pa-demands-broadband-access-providers-cite-logistical-difficulties/

[2] https://www.tribdem.com/news/reliable-cell-service-bound-for-hyndman/article_625706df-6da9-57e6-9f32-4411a760f332.html

[3] https://wjactv.com/news/local/hyndman-train-derailment-sheds-light-on-lack-of-cell-service

[4] http://about.att.com/story/att_expands_rural_coverage_of_firstnet.html

[5] Personal Interview. Commissioner Lang and Kelsey Thayer.

[6] Interview. Lang, Thayer.

[7] http://www.altoonamirror.com/news/local-news/2018/07/att-to-build-hyndman-cell-site/

[8] http://www.times-news.com/news/local_news/reliable-cell-service-bound-for-hyndman/article_0887c963-961e-556e-b79b-fc1b6dbf442d.html

Meet the Staff: Margaret Ravert

Margie Anniversary

Name: Margaret “Margie” Ravert

Position: Behavioral Health Veteran Representative

Margie has been with VetAdvisor®/Three Wire Systems, LLC for three years, currently serving as the Behavioral Health Veteran Representative for VetAdvisor® services. She works directly with veterans and families as a call center coach.

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

“My favorite part of the job is my daily interaction with our veterans. Listening to their stories and all they have seen and done makes me take a step back and be thankful for what we have in this country. It is because of their willingness to self-sacrifice that we are able to enjoy our freedoms, not always available around the world.”

Q: Looking back over your time with VetAdvisor® what is your biggest success and why have you enjoyed your experience?

“Looking back over my time here at VetAdvisor®/Three-Wire, my biggest success is the same as it is for our whole team: Connecting veterans with the services they need to address their mental health issues, with compassion and empathy. The individuals that we are assisting are emotionally unwell, and it is a great joy to help them achieve their goal of getting treatment. We work hard to create an impact, to the best of our ability”

“As for why I have enjoyed this experience. Well, I think it takes a special person to do this type of work and the colleagues I have, and have had in this job, understand that teamwork is essential to our success. This company, and our team, has a strong sense of pride and an enormous work ethic that keeps us going, even when we feel like quitting. I’m thankful for each and every person on my team and THEY are why I have enjoyed this experience.”

 

Meet the Staff: Elizabeth Curfman

Liz

Meet the Staff

Name: Elizabeth “Liz” Curfman

Position: Program Manager

Liz has been with VetAdvisor®/Three Wire Systems, LLC for nine years in various roles, currently serving as the Senior Program Manager for VetAdvisor® services. She oversees all coaching contracts run within the call centers. Liz joined VetAdvisor® after starting her professional life as an English Teacher with a secondary English Education degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Q: What is your favorite part of working with VetAdvisor®?

A: I have been so grateful to evolve with this company. I love that we are always busy developing new projects, which keeps it interesting. VetAdvisor® is incredibly employee-centric, and we are passionate about doing good work, for not only the employees, but for the community as well.

Q: What are you most proud of with this position?

A: I am definitely most proud of our employees and the meaningful work that they are doing. It is great to interact with such a motivated and hardworking team. I really value that impact being made to our Veteran community.

Q: You are a part of Leadership Blair County, can you tell us more about it?

A: It is a great class that is run through the Blair County Chamber of Commerce. Our Chief and EVP, Jenn Christman, participated in Leadership Cambria County and recommended that I apply, so I was very interested.  It really focuses on individual leadership in your community, in your county, and also the impact that servant leadership can have for everyone.

A: What is your favorite part about the Leadership class?

Q: I really appreciate getting to meet all different types of people and speakers in a variety of fields. I not only get to showcase the strengths of my role, but get to learn from others in completely different positions. It is nice to network with local leaders.

A: How do you apply this class to your job?

Q: As a manager, I am always looking for ways to improve for my staff. This class has really exemplified the VetAdvisor® core value of passionate service. I want to continue to strengthen my management in an effort to support others.

