A Tsunami of Global Disaster Communications through Citizen Journalism

The news started hitting California early Saturday morning with an SMS alarm on my mobile phone – a major earthquake struck Chile, and there was a potential of tsunami activity in California and Hawaii (as well as the rest of the Pacific). First Citizen Journalism Transforming Mediastop – CNN. The news source was right on the story, with real time information flowing into the newsroom from, not on-scene journalists, but through Twitter and Facebook updates.

Another SMS message hits the phone letting me know there was a Twitter list at #hitsunami, and the discussion would include all the most current news related to tsunami preparations in Hawaii. Also gave a link to a web page that was broadcasting a live feed from KHON in Honolulu until the station integrated their feed on the KHON home page.

Back to CNN, cell phone videos began pouring in from Santiago and Concepcion. CNN began broadcasting directly from Chile – not from a CNN journalist, but from a Chilean citizen streaming video through a Skype connection. KHON also began streaming video and audio from a private citizen through BJPENN.COM in Hilo, as KHON also did not have a real time video feed of their own, or a journalist on site that could provide adequate real time information from the city.

Then, the same stream from BJPENN.COM in Hilo showed up on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

Citizen Journalism is here to Stay

News media is changing forever. Citizens now have the technology, and savvy, to provide the world with real time, unedited news feeds 24×7, 365 days a year, and from nearly any single location on the planet. Neither mainstream news media outlets nor governments can fully control the presentation of events occurring around the world. With nearly every mobile phone equipped with a camera or video device, and the ability to send images through both the mobile networks and Internet, reality can once again be reality.

Government actions, law enforcement actions, and individual actions are now more likely to be recorded than not – ensuring that at a raw level, fact will become available to the world without government or media corruption of the source.

While the mainstream news media may still add “expert” commentary and attempt to interpret events, those events can no longer be controlled or hidden from the global community. There are exceptions, such as embedding journalists within military operations. The government will still control what the public views or learns from those journalists, and propaganda will still be part of our lives. Mainstream media will still try to interpret events in a manner supporting their political views (if in doubt, watch the US stations Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and BBC America for a variety of interpretations of a single event).

But that line of deception, or use of propaganda, becomes thinner every day as the diffusion of recording devices and communications continues to become available to nearly every person on the planet.

“We are getting Twitter reports and photos from the Big Island…”

With residents of the Big Island scattered along the shores of Hawaii, and nearly 100% of them with a mobile communications device, people on the island were kept up to date by the second of tsunami activity hitting the island. Emergency services broadcast information upon receipt of updates, and if there was ever a “dry run” for emergency communications, the people of Hawaii showed the world how it should be done.

As Governor Lingle stated in a pre-event news conference (broadcast to KHON studios via Skype), “the eyes of the world are now on Hawaii.” Gov. Lingle, and the people of Hawaii should be proud of the way they set a new standard for integrating citizen journalism, broadcast journalism, and emergency services into a single, integrated community.

CNN, Fox, and MSNBC had one theme in common throughout the rapidly unfolding Chile earthquake events, and preparations for a tsunami event around the Pacific – “send us your images, reports, and video, but do not put yourself in danger.”

Mainstream media gets it. They may not like it much, but they get it. iReports, real-time Skype and Twitter reports, SMS messages, and mobile imaging have given us the potential of having around 4 billion citizen journalists available to produce news content. CNN, Fox, and MSNBC are more than welcome to collate and interpret those events, but now we have a choice of making our own interpretations, listening to the mainstream media’s interpretations, or listening to the government’s interpretation of local or global events.

Is Hawaii a Candidate for International ICT Assistance?

Try a search engine query on “Hawaii CIO,” or “Hawaii Chief Information Officer.” You might get a couple corporate links pop up, or possibly the University of Hawaii’s CIO link, but the only state agency within the first two pages of links is for the Information and Communications Services Division of the Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS). The first impression, once hitting the Hawaii Information and Communications Services Division (ICSD) landing page on the State of Hawaii’s website, is the microwave tower graphic.

The Information and Communication Services Division (ICSD) of the Department of Accounting and General Services is the lead agency for information technology in the Executive Branch. It is responsible for comprehensively managing the information processing and telecommunication systems in order to provide services to all agencies of the State of Hawaii. The ICSD plans, coordinates, organizes, directs, and administers services to insure the efficient and effective development of systems.

