signal infrastructure

Signal infrastructure is the set of interconnected structural elements which provide the necessary framework to support signalling.

See signal infrastructure best practice for practical advice. What follows is mostly an introduction to public decision problems and how IT management and governance issues are deal with in a fully decentralized multi-vendor redundant network operation.

Types of signals can include critical services such as tsunami warning,air quality alerts and 911; as well as less critical media signals, such as radio, TV, voice mail, text messages and email. A unified response requires typically an intranet to integrate these signals, and a strong ontology to get the words right.

[+] formerly "IT management and governance"

the green signal shift

In Canada also the emphasis on greening of government operations has shifted attention to the hardware requirements and ewaste, energy and telework problems, and use of such frameworks as ISO 9000, ISO 14000, ISO 19011. Ultimately these require accounting reform beyond GAAP and best practice exchange on such a scale that IT can no longer be segmented from other aspects of management or governance of state services, and maintaining a separate silo for this management would become untenable.

[+] formerly "IT Portfolio Management"

best practices and applications

Many of these are problems of scale or of the kind of deep responsibilities governments have. Many smaller organizations have already made the shift from thinking about IT as a separate function with unique needs, to being simply part of a business or organization or agency that performs services.

For instance, the total cost of operations in many organizations already accounts for ewaste and energy and software upgrades over fixed time horizons. Means of Capital Planning and Investment Control are improving to deal with these challenges, and exploring solutions such as zero e-waste hardware and cascading to maximize equipment lifecycles.

Many such signal infrastructure best practices are known for small scale operations.

Their use for public decisions is however relatively new and there are evolving bodies of thought on:

In e-democracy the use of opt-in local issues forums has become more common.

worst known example of failure costing lives

Globally, the disastrous example of the Asian tsunami, in which hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved with timely signals via text message or otherwise, stood as one of the worst examples of vast loss of human life due to a simple signalling failure.

robust or temporary

Among other issues, without all signals of public management being all integrated and authenticated in a resilient network, there can be no municipal role in emergency response since signal failures can cause unpredictable results or inability to trust signals until verified can delay response, endangering citizens as in the tsunami case.

External or backup networks for emergency purposes only, such as the military's, however, take time to put into play, as most disastrously shown in New Orleans, also endangering citizens and perhaps taking mnay months to reconstruct. New Orlean's 911 service, for instance, was not in operation two months after Hurricane Katrina. There were and remain grave doubts about that city's future partially due to its failure to put together a resilient infrastructure that could withstand the challenges of floods and keep operating.

Among other political problems (noted below) there can be little municipal autonomy without the ability to keep the city operating through crises.

is it a choice?

The choice between a robust and resilient network that is in operation all the time for ordinary and extraordinary emergencies, and a merely commercial quality network that fails and must be augmented or replaced by a temporary network from emergency response agencies such as the military, US FEMA or PSEPC, is being made in many cities and states and regions of North America, using New Orleans as bad example.

rural government, urban problem

Since both Canada and the United States as of 2006-01 had governments elected primarily from rural and not urban areas, this was a matter of very special and specific concern, as the costs of response are very considerable but the preventative measures can also be quite expensive.
A compromise is to focus on the cheapest aspects of the problem, those being signal infrastructure problems which have become very simple to solve.

pre-requisite to green or socially just e-government

The theory of e-government is based wholly on the assumption of a reliable signal infrastructure in which problems are detected and signalled to the appopriate agencies and officials instantly.

can't "green" without measurements

Many advocates of the greening of government operations believe that such efforts begin at thke governance and management levels with ecological indicators such as overall energy use, and statistics-based methods such as Baltimore CitiStat. Any quality management in government relies on these methods primarily.

can't assess "well-being" without statistics

Likewise, advocates of measuring well-being including those of Canadian Index of Well-Being, Canada Well-Being Measurement Act, and a Genuine Progress Index and social capital measures (e.g. the World Bank, London Health Observatory) require substantial amounts of very reliable and consistently collected data on which to operate. The EU Metropole program is one example of an attempt to measure social indicators for urban areas.

required to support indicators

However, in order to function at all, the data on which such methods rely must be accurate, timely, and verifiable. This is impossible without very integrated signal infrastructure and reliable means of describing phenomena being measured by the ecological and social indicators.

The resilient networks and overall resilient infrastructure that e-government requires simply cannot even begin to come together without direct and specific attention to the industry standards and civic best practices plus a wide range of technology best practices that can then be surveyed using governance best practices. The creation of reliable indicators that are useful for a very long period of time so as to enable longitudinal comparisons is the major challenge in justifying signal infrastructure improvements.

political relevance

energy and waste

Because the credibility of government in efforts to "green procurement" and other efforts at greening of government operations, including the Service Canada plan of former Treasury Board Secretariat head Reg Alcock, is always at issue and subject to political attack based on the degree to which the government will eat its own dog food, the e-waste and electricity profile and the equipment lifecycle are all major areas of concern to those who seek to advance signal infrastructure for the purposes above. Any effort to use computers and telecom to monitor and enforce efforts to save energy, reduce waste, and avoid damage to natural capital, persons, or social capital, will be credible more or less to the exact degree that it acts as a good example of maximum efficiency of design and deployment.

Service Canada

In addition to Service Canada, an effort that stalled with the Canadian federal election, 2006 and the election of Stephen Harper, an effort continued with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to improve urban signal systems:

CEG program

An example of a political program in Canada which addresses the above was outlined by Civic Efficiency Group in a letter to former Canadian Minister of Finance Ralph Goodale just prior to the Canadian federal budget, 2005. The strategy outlined draws on a number of principles outlined in the following:

A complementary means of funding the above was presented by CEG to former Canadian Minister of State for Communities and Infrastructure John Godfrey, focusing on a forgiveable loans program: City Signal Infrastructure Loans.

federal and provincial government paying for mandates

Both the Godfrey and Goodale proposals emphasized loan forgiveness based on measurable results, such as:
  • carbon credits auditable to UK standards
  • smog morbidity reductions
  • emergency response timing improvements with associated reductions in morbidity in general
  • averting service interruptions with resilient infrastructure immune to ordinary and also to many extraordinary challenges

Any federal mandate or provincial mandate that was substantially met by the programs, under municipal control, would be paid for directly by those other levels of government, as part of the capital funding of the project, and degrees of loan forgiveness would depend on known performance measures.

Canadian urban indicators

The actual influence of these proposals is hard to assess, but the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was in 2005, under the "New Deal for Cities", put in charge of a mixed loans and grants program that resembled the forgiveable loans program proposed by CEG except for there being no firm single set of indicators of performance. Such indicators, however, were the main focus of the Government of Canada and the main interest of the InfraGuide.CA effort.