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Blog Posts by Dr. David A. Bray

Modernizing the FCC’s IT

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC CIO
August 20, 2015 - 11:59 AM

Our world and the technologies we use are changing rapidly. As such, the information technology used by the Federal Communications Commission must change as well. Over the past year, we have made significant progress to upgrade and modernize our infrastructure, and we continue to work on modernizing the FCC’s legacy IT systems with the resources we have available.

Over the Labor Day Weekend, the FCC IT Team will be working to upgrade and modernize the FCC’s legacy infrastructure. Starting Wednesday, September 2nd at 6pm EDT, interactive public-facing web applications hosted at the FCC will not be available. We will work to have these web applications upgraded and available again by the morning of 8am EDT on Tuesday, September 8th.

These web applications will include our Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS), Electronic Document Management System (EDOCS), Universal Licensing System (ULS), and other public-facing applications. Static content web pages under the www.fcc.gov domain, like the FCC’s consumer guides, should remain available during this period.

Of note, our cloud-based FCC Consumer Help Desk, recently modernized to a Software as a Service (SaaS) option, will continue to operate uninterrupted. It is our goal to modernize more of the FCC’s legacy IT to SaaS and other cloud-based platform options going forward. This modernization is more flexible, secure and resilient, as well as more cost effective compared to the costs of maintaining on-premise IT solutions. 

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Modernizing the FCC.gov Website

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC CIO
April 20, 2015 - 01:14 PM

In August, the FCC team began a six-month research and design project to dramatically improve the usability and functionality of FCC.gov and its subdomains. The outcome of these collaborative efforts resulted in an interactive prototype of what the improved FCC.gov will look like, as well as an outline of how website content will be organized and structured based on our research findings.

Our Research

The focus of our research was to identify and understand what different FCC.gov visitors want from our website and how to optimize the way they search, use, and interact with the website. The first round of research began by analyzing web content and web analytics. This gave us a sense of the web pages with the most traffic and most commonly searched terms by website users.

The second round of research involved several iterations of “card-sorting” with internal and external audience groups. Card-sorting is a method used in website design to help evaluate and determine the navigation and information architecture of a site. The information architecture of a site represents the way content is structured and organized for users. Ultimately, card-sorting helped us better understand how content should be organized on the site and gave us the foundation for the information architecture.

The third round of research was done in parallel. We conducted one-on-one user experience interviews with various external stakeholders, documenting common tasks and areas of concern with the current site. The interviews were invaluable in helping us better understand current user behavior and needs.

Our Findings

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Setting the Record Straight on Open Internet Comments

December 23, 2014 - 11:22 AM

Over the past week, there have been two reports raising questions about the number of Open Internet comments that were included in a set of XML files the FCC released to the public on October 22.  We made available these XML files so members of the public could analyze the approximately 2.5 million comments filed during the reply comment period of July 19-September 15.  In light of these questions, the Commission undertook a fresh accounting of the comments, and, consistent with our commitment to transparency throughout this process, we wanted to share the results of our analysis.

Before sharing those results, we think it’s important that people understand that much of the confusion stems from the fact that the Commission has an 18-year-old Electronic Comment Filing system (ECFS), which was not built to handle this unprecedented volume of comments nor initially designed to export comments via XML. This forced the Commission’s information technology team to cobble solutions together MacGyver-style.  Thanks to these creative efforts, we have been able to accommodate the surge in comments and release the comments as XML files for the first time in the FCC’s history, but not without some glitches that we will explain in this post.

Here are some key takeaways from our inquiry:

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On Risks, Breaking Past the Status Quo, and IT Transformation

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC Chief Information Officer
December 15, 2014 - 04:01 PM

As the FCC presses forward with our plans to transform our IT systems, the question of risk is an important one. Doing anything new inherently is risky. All too often it is easier for folks to say the status quo is good enough, the challenges are too high to overcome, or there's no way to complete a project in time. Such skepticism is healthy—we should always weigh multiple perspectives when deciding the right path to take. At the same time, we must also recognize the risk of doing nothing. At a certain point, the status quo no longer will be good enough. Technology becomes obsolete, further patches on discontinued software will be unavailable, and the total cost of maintaining outdated systems will far exceed moving to something new.

