Narrowing the digital divide with holistic infrastructure

As state and local leaders adjust to employees’ working from home, now is a good time to think creatively on how to confront connectivity challenges.
digital divide
(source: Getty Images)

Marc Moffett is the System Engineering Director at Cisco Systems for Public Sector, State and Local Government and Education.

When the coronavirus pandemic resulted in many of the country’s 21 million government employees needing to work from home, state and local agency leaders suddenly rushed to address infrastructure challenges of the largest work-from-home initiative our nation has ever seen.

Marc Moffett, System Engineering Director, Public Sector, State and Local Government and Education. Cisco Systems

The challenges went beyond the technology they had on hand to run their agencies. Officials also realized the uneven buildout of communications networks across urban and rural communities complicated efforts to quickly accommodate the IT needs of their workforces at scale.

As these challenges unfolded over the last few months, we’ve seen the need to ensure both near-term and future connectivity demands of the workforce and the importance of taking a more holistic look at the network infrastructure that supports government and our communities at large. The future of work itself is changing and government must adapt to keep pace.

The need for a ‘new normal’ in government

Interacting with government agencies has always required a lot of face-to-face interactions — both for citizen services and for government employees on the job. Because of the nature of these interactions, it can be more difficult to create trust when those interactions shift to a virtual environment. Going remote created a shock to the system that will continue to shape how government delivers digital services in the months and years ahead.

For years government IT leaders have talked about the importance of investing in end-to-end security and the tools that support trusted computing. And while agencies have been gradually adopting these capabilities, there is a new sense of urgency to integrate these technologies with zero-trust architecture to ensure mission continuity.

Government leaders are, to a degree, beginning to address the policy shortcomings that have hampered the growth of remote work capabilities. While we don’t know where these changes will lead once offices reopen, we are certain that this concept of “hybrid work” will become the new norm for many government workers. Analogous to the efficiencies gained through distributing applications to “the hybrid cloud,” we will see countless benefits to workers being productive from anywhere there is access to a network.

Separated by a digital divide

One factor needing particular attention is the unequal access to digital resources that continues to exist in communities across the nation. The digital divide in bandwidth speeds and access that separates urban and rural communities affects public service workers as well as those who live in those areas.

When employees were asked to work from home, not only were agencies ill-equipped to provide them with laptop or mobile strategies, they also had to contend with supporting employees trying to securely and successfully log in from home due to poor connectivity.

Nobody planned for this mass dispersion of workers, so we can’t fault government leaders for not having plans in place. But because of these events, leaders and their industry partners have a massive opportunity to utilize available technologies to create a more holistic approach to narrowing this digital divide.

As always, the question remains, which is the best way to deliver connectivity? Is it through hotspots, or shared infrastructure? Invariably, it depends on your community’s current infrastructure and needs. If you start to look at technology as a way to bridge some of those gaps, the possibility for holistic upgrades opens up.

If a state, a local county, a city and a school system are all currently using a Cisco technology in the same jurisdiction, officials may be overlooking opportunities to roll out technology through shared infrastructure that makes more sense financially and would also help respond to crisis situations and connectivity demands.

Our experience at Cisco in working with public sector partnerships has made it clear that there are in fact creative ways to bridge the connectivity gaps and transform the way communities can protect, serve and educate their citizens.

Cisco’s mission to serve its customers

Our mission is to ensure our customers, partners and people have access to the advanced technology they need during this time of sudden transition. That’s why Cisco has committed $225 million to the global COVID-19 response.

We want to ensure that first responders, health care professionals and other essential workers in the public sector have business continuity plans and budget to deploy solutions they need today. If they can’t afford to deploy technology today, this fund is set up to help rapidly deployment 19 of our technology solutions.

We are also empowering those on the front lines with access to critical technologies with free Webex and Security offers.

Cisco’s response in this crisis is to ensure that our customers and partners have the hardware, software and services needed to navigate through the crisis.

Our hope is that through continued discussions we can continue to address these challenges.

Learn more about secure, cloud infrastructure solutions for government.

This story was featured in StateScoop Special Report: Remote Workforce (2021)

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