Information and Communications Technology in HawaiiIn fact, the Hawaii CIO, as appointed by the governor in 2004, acts in this capacity as a part time job, as his “day job” is comptroller of the State. In that role, the only true function managed within the ICSD is oversight of the state’s main data center.

Browsing through the ICSD site is quite interesting. Having spent a fair amount of time drilling through California’s CIO landing page, where you are greeted with a well stocked mashup of not less than 14 interactive objects giving access to topics from current news, to blog entries, to CIO department links, to instructions on following the CIO’s activities through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube (all meetings and public activities are recorded and made available to the ‘Ether), I expected a similar menu of objects on the Hawaii page. Clearly Hawaii is a much smaller state, so expectations were set, but I did expect a fairly good semaphore of directions I could take to learn more about Hawaii’s office of the CIO.

Hot Buttons on the ICSD Landing Page

My vision of a governmental CIO was defined by Vivek Kundra, CIO of the United States. A guy who talks about the future of ICT, the strategy of applying ICT to government projects, the leadership, both in thoughts and actions, or the government as a role model for the rest of the country. Cloud computing, data center consolidation, green technology, R&D, cooperation with the private sector, aggressive use of COTS (common of-the-shelf) technology. I love the guy.

NOTE: ICT is a term unfamiliar to most Americans. It means “Information and Communications Technology,” and is a term most other countries around the world have adopted to acknowledge the critical role communications plays in any information technology discussion.

So I select the button on IT Standards. Cool. Being a cloud computing enthusiast, to put it mildly, I could not help pinging on the item for 11.17 Virtual Storage Access Method, with the expectation this might give me some insight on the cloud computing and virtualization initiatives Hawaii is taking under the guidance of either the CIO or ICSD.

VSAM is an IBM/MVS Operating System access method system. It is not a data base management system. VSAM supports batch users, on-line transactions, and data base applications. (VSAM Entry on ICSD website)

Multiple Virtual Storage, more commonly called MVS, was the most commonly used operating system on the System/370 and System/390
IBM mainframe computers. It was developed by IBM, but is unrelated to IBM’s other mainframe operating system, VM. (Wikipedia)

Great Symbol of the State of HawaiiMVS? You mean the MVS used in the 1970s?

Ooops. Well, how about an overview of IT Standards? Written in 2003, the document is general cut and paste information that could be found in pretty much any basic IT book, with the exception that everything is manual – meaning any standard, recommendation, or update must be done through use of CD-ROM. Well, perhaps document management and approval process doesn’t need to be online.

Enough – I am not excited by the ICSD website. Let’s look at a couple other areas that might provide a bit more information on how Hawaii is doing with topics like overall IT architecture, disaster recovery, and IT strategies.

“The CIO’s role is to provide vision and leadership for developing and implementing information technology initiatives.” (Info-Tech Research Group)

In a recent report delivered by the Hawaii state auditor, “Audit of the State of Hawai’i’s Information Technology: Who’s in Charge?” – a disturbing summary of the auditor’s findings declare:

  1. The State’s IT leaders provide weak and ineffective management.
  2. The State no longer has a lead agency for information technology.

The audit further finds the guidance and governance provided by the ICSD ineffective, stating:

“ICSD was originally tasked to compile an overall State technology plan from annual technology plans submitted by the various departments. However, ICSD no longer enforces or monitors compliance with this requirement. In fact, the division has actively discouraged departments from submitting these distributed information processing and information resource management plans.”

Finally, the report concludes with an ominous message for the state

“If the State’s management does not improve, the State will eventually be compelled to outsource or co-source IT functions, a complicated and expensive undertaking. Based on the issues that have been raised, future focus areas include data security and business continuity. Lack of an alternate data center and general lack of business continuity and disaster recovery plans tempt fate, since a major disruption of State IT services is not a matter of if, but when.”

If you would like some more interesting food for controversy, dig into the state’s disaster recovery situation, which was recently summarized with the statement “a breakdown of or interruption to data center services or telecommunication services will seriously diminish the ability of State (of Hawaii) agencies to deliver critical services to the public and other federal, state, and local government agencies. The primary data center serves all three branches of State government. The loss of the primary data center would impact all State employees, and without an alternative data center, health, public safety, child protective services, homeland security and other critical services would not be delivered”

How International Organizations Might Help Hawai’I’s ICT and eGovernment Program

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

A surge in the use of ICTs by government, civil society and the private sector started in the late 1990s, with the aim not only of improving government efficiency and service delivery, but also to promote increase participation of citizens in the various governance and democratic processes. The use of ICT in the overall field of democratic governance activities relates to three distinct areas where UNDP has already been doing innovative work to support the achievement of the MDGs.

