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5/27/2010
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Gov 2.0: Washington D.C. To Launch Private Cloud

The city known as a government tech innovator is also launching a startup incubator and pushing community involvement in app development.

The city of Washington, D.C., already known as an innovative government user of technology when federal CIO Vivek Kundra was CTO there before he moved to the White House -- is now building a private cloud infrastructure, launching a startup incubation effort, and pushing new community involvement in developing applications and leveraging government data.

The new private cloud is the closest to being launched, Brian Sivak, the city's CTO, said Thursday at the Gov 2.0 Expo. The infrastructure includes automatic replication and failover, incorporates flexible resource allocation, runs both Windows and Linux, and will be available for city agencies within "the next month or so," Sivak said. Agencies will be able to order a server in a shopping cart, click okay, and automatically have a server spooled up.

"While that's not revolutionary for the world, it's pretty big for cities and government agencies," Sivak said. "Here, it takes a long time to procure hardware, but now, a guy wants to go buy a server, it's click-click-click and then it's done."

In addition to building a private cloud, Sivak has embarked on the journey toward creating what he calls the "GIS model city" of Washington, D.C. The city is already a heavy supplier of mapping applications, having 26 apps that mash maps up with data on crimes, evacuation routes, school data, emergency facilities, addresses of notaries public, leaf collection, and much more.

However, Sivak wants to go further. He's now working to develop a series of usable templates and best practices in order to spark even more development of mapping applications, such as city service and polling place locators. He's also looking to add a way for citizens to update or augment maps with their own geo-tagged information on the location of things in the city such as park benches and traffic lights. Further down the road, he would also like to enable the city and others to release geo-tagged press releases of goings on in the city.

Washington, D.C., has also launched an effort to incubate local startups. Sivak is looking for outside investors who will fund the effort -- and the startups. The city would seek out early-stage startups who have built a prototype that's interesting or beneficial to city government. Then, during an incubation period, the startups would work hand-in-hand with the city agencies for which they would develop applications or services.

Sivak said that such an effort could have numerous benefits for multiple parties, including a higher chance of startup success since their initial product was built to customer specifications, and lower cost for the government as the startup's launch customer.

Finally, Washington, D.C., is working on an effort called "Decode DC," which is a take-off on and quasi-successor to earlier Washington, D.C., application development contests. The problem with those earlier contests was that after the awards were handed out, too often the applications stopped being maintained. The city wants to reverse that by providing the public with certain business processes and related data, asking how to make the business processes better, and allowing the city to take the next steps.

For example, Sivak said, Washington, D.C., has a process to register landlords with the city in order to collect tax revenue, but the current process isn't able to determine who is skirting their duty to register. As an improvement, Sivak posited, the city could match rental property information on Craigslist and the Washington Post's classifieds against the rental registrations.

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