Calvin-Rhodes-May-2018-Three.jpg

Over the past decade, Georgia has placed top priority on using technology to make government more accessible, responsive, accountable, and secure. As a result, Georgia has emerged as a national leader in its use of technology. In fact, Georgia is one of only five states to be awarded an A grade by the prestigious Center for Digital Government in its 2020 Digital States Survey.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic midway through FY 2020 underscored the value of the strong foundation we have built. The state redoubled efforts in key areas:

  • ensuring the integrity of state government information systems,
  • strengthening the public-private partnership that makes it possible for state agencies to access proven technologies that greatly enhance their operations,
  • improving Georgians’ access to state services and information, and
  • mapping the availability of broadband access across the state using address-level data.

Georgia has held fast to its commitment to cybersecurity amid new challenges brought by COVID-19. The state’s Office of Information Security partnered with agencies to protect state networks as ransomware attacks intensified. Cybersecurity awareness training specifically addressing COVID-19 threats was delivered to state employees at all executive branch agencies.

As state agency employees had to shift to telework in mid-March, the security and capability of the state’s SSL VPN was bolstered and up to the task. Long-term structures and policies were developed to support telework as a likely larger part of the state’s work culture for the future. A new technology guideline was issued, along with an updated telecommuting policy, detailing steps for protecting state equipment, assets, data, and systems while teleworking. The use of passwords, removable USB storage, and conferencing tools are among considerations of remote work addressed by the guidance.

The state’s public-private technology partnership, the Georgia Enterprise Technology Services (GETS) program, supported various needs of our health agencies, including the Department of Public Health (DPH), as the state responded to the pandemic. This support included items to equip COVID-19 contact tracers, contracting support for immediately obtaining new cloud services, and quick provision (often same-day delivery) of new servers needed by agencies addressing pressing demands.

Traffic on state websites surged as Georgians grew more reliant on the online delivery of services and information. For example, web sessions on the DPH website spiked by 11,000% at the start of the pandemic. Chatbots launched on multiple state websites in early April answered almost three million questions related to COVID-19 in less than three months. The state’s GovHub digital platform was ready to accommodate and support new services as well as the sharp increases in web traffic.

Families without internet access found themselves at a particular disadvantage during the pandemic, unable to telework and unable to help their children participate in virtual learning. Using the state’s new interactive broadband map, thousands of families have been able to locate the closest free public WiFi.  The work is making a difference in ways no one envisioned when it began two years ago. Developed by the Department of Community Affairs, the Georgia Technology Authority, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, and other agencies and providers, the statewide map includes more than five million locations, 507,000 of which have no broadband access. The map brings greater transparency to the internet marketplace and possibilities for partnerships among communities and service providers.

During a year when COVID-19 delivered threats on many fronts, the state’s technology enterprise was on firm footing, able to meet needs as they emerged. This preparedness and experience position Georgia well for the future as we continue to serve as a model for other states to follow. As the pace of technology change continues to accelerate, having team members and service providers ready to meet the challenges is critical to addressing the many unique needs of state agencies.

I encourage you to look through this report and spend a few minutes learning more about the state’s technology accomplishments and activities.

Calvin Rhodes