  • First, e-governance which encompasses the use of the ICT tool to enhance both government efficiency, transparency, accountability and service delivery, and citizen participation and engagement in the various democratic and governance processes.
  • Second, the mainstreaming of ICT into the various UNDP Democratic Governance Practice service lines such as Parliaments (e-parliaments), elections (e-elections) and others.
  • And third, the governance of the new ICT which addresses the institutional mechanisms related to emerging issues of privacy, security, censorship and control of the means of information and communications at the national and global levels.

That sounds awful darn close to objectives Hawaii might find useful in to developing their own long term, strategic ICT plan. Taking a look at some of the countries listed in UNDP’s “UN eGovernment Survey 2008: From eGovernment to Connected Governance,” a lot of great government program case studies are included, such as the government of Singapore:

“Similarly, as part justification for ranking Singapore as its 2007 leader in e-government and customer service, Accenture reports that in terms of back-end infrastructure, the Singaporean government has made an enterprise architecture called SGEA a strategic thrust. SGEA offers a blueprint for identifying potential business areas for interagency collaboration as well as technology, data and application standards to facilitate the sharing of information and systems across agencies.”

That sounds good. As do a couple dozen other examples of equally relevant eGovernment programs included in the study. In fact, current eGovernment development projects in Vietnam, Indonesia, Ghana, and Palestine follow a well documented plan to design, train, plan, and implement eGovernment projects. And they are working.

Perhaps Hawai’I could hire a full time CIO, participate in US and international programs supporting development of eGovernment (including the US Trade and Development Agency which sponsors eGoverment programs in many developing countries – such as Palestine, Ethiopia, and Ghana), and use that to develop a 22nd century ICT plan for Hawai’i.

The line is drawn

As taxpayers and residents of America’s 50th state, we deserve the best possible government and governance possible. Let’s take a bit of responsibility on ourselves. Study the issue, contact your representative, and demand either an explanation of the current situation – or even better, give recommendations on how we can make Hawai’i’s situation better. Such as:

  1. Hire a professional state CIO
  2. Give the CIO authority
  3. Develop a state-wide ICT plan
  4. Execute

We initially touched the topic in a previous post “A Developing Country that Can Teach Hawaii a Lesson.” We’ll continue exploring the topic, and hopefully start working on positive, constructive ideas on how we can make our state more efficient, and a better place to work and live.

Traveling the Telecom Highway with GTT’s Scott Charter

A very cold and icy evening in Denver. One of my new data center customers, WBS Connect, was based in Denver under the technical leadership of Scott Charter. Scott gave me a call, and asked if I had the time to get together and meet, since I was in town for some business meetings and he had some ideas I might be interested in.

Several hours later, with staff at the Rialto Café getting annoyed, and my head hitting the data absorption and comprehension threshold all of us experience when talking with people a whole lot smarter than us, I knew I’d met a true visionary.

Ideas. Ideas about technology, about business, about people, and about the world we live in. Beyond the technology, Scott is a guy who genuinely cares about people – an excellent role model for young entrepreneurs.

Pacific-Tier: Today we are talking with Scott Charter, who is with GTT.   Scott, how do you like Hawaii?

Scott Charter from GTT at PTC 2010Scott Charter: Love it. I’ve been here a few times (Hawaii) before, but this is my first time on Oahu.

Pacific-Tier: We’re at the Pacific Telecommunications Council annual meeting. Scott agreed to sit down and talk with us a little bit. Scott, you’ve had some changes professionally – what’s going on?

Scott Charter: December 16th, WBS Connect, my company that I co-founded in 2002 was acquired by GTT. The deal had been brewing a couple months prior (to December), but we announced it December 16th and we’ll call it the end of January when the integration will be complete.

Pacific-Tier: So what does that bring to the business? Aside from obviously the acquisition and things, does that bring any benefits to WBS, your customers, or to the business that didn’t exist before?

Scott Charter: That’s two pointed questions. I’ll start with my customers at WBS Connect. They will continue to receive the same level of service they did from WBS Connect, and now from GTT, with an augmented NOC (Network Operations Center), we are a much larger entity as a publicly traded company. So from a financial perspective it is a much healthier organization that is continuing to grow.

We feel that what we brought to GTT was something they didn’t have, and that was a network. GTT was a switchless, global network integrator, and it was an easy add-on to give them a global Ethernet backbone.