A: You are so involved in the community, what is your favorite part?

Q:  I am the Chair of an employee-run group that plans in-office activities and quarterly service projects. To date, the group has raised funds and donated items totaling over $15,000 to causes both locally and nationally. It has been so much fun to plan these activities and to also see the positive effect on the community. 

Strong Communication and Collaboration is Key to IT Modernization

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By Kitty Nix, Senior Vice President, Services DivisionKitty Nix Headshot

I joined Three Wire Systems to advance my career in Information Technology and help grow a company on the cutting edge of mission-driven solutions. We all know that outdated technology platforms and limited budgets have slowed the long overdue and much-needed process of innovation in the federal government. As Suzette Kent, the new US CIO, discussed at FedScoop’s Second Annual IT Modernization Summit (on April 5, 2018), the White House and Congress have taken strides to help agencies combat their IT Modernization challenges – including new legislation, policy, and funding – thus creating an opportunity to “turbo boost” modernization efforts.

Recently, I was honored to contribute to this important movement, by moderating the NexGen Shared Services panel at the aforementioned summit, sharing the stage with two of the Top 100 Women in IT, to discuss the importance of shared services, and how increased collaboration among stakeholders, “acquisition baked into agile development”, and technologies like containers are significant enablers to IT Modernization.

The panelists included:

  • Beth Angerman – Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Shared Solutions and Performance Improvement, GSA
  • Soraya Correa – Chief Procurement Officer, DHS
  • Banjot Chanana – Senior Director of Product Management, Docker

Key Messages for the IT Modernization Space

Despite the short amount of time allotted for the panelists to discuss these important topics, the panelists shared some insightful key messages (and a few fun facts about themselves) for everyone in the IT Modernization space.

When it comes to measuring the success of shared services, Beth reminded all of us that it’s a perfect time to take stock in what has been done in the past, and how we need to pivot to effectively move forward. She offered that measuring success is tied to driving standardization, eliminating redundant systems to maximize economic benefit and to create better and more consistent data for the government.

“The heart of measuring success [of shared services] is collaborating with the user and understanding their pain points, figuring out this problem at the beginning and how to engage in what is going to make you successful.”

Beth Angerman

She also clarified that an important aspect of measuring success is to better collaborate with the business to determine how each agency defines and measures their own accomplishments because every agency has different missions and rules. Put another way, modernizing IT for the sake of modernizing IT is not the answer.

Beth discussed that at the heart of our modernization efforts are the users. No matter how beneficial the new technology can be, and how secure we can make it if the users of that technology are not ready or “bought-in” prior to its release, it will likely lead to failure. She shared an excellent comparison to her husband upgrading her iPhone without telling her! Although she knew it would be more secure and potentially better experience for her, she was immediately irritated as she wasn’t ready for the sudden change from her normal routines. For example, she had not moved all the photos she wanted to the cloud; this was a key factor that delayed updates to the software in the first place. A critical success factor for modernization projects is ensuring there is clear communication before (modernization) efforts are underway. Beth shared a great personal anecdote of how modernization affects each and every one of us, in both our personal and professional lives. Thanks, Beth! Loved your fun fact that you’ve got two little ones at home, I completely understand the need to keep those photos!

 “It’s a strategy to look at how DHS is approaching their acquisitions to ensure they’re not just buying the right things but buying them smartly and efficiently.”

– Soraya Correa

A trailblazer and innovator in the Federal IT Acquisition world – Soraya Correa – is leading the way in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), by starting the conversation with industry earlier (much earlier), to listen and learn about the art of the possible. She feels it is critical to know what is available in the market, which helps agencies more clearly define and determine what problem they are solving and what solution they’re working towards. Having these conversations earlier across the federal marketplace could help industry “down select” themselves prior to an acquisition even being released, thereby reducing risks, avoiding undue costs for both parties, and ultimately providing the customer what they need to accomplish their mission set.

