Monday, December 14, 2009

InfoStrat Teaming with Infinite Group, Inc.

InfoStrat is proud to announce its partnership with Infinite Group, Inc., delivering Microsoft Stimulus360 to state and local governments.

"Stimulus360 is all about making sure that public sector agencies are in line with the most current reporting requirements for ARRA dollars," said Michael S. Smith, President and CEO of Infinite Group, Inc. "Our partnership with InfoStrat means that we can deliver Stimulus360 solutions with more accurate and highly compliant reporting, thereby eliminating red tape and helping the country put the Stimulus into action. Our team is curently implementing STimulus360 for the state of Mississippi."

For the full press release, click here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lessons from Stimulus Reporting First Round

Now that October has passed, recipients of ARRA Stimulus funding can put their first reporting period behind them. The data is now in the hands of OMB and other federal agencies, and will soon be displayed in all its glory on www.recovery.gov. So, how did it go?

Overall, Stimulus360 proved to be a flexible and responsive platform for tracking and reporting ARRA funding. The flexibility was tested by changes in reporting requirements that continued nearly until the day that reporting was enabled. The schema was changed several times, but all our clients using the system were able to submit on time. One of our clients said that with Stimulus360 she was able to "do in 20 minutes what would have taken her two days."

What will happen next? We anticipate that OMB will refine the process a bit and make it simpler to report in January, especially for recipients of large numbers of grants. No doubt there will be many lessons from the first round of reporting and the website will be improved both in terms of user interface and performance.

The number of grants will grow significantly between now and January, as grants flow through the approval process. One of our clients estimated that they will need to report on four times as many grants in January than they did in May.

On the transparency front, states, counties and cities will find out which presentations of data are most effective for their constituents. New visualizations and analysis tools will be applied to the data to make it easier to understand.

Only time will tell how long the stimulus efforts will continue, but it is safe to say that this effort will change how government works for a long time to come.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New OMB Stimulus Guidance Has No Showstoppers

Last week, the Office of Management and Budget released new guidance for recipients of ARRA (Stimulus) funding. This guidance, called M-09-21, elaborates on the reporting requirements for state and local government.

The good news for government is that there are no big surprises here. The weekly report previously mentioned has disappeared from the latest guidance.

Reporting will be on a quarterly basis, and will track prime recipients, sub-recipients, and vendors who receive payments from prime or sub-recipients. The reports will be submitted to a new website called www.data.gov which is under construction. Governments may submit the reports by filling out a web form, uploading an Excel spreadsheet, or uploading an XML data file.

Each reporting period allows for validation of the data, review by the submitter and then review by federal agencies. After reviews are completed the information is transferred to www.recovery.gov where the public can access the data.

Microsoft Stimulus360 is designed to fulfill all these reporting requirements and provide additional ways to track information, aggregate and analyze, and publish information to citizens. Watch for announcements of new reports as they are released.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Elements of Microsoft Stimulus360

Microsoft Stimulus360 offers a rich set of content, features and tools for state and local government to track funding, proposals and projects relating to the economic stimulus program.

Many customers have asked me for a brief summary of what Stimulus360 contains, so here is the shortest version ever. I think Stimulus360 boils down to these fundamental elements:

  1. Collaborative tools. Users need a place to share information, collaborate on documents such as proposals and status reports, and view dashboards and other reports. Stimulus360 provides a portal for these purposes.
  2. Data analysis. Managers want to see information in many ways. Stimulus360 provides sophisticated tools to aggregate data, showing totals in multiple dimensions such as geographically, by program type, by agency, and more.
  3. Detailed project tracking. In order to general reports to federal agencies such as the Office of Management and Budget as well as state agencies, Stimulus360 provides a detailed data model and data entry forms to capture the key data elements. It contains reports to help with compliance as well as dashboards and maps.
  4. Transparency. Stimulus360 includes a website template to publish reports to the public and to gather information from constituents and contractors.

I will be exploring these elements in depth with blog entries, articles and videos in the coming weeks. Here is the first video, focused on business intelligence.



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New InfoStrat Video on Channel 9

Channel 9 just posted the latest InfoStrat video featuring Josh Wall and Josh Blake showing a Microsoft Surface control to interact with Virtual Earth.

This impressive video was filmed at the Microsoft Technology Center in Reston, VA. The original proof of concept was developed for a Department of Defense customer.

InfoStrat is one of Microsoft's pioneers in Surface development, and has integrated the device into multiple solutions for public sector and commercial uses.

The control is available on CodePlex.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blogs and Bloggers

This is my most meta posting ever. I'm blogging about my blogging today.