As in most organizations where technology is central to their mission, it's the Chief Information Officer's job to help navigate this landscape. There are risks in embracing new IT, as there are risks in any new effort. To mitigate those risks, we have assembled a strong action plan with controls in place to monitor our progress. We will be working with the agency's stakeholders, both external and internal, to identify and meet their priority needs.

In addition, we have assembled a strong team with staff members who have strengths that complement each other. At the FCC we have a diverse team with backgrounds spanning former military veterans, former Silicon Valley startup entrepreneurs, PhD candidates at prestigious universities who opted instead to support this effort, folks who helped with early Gov 2.0 efforts, and experienced team members who have seen the FCC's IT systems evolve through the 1990s, 2000s, and the present day. This breadth of expertise helps us scan for potential blind-spots and opportunities that we might otherwise have missed as we continue our IT transformation journey.

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An Update on the Volume of Open Internet Comments Submitted to the FCC

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC Chief Information Officer
September 17, 2014 - 01:02 PM

Monday night concluded the second round of comments for the FCC's Open Internet Proceeding. During the last four months, the Commission has received a large number of comments from a wide range of constituents via three methods: (1) the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS), (2) the openinternet@fcc.gov email address, and (3) a recently launched CSV file option for large comment uploads.

In July, at the conclusion of the first round of comments, we provided a look at the daily rate of comments we received in ECFS. We are now providing an updated file to show the daily rate of comments submitted to ECFS since the start of the public comment period in this proceeding. Below is a graphical representation of this data.

As an alternative path to submitting feedback, the Commission also has been receiving comments to a dedicated email inbox at openinternet@fcc.gov. We are providing an updated CSV text file providing the weekly submission rates of those comments, and a graphical representation of the data below.

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An Additional Option for Filing Open Internet Comments

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC Chief Information Officer
September 11, 2014 - 04:15 PM

The volume of public feedback in the Open Internet proceeding has been commensurate with the importance of the effort to preserve a free and open Internet.

The Commission is working to ensure that all comments are processed and that we have a full accounting of the number received as soon as possible. Most important, all of these comments will be considered as part of the rulemaking process.  While our system is catching up with the surge of public comments, we are providing a third avenue for submitting feedback on the Open Internet proceeding.

In the Commission’s embrace of Open Data and a commitment to openness and transparency throughout the Open Internet proceedings, the FCC is making available a Comma Separated Values (CSV) file for bulk upload of comments given the exceptional public interest. All comments will be received and recorded through the same process we are applying for the openinternet@fcc.gov emails.

Attached is a link to the CSV file template along with instructions. Once completed, the CSV file can be emailed to openinternet@fcc.gov where if it matches the template the individual comments will be filed for the public record with the Electronic Comment Filing System. When you email this file, please use the subject “CSV”. We encourage CSV files of 9MB or less via email.

The Commission welcomes the record-setting level of public input in this proceeding, and we want to do everything we can to make sure all voices are heard and reflected in the public record.

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The Future of FCC.GOV

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC Chief Information Officer
September 5, 2014 - 03:47 PM

In August the FCC launched a project to improve fcc.gov and unify all of our related subdomains. The project is focused on enhancing our website to allow the FCC to more effectively meet the needs of our site’s internal and external stakeholders.

To ensure optimal usability for fcc.gov users, the FCC has partnered with industry leaders on user experience, search and analytics. Over the next four months, the project team will conduct research, prototyping, and usability-testing to complete a data and stakeholder-driven design for fcc.gov.

The first phase of the project will be completed by mid-January and will include improved search capabilities of the FCC’s current publicly available content and a working prototype of the new fcc.gov. Phase one of the project will focus on four key areas:

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Keeping Track of the Open Internet Comments Submitted to the FCC

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC Chief Information Officer
July 14, 2014 - 03:04 PM

*Update: The blog post below has been revised to reflect  the extension of the initial Net Neutrality comment period to 7/18.