To test this hypothesis, Soraya established and is leading the Procurement Innovation Lab, commenting that it’s a place where DHS can try new procurement techniques and approaches. She emphasized that there is little to no value in issuing a procurement that takes 2-3 years to award. Soraya is leading the charge at DHS, working to engage industry early and often, and collaborating with the business owners to make sure the “current state” is benchmarked and the problem adequately defined. Also, it was also inspiring to hear that in Soraya’s spare time, she mentors as much as she can to build and empower others. Something much needed in our community!

Another key and crucial point from the federal panelists (Soraya and Beth), which I also wholeheartedly believe, is that the government should not develop anything to meet their requirements if they can buy a solution off the shelf. It’s imperative that agencies take a step back, break apart the problem, and determine if there is a solution already available to meet their needs. If the solution and technology already exist, the government can buy it and then share the risk with industry.

An Industry View on Shared Services

Switching to an industry view on shared services, I asked Banjot Chanana from Docker for his perspectives. Every decade or so, we’ve experienced a paradigm shift, from mainframes to client-server to virtualization to the most recent shift to the Cloud, and now a new breed of technologies such as Containers show promising benefits. Banjot sees containers fitting into this evolution very naturally, commenting that while it has been exciting to see all of the innovations, they’re not new. Containers have been at the center of the major shifts to the Cloud and DevOps, enabling the agility that has come from these movements. In the private sector, these capabilities have enabled organizations to move their applications into the cloud while removing some of the friction in their development process.

“You can do things In a container environment that you couldn’t do before. The level of visibility into the running application and how it’s performing and the types of operations its performing and the ability to enforce policy in those containers is now something we’ve never seen in previous technology.”

– Banjot Chanana

Specifically, Banjot covered how Containers have actually provided three significant benefits for shared services:

  1. Removing friction in the development process (adopted by millions of developers and IT professionals) allowing for closer collaboration between users, developers, and operators;
  2. Containers bring a whole new level of security to an operating environment where we can standardize what an application can and cannot do, and;
  3. the ability to standardize.  One of the most important things about the shared services environment is the way we scale.  We can now scale by standardizing the way we deploy applications, the way we run them, the way we enforce Service Level Agreements (SLAs), and the way we enforce security.

Now with Container technology, we can standardize how we deploy, operate, install and even scale out or scale back, and it works well for new and existing applications. Banjot’s most resounding message was how Container technology can be leveraged to move shared services forward.  An interesting fun fact about Banjot is that he has a twin brother he’s kept in step with all his life and who, coincidentally, works in digital modernization while Banjot works in IT Modernization. Twinning has a whole new meaning for me now!

I couldn’t help but close with a question about the MGT Act that recently passed, asking how Beth and Soraya planned on using it.  Soraya let us know that DHS is looking closely at how they are implementing Modernization projects. Further commenting that since DHS is a federated environment, they need to work together to develop smart solutions. Soraya herself is working closely with the DHS CFO, and the rest of the C-suite, to look at DHS’s priorities. It’s critical to identify what they want to attack first, and then focus on bringing the rest of the DHS community along. She noted that it’s not just a headquarters focus, rather the modernization efforts are for everyone who works and supports DHS.  Soraya is pushing DHS to think strategically and ahead of the curve, noting she wants to implement shared services the right way, and to ultimately do intelligent things within the government, to improve data and systems, and ultimately improve the experience for end users.

Beth does not intend to use the fund but plans to assist other federal agencies in thinking about how they are going to use the resources, and how they will repay the funds they borrow. A key factor in the MGT Act will be ensuring agencies identify what success looks like. Beth shared that GSA has a lot of best practices in place to help agencies effectively articulate the success criteria, in order to secure the approvals required to utilize the MGT funds.

Optimism Moving Forward 

I feel energized and optimistic after hearing from these forward-thinking government and industry leaders, who are all on the same page about how we need to move forward, and all have some great ideas on how we get there. I thank my panelists for taking the time to share their experience and insights on this very important matter and thank Three Wire’s co-sponsor, DELL EMC,  for this panel discussion, and for helping to bring this important information to focus. I hope this information energizes you just as it did me!