I have been invited as a guest blogger by Microsoft.

Check it out here.

The blog is about Gov 2.0 and Stimulus360, two of my favorite subjects.

Perhaps next I will tweet about this blog that points to the other blog.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

National Dialogue on U.S. Stimulus

This week you can witness a bold experiment in Gov 2.0. The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and the Office of Management and Budget in partnership with the National Academy of Public Administration, is currently hosting a week-long national online dialogue to engage leading information technology (IT) vendors, thinkers, and consumers to provide ideas on how best to use Recovery.gov as a place to monitor the expenditure and use of recovery funds.

The format of the site is for a user to suggest an idea, and then other users submit comments on that idea. Most of the ideas I read were vendors touting software products, although some were more general. Ideas are rated by visitors on a scale of 1 to five stars. As of today, near the end of the discussion period, fewer than 300 ideas had been posted. The highest rated idea was four stars. The highest number of comments for an idea was 31 comments. Most of the ideas have no rating and no comments.

The site is interesting and raises many questions about governing in the current era. What is the role of sites like this for policy debates in the future? How much weight will be put on these "ideas" in decisions? Does the site itself allow enough transparency? Does the use of aliases for contributors and the ability to create multiple accounts to vote for your own ideas make the approach too vulnerable to gaming? How do we know that people contributing are U.S. citizens? Does this matter? What about the digital divide and those who do not have access to this site?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Microsoft Stimulus360 Solution

Microsoft has just announced an exciting solution for state and local government to track efforts relating to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Based on several Microsoft products that are already in wide government use, Stimulus360 provides site templates, scorecards, workflows and project tracking to help government agencies comply with Stimulus requirements.

You can walk through the solution on the Microsoft Public Sector Demonstration site.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Microsoft Launches Site for On Demand Public Sector

Yesterday, Microsoft launched the web portal www.publicsectorondemand.com/ to provide information on public sector solutions which are available on demand (otherwise known as hosted or software as a service).

The site is designed as a virtual community for people to discuss their ideas and essentially brainstorm on these solutions. Check it out and post your own ideas in the community.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Microsoft Tag -- Living in the Digital World

I just heard about an exciting technology from Microsoft called Microsoft Tag. It allows your cellphone to read codes which look more like an argyle sweater than a barcode.

There are a host of real world applications Microsoft describes such as:
  1. Magazine ads. The tag can steer to user toward more information or a place to buy the product. A few years ago I received a demo barcode unit called Cue Cat which was a USB device, but somehow I never got around to reading magazines with a cat-shaped barcode reader dangling from my laptop.
  2. Real estate listings. Scan the tag to get to the detailed listing for a property. You should stop the car first, though.
  3. Bus or train schedule. Scan a tag printed at your stop to get up-to-date schedule information or even realtime location of your transportation.
  4. Security device. Scan a tag and use your phone credentials to access information or for physical access.
  5. Movie trailer. View a print ad and scan the tag to see the trailer video.

Microsoft Tag works with most smartphones and many others, including Windows Mobile, iPhone, and Blackberry. A camera is required for a phone to be supported.

The software is in beta form now so go and try it out. The software is free for now, and Microsoft will support tags you make today for at least two years.

This Economic Downturn is Different

This weekend I was struck by the level of desperation in the reporting on the U.S. economic downturn in the Washington Post. Nearly every section of the paper was dominated by this bad news and worse prospects, from politics to business and even the normally style and food sections. Soon we will see articles on garbage bag fashions and stone soup recipes.

Perhaps this pessimism is warranted by the sheer scale of the problem, and the unfortunate results from the cures being attempted. But I think another factor in the reporting is that it comes during the final gasps of paid journalism as we know it. Reporters are not just sitting on the sidelines and excoriating the rich and the greedy. Unlike previous recessions, they don't have to go far to talk to people who have been laid off. They just have to visit the cube next door.

Therefore, the economic crisis is up close and personal for reporters, and the sense of desperation is real. Will this new perspective lead to better, more accurate, or at least more interesting reporting? Will the reporting make the recession last longer? Only time will tell.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Time to Clean House

Spring is nearly here, and it looks like a bit of spring cleaning will begin soon at the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCTO). According to the Washington Post, last Thursday Yusuf Acar, the District's acting chief security officer, was charged with bribery in a kickback scheme to bill the District government for products and services that were not delivered. Sushil Bansal, the owner of Advanced Integrated Technologies, was also charged in the crimes. These arrests are part of an ongoing investigion by the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

This alleged corruption is a body blow to DC's progress in cleaning up its act and to Mayor Fenty's aspirations to make bold progress on the challenges facing the nation's capital. The city cannot afford to waste money and precious time with so many urgent public priorities.