Pacific-Tier: So how about the services WBS Connect was offering? Video services, and different types of value-added services to your network, where do they exist today?

Scott Charter: The growth on where we are on a commodity-based, circuit-based, will only continue to grow as we layer on. We have to be careful though, not to layer too much in at once. We don’t want to have too much culture shock.

So for example, I don’t really see us striking out immediately and driving more video. Conferencing services as a primary add-on for our business customers, as a business product, give till the second or third quarter and we’ll roll back into that.

Immediately we’re talking about going back to all of the GTT customers with more Ethernet. Going into the WBS customer with more off-net circuits that GTT had already done as well.

Slowly, when we get out of that, we’ll go more into managed services. I see us actually going more with other managed services in addition to video, such as managed security. Probably by Q2.

Pacific-Tier: How about WBS Connect, and I hate going back to that, but I will… You were a very open network. You would peer with other networks, you would peer with CDNs (Content Delivery Networks), do you feel that your ability to integrate or work with other companies would be changed by your acquisition (or merger) by GTT?

Global Telecom and TechnologyScott Charter: I’m learning as we’re going, because I am now working with a publicly-traded company. Things are a little bit different than when you are with a privately held, entrepreneurial small organization that is quite dynamic.

We want to bring the dynamic nature of WBS Connect to GTT, however we also have to remember that we have certain parameters that go with a publicly-traded company.

On top of that you also have an organization that really focuses on ensuring they maintain good margin. Now what we’ve done in the past with WBS Connect was that at times we’d take a lower margin deal in order to expand our network, and ultimately grow our value in another way that was not standard “Hey I need to have this much margin.”

I don’t know how much of that we’ll continue to do, but if it doesn’t make sense financially we probably won’t do it moving forward.

Pacific-Tier: So you’ve always been a leader, a thought leader in the industry. There are things changing now such as carrier Ethernet exchanges, Internet exchange points, cloud computing and the integration of CDNs into the network itself. Tell me your visions. What’s happening now? Where will we go into the future that will either support, or change, or direct the future of our business?

Scott Charter: There are so many great things that I see on the horizon right now that all seem to layer back into one another. So when we talk about additional transport services that are required to talk about enhanced cloud. Machine-machine activity, and the way they are going to interact is the future of where hosting goes – for sure.

I mean just standard dedicated servers and things like that are… I don’t want to call them a typewriter of the future, but things are definitely going to evolve. I think that as a WAN operator as part of our business we definitely see the need to connect more and more data centers that have this idea of being able to understand the need for this cloud infrastructure.

And I think you are going to find that you are going to have a global consolidation in certain points around the world that are going to mirror this cloud that is going to happen in let’s call it 10 mega data centers, at least, for computing. And we want to be a part of that.

One of the things I’m really excited about though, is the game-changing effect that I believe that 4G will have on incumbent connectivity in our existing infrastructure. If you’re a LEC (Local Exchange Carrier) with DS3s, OC3s, out to an enterprise base, that’s going to compete in a way with 4G. Call it 18~24 months from now.

I see us steering GTT towards embracing 4G as a part of our WAN business.

Pacific-Tier: Are you going to get into the tower business yourself, or are you going to connect towers?

Scott Charter: Connect towers for sure. You know, continuing to talk about any type of carrier extensions or servicing that wholesale side. But in addition to that I see from a large enterprise side, really seeing us drive more and more into that (4G and connecting via the wholesale business).

Pacific-Tier: With 4G, and LTE – ultimately 4G, does GTT get into the wireless business yourself or are you going to stay in the terrestrial business?

Scott Charter: That’s to be seen. I’m cautious on what I say now on where we’ll be, depending on where we need to be then. When I look forward now – I’m only talking about LTE. No offense to WiMAX, but I feel the real play there is with LTE.

It’s not just North American LTE, it’s global LTE. So seeing the Vodafones, the China wirelesses, and how they’re going to drive global saturation of LTE, let’s call it over the next four years, five years possibly, we’ll want to play there one way or another. I’m not sure how we’ll do it.

Pacific-Tier: So in 18 months what is the difference between terrestrial cable, terrestrial services, and wireless? Is there a difference?

Scott Charter: I’m afraid that spectrum is going to be a too little, people are going to be so excited that we might almost have another iPhone paradox that we see now with AT&T – that their own success with their partnership with Apple has caused some people to believe that the AT&T 3G is completely saturated.

