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Technology Challenges In Rural America

I began my current role with Seguin, Texas in March 2018. In doing so, I accepted technology challenges existing in rural America that were previously foreign to me. Implementing evolving tech and migrating off dated infrastructure platforms is never without trepidation. Pursuing the endeavor in rural America brought forth previously unknown hurdles that had to be overcome.

Challenge Accepted

Since 2018, Seguin IT has rebuilt the previously flat network, upgraded perimeter security and did so with minimal downtime. Five miles of high strand count fiber was added to the city’s fiber ring, establishing the baseline for internal data redundancy across city facilities. Eight new facilities were added to the ring.

High availability was established to allow for fail over in the event of an outage. Citywide bandwidth was doubled at no cost. The team stood up an enterprise video management platform.

Right of the dot upgrades were completed on the ERP and telecom infrastructure. A new public safety CAD was implemented. An end-of-life radio systems infrastructure impacting 160,000 citizens resulting in expanded interagency interoperability across our region was replaced.

Racking Up Wins

A document management system was integrated. The dated systems infrastructure was migrated to a hyperconverged architecture. Bodycams were deployed. The wireless infrastructure was upgraded. You get the idea. We get stuff done here.

Seguin IT won a “Best of Texas” award and “IT Innovation of the Year” in 2020 from national magazines. There was also a state excellence award in 2019. Recognition was received from a senator.

How Did They Do All That?

You may be wondering how this rural city in South Central Texas managed to pull all these time-consuming and costly initiatives off. Where did they get the funding? How many IT staffers did they have?

I’m glad you asked! The answer is it starts at the top with a forward-thinking city manager and council. When I was brought in, I inherited capital project funding for fiber and cybersecurity actions that had yet to be utilized. A fiber study budget was morphed into tangible fiber expansion. We knew what needed to be done – a study wasn’t needed.

Forward Thinking & Country IT

The budget for cyber enhancements was leveraged to upgrade the network perimeter, email security and employee awareness. I kind of lucked into that one.

My first budget cycle resulted in the network project funding alongside the VMS upgrade. My second fiscal year, it was the systems architecture and radio infrastructure.

Successful deliverables compounded into trust and the belief that we could do anything. I created a phrase per the way we go about our business. I call it “Country IT,” and I define it as a mindset towards achieving technology success via nontraditional methodologies. We’re a little unorthodox in our ways, but we get after it and make magic happen.

Trust, Empowerment And Project Management

The beating heart to the success and continued evolution of city technology was – and continues to be – the staff. They were waiting to be challenged. Waiting to manifest excellence. Throw in a little project management, planning, coordination and communication, and you have a recipe for success.

Tools and learning conduits were provided to bring forth the vision. Professional services were brought in when needed. We trained on the new technology before, during and after it became part of our operating infrastructure.

Relationships were formed inside and out of the city per our new technology and the vendors we work alongside to keep the lights on. Staff was entrusted and empowered, and boy did they ever respond.

Proactively Addressing The Challenges

The technology challenges in rural America are real, but there are measures that can be taken to proactively address the concerns. For example, finding technical talent to fill vacant positions comes with its own set of hurdles in rural America.

We established an intern program, in essence creating a pipeline of talent. Our last two interns have become full-time employees and are incredibly productive IT staffers that I am immensely proud of.

TAGITM

In Texas assistance is never more than a stone’s throw away. The TAGITM organization has been around for 40 years providing the mechanisms for Texas local government IT professionals to collaborate with one another.

Very rarely do you run across an issue that someone else hasn’t already overcome. TAGITM recently established a cyber incident mutual aid program to offset the constant threat of cybersecurity. It’s incredible. The doors were opened for our neighbors in Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma to join in the fun. Come on down folks.

The annual conference is something to behold. I challenge anyone to attend another event where you learn more and have as much fun doing it. I’m thinking GovLoop should be involved. Looking at you Managing Editor Nicole Blake Johnson!

Let’s Do This

Part of the beauty of working in government is the fact we’re not in competition with one another. If you invest the time, resources can be leaned on to overcome hurdles. Sometimes you have to be creative. And you often have to do the legwork, but the answers are out there.

For the folks implementing tech in small-town USA, a little countrified ingenuity can go a long way in resolving the technology challenges in rural America. I say let’s get after it and make that magic happen for our communities.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected] And to read more from our Winter 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Shane “El Jefe” McDaniel is the first Director of Information Technology for the city of Seguin, Texas, with more than 24 years of experience across multiple IT disciplines. He began his technology career in 1996 through an enlistment in the Air Force supporting military intelligence, subsequently transitioning to NSA, NRO, private industry and municipal government technology operations. Shane is the proprietor and champion of Country IT, running the countryexec.com website promoting personal and professional development for future leaders. You can find him on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook.

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