The entire nation will watch to see how the DC and Federal governments respond. Both Mayor Fenty and President Obama have the opportunity to raise the standard for government contracting. By acting decisively to eliminate the revolving door in government contracting and tightening ethics standards, they can restore faith in government and keep important projects on track.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

InfoStrat Contributes Surface Software to CodePlex

This week we have published some of our software for Microsoft Surface on CodePlex, making it available to the broader development community.

"InfoStrat.VE allows WPF and Microsoft Surface developers to take full advantage of Virtual Earth 3D with minimal overhead. Simply reference the dll, add a single VEMap control to your XAML, and you have a map! The control eliminates the Win32 Interop restrictions, so you can do everything with this VE control that you could do with any native WPF control, including:
Overlay items (no more transparent windows!)
Rotate and transform the map within the interface (no more boring rectangles, bring on the 360 degree interfaces!)
Use the map within a Visual Brush (you know you want faded reflections!)”

Hats off to Josh Blake and Josh Wall for the creativity, initiative and technical skills to provide an important piece to the broader Microsoft Single View Platform.

See what Marc Schweigart is saying about it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Inspired Today

Today I was inspired. That's not something I can say every day.

I attend a great many meetings and hear many speakers, but today I heard a presentation that really made me rethink an important area of public policy.

The speaker was Clarence H. Carter, the Director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Human Services. Mr. Carter was addressing a group of technology companies that offer health and welfare solutions.

The thrust of the presentation is that we have lost sight of the true goals of human services programs. We are spending too much time tracking the inputs and efficiency of distribution of the system and not enough time looking at the real results -- improving the quality of life for people who need a helping hand from government. Programs are divided into silos and people are forced to shuttle back and forth, applying and reapplying multiple times.

He argued that the fundamental rules of the game must change in order to make significant progress. If you were starting from scratch there is no way you could imagine, much less create, the Byzantine programs that are currently in place. Federal government forces states to comply with complicated rules and essentially creates the silos out of the gate. The status quo is maintained by the government and industry groups who benefit from the complexity of the system. Little wholistic consideration is made of the aid recipient, even though it is common for a person to need help from more than one program.

Technology is not the main problem, but rather entrenched interests and the resulting turf battles. Even well meaning advocacy groups end up competing for a fixed set of resources rather than uniting for their common causes.

That there are entrenched interests and turf battles is not exactly a news flash. What may be different today, however, is that our economic downturn may exhaust the patience of leaders and encourage more dramatic departures.

Funding is not really the problem either, as vast amounts of funding are devoted to social programs, but perhaps not properly allocated to achieve government goals.

The only thing I didn't like about his talk is that I had to follow him at the podium, and he set a high bar for me.

I'm a DC resident, not lifelong but for over 20 years, and I have chosen to raise my family in the District of Columbia. Mr. Carter makes me proud of DC government and hopeful that we can make progress in the pressing challenges that lie ahead. He also bolsters my faith in the judgment of Adrian Fenty for having the courage to choose Mr. Carter.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gathering the Latest on Microsoft Hosted Solutions

Last week I attended the Microsoft Hosting Summit in Bellevue, Washington, to learn about new developments in hosting products, services and technologies.


Microsoft has made significant progress in improving its hosting platform in the past five years. For instance, the latest generation of Microsoft server software has enhanced tools for managing and provisioning servers. I saw impressive demos of the latest techniques for providing servers quickly as needed.


I came away realizing that Microsoft is serious about its philosophy of Software + Services. It is different than the Software as a Service (SaaS) paradigm which holds that hosted software is inherently superior to on-premise deployment of solutions. Microsoft believes that customers need choices and options.

For some customers, starting in a hosted deployment provides a quicker path to get solutions up and running, removing the need to acquire and configure hardware or worry about network infrastructure. Other customers may started on premise and move to hosting in order to meet growing customer demands.

Microsoft's Software+Services approach means that the same code base is used, regardless of where the solution is deployed. The solution does not have to be rewritten to be moved to a new server, providing flexibility that all customers should appreciate.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

InfoStrat Featured on Channel 10

Larry Larsen interviews Josh Wall of InfoStrat on Microsoft Surface applications for military applications such as mission planning. There's lots of content here, including the Magnifier application, map pushpins, integration of imagery and more.

Monday, February 23, 2009

IT Solutions for Government Transparency

The current U.S. economic crisis and resulting huge government bailout programs provide an unprecedented opportunity to test information technology solutions for government transparency.