Now there are some people who have some data on it which says that’s not truly the case. But there is enough of a customer backlash that it’s a customer perception that the AT&T network, due to its own success, has lead to its current situation that people are accepting it.

Now, fast forward a couple years and say what happens if we actually eat through all that LTE spectrum that’s out there now that that Verizon and AT&T – let’s just talk that North America’s acquired, wouldn’t that be interesting if that too becomes so saturated that we’re now reverting back to just terrestrial, as we’ve eaten up all the wireless.

Pacific-Tier: Tell me something, domestic or international, where’s your focus?

Scott Charter: 50-50. Let me take that back. (the) Opportunity for growth, 80-20 international. Consistent with where we are today, 50-50. New growth, international.

Pacific-Tier: Why?

Scott Charter: Under-served markets with a much higher profitability margin. It’s much easier to go in and saturate MENA, or LATAM, or parts of Asia than it is to continue to try and compete against incumbents in major markets, Tier 1, Tier 2s, or for that matter try and compete against a Time Warner in a Tier 3.

Pacific-Tier: WBS Connect helped shake up the American Internet industry by bringing affordable bandwidth and high-performance services to people. How do you continue to disrupt Verizon and AT&T and people who would possibly like to hold back development of competitive services in the United States. How do you go about continuing to hit that “borg?”

Scott Charter: By coming to shows like this (PTC) and ITW. You continue to partner up with aggressive companies that are willing to shake up the status quo. If you are working within a fleet of speed boats, if you are not there you are probably in a super-tanker that is probably going to run aground at one point.

That’s a little too much of an analogy…

Pacific-Tier: Let’s talk about your effect on the social or the people part of this business. Do you feel that your new company (GTT) or your old company (WBS Connect), or yourself as an entrepreneur – do you feel you have a responsibility to contribute to the good of the community? Is there any inherent responsibility you have to the community?

Scott Charter: I believe we all do if we want to be good global citizens and good global businessmen. It’s in our best interest to make sure we are doing things more and more efficient.

Power (electricity) is probably a great analogy because we are all working towards a more efficient data center. It’s in our best interest to try and find a means to use off-peak power. We’re involved in something right now that I think is going to shake up data centers worldwide.

And when I talk to people about it I don’t want them to think I’m getting too…, what I really want to say is that I think I have a real opportunity to change what we’re doing in global computing with some colleagues that we’re involved with on power.

Pacific-Tier: Well we hope so, and whether it’s alternative energy using solar or wind, or whether it’s using innovative ideas like fuel cells or co-generation… All of those things are good for the environment and hopefully in the future we’ll be able to reduce our reliance on very energy-inefficient hardware.

Hopefully people like you will put in SSDs using 1% of the power draw as a spindle… But tell us, as we wind down the discussion to a close, again you’ve been a visionary ever since I’ve known you. For several years I’ve looked to you for ideas and thoughts on what’s going to happen to our industry in the future.

Shoot for the stars. Tell us something we don’t know that is going to excite us.

Scott Charter: Well let me follow up on this through energy consumption. To drive the existing grid to use it more efficiently so we don’t have to build new. If we can avoid building new coal-fired power plants in order to generate all this new data, because data centers are gobbling up more power per capita than any other sector in the world right now. I mean it’s amazing.

We’re not getting that many new aluminum smelters out there, but new data centers are coming up and just eating and eating more power.

What if? And we believe we’re on to something that will allow us to not have to go and just massively overbuild our electrical infrastructure in order to accommodate this data center growth. I can’t wait to see where we are in two years with this.

Pacific-Tier: I think it’s exciting too, as a former data center operator I saw the sins of inefficiency time and time again, and I applaud your efforts in trying to correct that problem in our industry.

Any final words for the readers?

Scott Charter: I’m excited where I am going with GTT. I’ve never been a chief marketing officer in a publicly-traded company before. Colleagues of mine have come up joked with me and said “Mr. CMO! What are you going to do?” I laugh. It’s so exciting. Coming here and just trying to drive brand.

Go meet 40 new companies out of Eastern Europe, or go meet Western Africa. Wow!

Pacific-Tier: The industry needs competent evangelists and we warmly welcome your entry into the marketing business. Thank you very much for the time!

You can download the audio/recording of Scott’s interview HERE

Scott Charter has more than 16 years of data telecommunications experience, specializing in data networking. Prior to launching WBS Connect, Scott held management positions with Qwest Communications, Rhythms Netconnections, and Echostar Communications.GTT is Global telecom and Technology http://www.gt-t.net/ 
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