For more information about Three Wire’s IT Modernization efforts, please contact Kitty Nix.

About Three Wire Systems

Founded in 2006, Three Wire is the leader in innovative and efficient technology solutions for government agencies and large enterprise corporations. With solid program management and process improvement principles, they design solutions that support business goals and deliver superior results in a cost-efficient manner. Three Wire believes in maximizing investments American taxpayers have already made in the government and military while modernizing and securing America’s most important information, infrastructure, and assets. For more information about Three Wire, visit https://www.threewiresys.com/.

Your Quick Guide to IT Modernization in the Federal Government (MGT Act 2018)

President Donald Trump signed the highly anticipated Modernizing Government Technologies (MGT) Act (H.R. 2227).

Federal agencies rejoice, you may now modernize!

President Donald Trump signed the highly anticipated Modernizing Government Technologies (MGT) Act (H.R. 2227). With the passage of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and the bipartisan-supported MGT Act bill, a central fund will likely be created to help agencies modernize essential IT systems as well as provide the means to reprogram unused IT funds for modernization purposes. Federal agencies will more easily be able to adopt modern technologies, best practices, and security safeguards that are well established in the commercial world and some areas of the Federal Government.

As stated on Congress.gov, “This bill [the MGT Act] authorizes each of specified agencies for which there are Chief Financial Officers to establish an information technology system modernization and working capital fund to:

  • Improve, retire, or replace existing information technology systems to enhance cybersecurity and to improve efficiency and effectiveness;
  • Transition legacy information technology systems to cloud computing and other innovative platforms and technologies;
  • Assist and support efforts to provide adequate, risk-based, and cost-effective information technology capabilities that address evolving threats to information security; and
  • Reimburse amounts transferred to the agency from the Technology Modernization Fund (established under this bill), with the approval of such agency’s Chief Information Officer.”

MGT focuses on enabling the use of commodity and shared services such as network, cloud e-mail, collaboration, compute power, and cybersecurity. Leveraging the buying power of the government to procure these services and its management should enable agency staff more time to focus on their unique missions versus operations and maintenance of duplicative systems.

Just as important, the MGT Act opens the doors to technology companies like Three Wire Systems (Three Wire) to leverage our expertise for government agencies challenged with outdated IT capabilities and cybersecurity. Three Wire has been working with government organizations for more than 10 years on modernization projects and bring our customers those experiences, best practices, and lessons learned.

Application and Business/Mission area owners will quickly notice MGT appears to be largely infrastructure focused. For those people, we recommend reviewing the 2017 Report to the President on IT Modernization, Appendix A. While Appendix A appears to be focused on data, it quickly shifts to principles and practices that come with our approach to Agile Application Development & DevOps. Three Wire development projects incorporate continuous integration, automated testing, automated deployments, immutable deployments, code reviews and by extension, automated code analysis focused on security vulnerabilities.

The MGT Act has been sorely needed. In line with Three Wire’s mission, our Agile and DevOps based practices have saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and have provided our customers with the groundwork to leverage MGT. The exciting part about MGT is the procurement and other focus areas should remove the prior resistance for modernization efforts and allow Three Wire to not only continue our client’s success but improve our output and results along the way. Three Wire will also help our customers and partners through identifying opportunities and approaches to modernization to best leverage appropriated or re-appropriated funds and position them to receive their fair share of the proposed $500,000,000 of MGT funding.

We look forward to continuing our partnerships with Federal Government organizations who need qualified modernization experts to fully leverage the MGT Act. For agencies looking to take advantage of the MGT Act in 2018, contact Three Wire to look at ways to improve performance and eliminate long-term costs through agile development!

For more information about Three Wire and the MGT Act, please contact our Senior Vice President, Services Division, Kitty Nix (https://www.linkedin.com/in/kittynix/).