Government officials at federal, state and local levels will suddenly find their programs funded beyond their normal run rates, and will face pressure to spend money quickly to achieve policy goals.

Information technology can help the bailouts succeed in several ways:

1. Federal, state, and local governments need to bridge their information systems so the flow of funding and its ultimate disposition can be tracked.
2. Business intelligence capability is essential to track the metrics of success and show how the results justify the outlays.
3. Portals are needed for government to communicate with constituents, not just for sharing information but for two-way collaboration. Already Virginia is asking businesses and individuals to propose plans online.
4. Integration with mapping software can provide powerful visualization capabilities to help people assimilate the vast data inherent in these programs.

Most of the products and technologies are already in place. The key challenge is to mobilize the people who can quickly implement solutions to make the urgency of the economic problem and the aspirations of the new administration to deliver a quick fix.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Smaller is More Beautiful -- Virtualization in Government Data Centers

Government information technology managers are warming to server virtualization as a means to save money, reduce energy consumption, and simplify management of servers. New products and technologies are bringing virtualization to large and small data centers.

Prior to virtualization, servers were dedicated to particular tasks. Every new application would require the acquisition of one or more new servers. In a large data center, this would ultimately lead to proliferation of servers, and the models and configurations of the hardware would change over time. There was no easy way to scale up applications which needed more hardware horsepower, short of migrating to a new server, and, more commonly, no easy way to take advantage of unused horsepower for servers that largely sit idle.

Every new server demands more resources to keep it alive, including power, connectivity, backup, and management. As the number of servers grow, so does the need for more racks, more floor space and more air conditioning in the server room.

Virtualization means the end of one-to-one mapping of servers and services. A server can hold multiple operating systems on the same hardware, and multiple instances of applications to facilitate management.

The collapse rate is the ratio of servers before and after virtualization. Government Computer News claims a ratio of 20:1, that is the retirement of 19 out of 20 servers when virtualization is implemented. Your mileage may vary, but the ongoing operations savings could be significant.

Virtualization also offers more portability. Once you are operating in a virtual server environment, your applications are less tightly bound to your particular physical servers and easier to move to a new server or even a new hosting facility.

Microsoft has launched new virtualization products, including Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V.

Here is a video introduction of the product.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Approach for Demo Videos

Infostrat has always been a nimble company, but from my perspective we are becoming more nimble even as we are growing. Perhaps it's just the new pace of innovation in cyberspace, the web community or whatever it's called these days.

In the past we would write books about our favorite technology topics. It was a great way to learn products in depth and to validate our credentials for clients and prospects. Unfortunately, the publishing world has been in a tailspin for years, and readers seem to have abandoned books for shorter and more immediate forms.

Then we turned to white papers, trying to keep them below twenty-five pages for easier consumptions. This has been a good approach, and people seem to enjoy them, but now I'm concerned that the white paper is becoming as dated as a newspaper or a book.

Next we turned to videos. Our first videos were long, scripted affairs which walked through a demonstration step by step, with detailed explanations. Again, customers seem to enjoy them but I think attention spans demand something even smaller and tastier.

Therefore, here is the latest incarnation of our video demonstration. We have eliminated the voiceover and replaced it with text in the video, along with a jazzy soundtrack.




Is this the future? Do you like it better? Let me know at with an email to jimt@infostrat.com or leave a comment here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Years Resolutions for 2009

I hereby resolve to not make any resolutions for New Years 2009. On a long drive, I heard a radio show featuring positive thinking and related psychobabble. It was on XM and I think it may have been someone in the Oprah orbit.

Anyway, the radio psychologist argued that New Years resolutions can do more harm than good. The reason is that they become too drastic to continue, and once the resolution is broken the resolver throws out the entire idea and ends up worse than before.

For instance, resolving to exercise every day or eat at least five vegetables each day are good ideas, but I'm not likely to achieve them one hundred percent of the time. Today, for instance, I walked to work and then left a piece of tasty pizza behind at lunch. These were good things to do but I will not be doing them each day.

What does this mean for government information technology? Well, most government agencies do not operate based on promises made at late night parties. I recommend that you find small ways to make your information technology healthier. For instance:
  1. Try something new. Take a look at commercial technology that is new to you. If you're a PC person, visit the Apple store and look at the latest Mac. Check out someone else's cell phone at your next meeting.
  2. Join a virtual community. Find organizations that share your interests and values and find out what you can gain from online communities.
  3. Stop the madness. If you have a project that is going nowhere, blow the whistle and take a time out. Reassess whether it can be reoriented to make more sense.
Can I keep my resolution not to make resolutions? Only time will tell.