Industry News

5 public sector technologies to watch

The public sector is rife with technological innovations. So many, in fact, that the American Public Works Association recently pitted them against each other in a March Madness-style bracket. After tallying roughly 6,000 votes from public works professionals all over the world, these five technologies emerged as the top five for 2021:

  1. Geographic Information Systems and Asset Management Technologies:  These technologies help public works professionals develop and prepare short- and long-term infrastructure and financial plans, infrastructure assessments and fleet telematics analyses through public engagement tools and data-driven, real-time dashboards.

  2. Integration of Technologies: Integrated technologies help professionals identify data and how to best leverage it to achieve desired service levels and enable greater accountability, reporting and efficiency.

  3. Small Cell/5G Technologies: Where deployed, small cells provide coverage to increase productivity and situational awareness by enabling end users to make smarter decisions in real time, providing improved access to information for emergency and first responders as they arrive on the scene.

  4. Technology for Field Crews: This increases efficiency for the work order system, infrastructure assessments, emergency management reporting and more. These technologies give public works professionals something to learn from and incorporate in future efforts.

  5. Virtual Public Engagement Technologies: This encompasses new technologies and best practices to engage the public in virtual meetings and community notifications to gain support and build consensus, at a reduced cost, compared to traditional methods.

For further insight into these trends, SmartBrief reached out to APWA. The following interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity:

The recent polar vortex in Texas highlighted vulnerabilities in the state's power grid. How can the five trending technologies APWA identified contribute to better outage response times and grid reliability?

A well-planned GIS and asset management system can provide an accurate inventory of electrical system equipment, components, location and performance reliability.  Integrated technologies can identify failures. Integrated alarms ensure a failsafe to shut down the grid equipment so that the equipment can be evaluated and repaired. The small cell/5G technologies provide the communication functionality to gather information and possibly send emergency alerts to the citizens in the community where the power is out or provide emergency supply information and resources. Technology for field crews allows utility workers to log in to their system to access drawings or diagrams, equipment inventory, operational system checklists and remote diagnostics to evaluate the system and make the necessary repairs to re-energize the power grid.  Virtual public engagement technologies provide a communication tool to engage with the citizens and build public trust.  They can provide a two-way communication function to ensure the citizen received the emergency notification or allow the citizens to comment on important issues in the community.

There have been calls from many in the technology community to embrace the integration of GIS, asset management and BIM. In your view, do these systems work better together or apart, and why so? 

The systems work better together to leverage the data.  With the combined data analytics, predictive maintenance can be scheduled and planned.  The total life cycle cost of all the assets is gathered to evaluate a long-term financial strategy.  This is a benefit when federal grants for infrastructure investment are available.  The cost-benefit analysis of a project may be required, and the integration of the systems can support the analysis. 

A recent cyberattack on a Florida town's water supply has ignited conversation about how to make all infrastructure less susceptible to hackers. How can 5G and IoT help?

Cybersecurity will always be a concern whether an agency is using Wi-Fi, supervisory control and data acquisition, 5G or other technologies to communicate. It is critical to consistently emphasize the need for users to take all precautions they can to safeguard their cyber/IT responsibilities, including using multi-authentication, strong passwords, reporting suspicious activities to IT and logging off when they are not using their equipment.

Another key aspect of protecting our critical infrastructure against cyberattacks is having a well-trained and skilled workforce. This is essential. Through ongoing and continuously updated training, public works employees will know what to look for if a nefarious intrusion is attempted. These employees are often the most knowledgeable of the systems they are charged with operating, and this is another layer of protection.

A great federal resource is the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. CISA has a fairly vast library of tools that may be of use. A recent example of ways in which CISA works to inform the public is through alerts. Recently, Emergency Directive (ED) 21-02 was released in response to vulnerabilities found to be affecting Microsoft Exchange Servers. This particular ED pertains to federal civilian executive branch departments/agencies that use Microsoft Exchange, but the recommendations can be applied to the civilian and private sector as well.

One common thread among all of these trending technologies is responsible data use. What are some best practices for using technology to identify and leverage data?

It is important when gathering data to know how you want to analyze the information or what information you need to make decisions and solve problems. Leveraging data can support grant applications. It also has value for life cycle cost analysis, renewal and replacement of equipment, reliability and efficiency.

What public-sector technology is the most underutilized and why? What can private sector stakeholders do to encourage public adoption?

Public Sector – asset management, work order management for efficient operations and to use the data to understand public perception and to build trust

Private sector – show value, best practices, cost-benefit analysis

Many agencies are not effectively using asset management technologies. The APWA Asset Management Committee is creating a road map that can be used by agencies to start or expand their asset management program.

Can you provide an example (or multiple examples) of a public works entity effectively using one or more of the five identified trending technologies? Why did they use it and what did it accomplish?

The APWA Trending Technologies Subcommittee will be creating documents for each of the 2021 Trending Technologies. These documents will identify agencies that are using the 2021 Trending Technologies and we hope to have them available in the Spring/Summer of 2021.

There are specific examples provided in the APWA Reporter, January 2021 edition.

APWA notes 16 technologies went head-to-head in a bracket-style tournament. What are some of the technologies that missed the cut for the top 5?

Automated and connected vehicles did not make the Top 5 this year. This technology was on the list for three years in a row. Cybersecurity did not make the Top 5 this year. It was on the list for two years in a row.