This week marks the end of the first round of comments in the Commission’s Open Internet Proceeding.  During the past 60 days, the Commission has received a large number of comments from a wide range of constituents – both from the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) and from the openinternet@fcc.gov email address.  Chairman Tom Wheeler and I both enthusiastically support open government and open data, so with this post I wanted to share the hourly rate of comments submitted into the FCC’s ECFS since the start of public comments on the FCC’s Open Internet Proceeding (Proceeding 14-28). Here’s a link to a Comma Separated Values (CSV) text file providing those hourly rates for all comments submitted to ECFS and those specific to the Open Internet Proceeding; below is a graphical presentation of that same data.

As the data show, the public has been submitting a high-volume of comments into ECFS over the last two months. The FCC IT team rapidly implemented an additional caching feature on June 3 to support some of the highest concurrent commenting levels that ECFS has seen in its 17-plus year history.

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Modernizing the FCC Enterprise

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
April 28, 2014 - 02:28 PM

According to the Government Accountability Office, Federal agencies are currently spending over 70% of their Information Technology budgets on maintaining legacy systems. Government-wide, these maintenance costs amount to over $54 billion a year spent on existing legacy systems, and delays needed transitions to newer technologies. Moreover, this cost only captures those legacy processes automated by IT; several paper-based, manual processes exist and result in additional hidden, human-intensive costs that could benefit from modern IT automation.

Upon my arrival to the FCC, I began a series of collaborative discussions with our Chairman, Managing Director, the FCC Bureau and Office Chiefs, and all members of the FCC to listen, learn, and identify ways to modernize the Commission’s IT enterprise. These discussions resulted in a variety of existing, long-standing issues, historically thorny challenges, and strong perspectives about how FCC could improve its IT. After rigorous prioritization, focused foremost on the FCC’s mission, we narrowed our IT modernization focus to seven specific tracks.

In the spirit of openness, I’d like to share our seven tracks as we embark on our journey to modernize the FCC enterprise. These tracks and supporting goals represent our focused efforts to bring the FCC into the 21st century and ensure the Commission has some of best IT in government supporting its mission. Like an iceberg where a majority of the ice is hidden underwater, modernizing manual, human-intensive processes at the FCC will reduce legacy “sunk costs” at the Commission. The result will be a more agile, responsive, IT-enabled FCC enterprise able to work faster and float “above water”. Our workforce will be more effective, efficient in their time and energy, and better able to deliver the highest quality public service to the U.S. public and FCC partners.

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Envisioning the IT Future for FCC Enforcement Field Offices

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
February 4, 2014 - 12:11 PM

During my first 120 days at the FCC, I have enjoyed several opportunities to listen and learn from the different views and perspectives at the FCC. Each Bureau and Office has critical missions and IT needs, and I'd like to share some of what I've learned about the Enforcement Bureau's need for mobility.

Shortly after my arrival at the FCC, the Enforcement Bureau reached out to me with a broad vision for leveraging technology to future-proof the agency's on-scene, investigative capabilities. One of EB's key initiatives in this broad effort was a “mobility strategy” for its Field Offices. This included a discussion of what technologies could help personnel collaborate securely in any time, in any place. “Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question” is a quote attributed to e.e. cummings, and our search for what technologies could assist FCC Enforcement Field Offices similarly presented a terrific opportunity to develop a high-level storyboard of the technology solutions for which we are searching.

At the end of this blog are three pictures – each with text captions – that show a brief story of what the FCC is interested in pursuing for the IT future of FCC field office mobility. We hope to use a similar process of storyboards for other FCC endeavors in the future. Developing storyboards helps programmatic and technical teams across FCC reach common understanding. This allows us to dive deeper into additional details on workflows intended for automation as well as identify potential modular, enterprise reuse opportunities across initiatives. We also can share the storyboards with industry consortia for thoughts on what new technologies might help us address our needs.

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