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According to Nicole Raimundo, CIO for the town of Cary, N.C., a long-term partnership with a technology services provider is critical for municipalities that want to make digital initiatives happen quickly, efficiently and as stress-free as possible.
The town of Cary has had a relationship with NWN Corp., based in Waltham, Mass., for 14 years. Raimundo called NWN an extension of her staff. "When you work with a really good partner, they know everything about your organization," she said. "There are different skill sets we don't have on staff that we rely on NWN for as we look to redesign our network and do tech refreshes to become more modern."
Cary appointed Raimundo as its CIO in 2015. When she started, there wasn't Wi-Fi in any of Cary's multiple town buildings. Getting buy-in for a Wi-Fi project wasn't difficult, and it was "a huge win in the way we work," Raimundo noted. "We all have laptops, so just being able to be mobile was really important to the organization. That was the start of the transformation."
Once NWM installed the Wi-Fi network, Raimundo said town officials decided to utilize some of Cary's buildings as a tech experimentation lab where various companies could partner with the town to learn about IoT and smart cities. "We turned our campus into an experimental place where we could learn" and modernize manual processes but also alter the overall culture and attitude around technology.
"You don't know what you don't know, so it was about leveraging technology and automating and having access to great Wi-Fi and learning what is a sensor," Raimundo said. "It gave us a playground to look at what we could do and educate our staff and learn to think differently."
One of the things Cary's IT staff discovered was the benefits of deploying sensors all over town, from parking meters to controlling streetlights -- and even embedding them in pest control traps.
"The great thing about working with partners, as well as creating a space where we can learn, is we have companies coming to us and saying, 'Can we put this on your campus?'" Raimundo said. In the case of the pest control company, officials tested technology in Cary to track rodent traps. "It's really meant more for the farming industry, but they needed a place to test it. And we allowed them to do it so they could get their learning out of the way and we could learn as well," she explained.
NWN provided project management services to implement a Cisco platform that Cary's IT staff uses to monitor and manage all the information that comes in from the connected sensors, Raimundo said.
A long history with NWN
In addition to enabling a mobile workforce and Wi-Fi network, the town of Cary had other specific goals for NWN to meet over the years. Projects included implementing a reliable and resilient voice over IP (VoIP) platform; developing an automated security lockdown and notification system for staff and citizens at town facilities; and helping Cary become a regional emergency 911 provider, according to Andrew Gilman, vice president of marketing and partnerships at NWN.
Andrew GilmanVice president of marketing and partnerships, NWN
Gilman said NWN has "a deep knowledge of [Cary's] architecture, and Nicole worked closely with our team to marry her strategy of where she was taking the town. We brought to bear a bunch of new technologies and cutting-edge ways of delivering them, from devices as services to unified communications to moving from a traditional PBX [private branch exchange] system to voice over IP." Because everything is cloud-based today, Gilman said it was critical for NWN to integrate voice, data and video together "in a meaningful way to enhance the productivity of the town's workforce."
NWN's work with Cary began with the installation of a VoIP platform and three major software and hardware upgrades in 2007. The technology services provider also conducted various systems upgrades. In 2015, NWN incorporated security into the VoIP platforms. In 2016, the firm deployed enterprise Wi-Fi on the town hall campus and did a core network infrastructure refresh. NWN connected two outside agencies to the town's network for Enhanced 911 phone and dispatch services at the beginning of 2019 and installed network components for a Cary Police Department body camera project.
Raimundo and her staff also had security top of mind, as they sought to modernize all physical and digital security systems. Working in tandem with Cary's IT staff, NWN integrated IoT and traditional IT infrastructure into the security systems, "giving them a robust, predictable, highly secure, tightly integrated platform to build off of," Gilman said.
With the entire infrastructure upgraded, Cary has essentially become an infrastructure service provider for neighboring towns for a variety of services, such as public safety dispatch, water utilities and wastewater treatment. "Nicole has been the catalyst for bringing a lot of legacy systems together and driving the cloud and digital transformation strategy around the theme of a smart city, bringing public utilities online and looking at back-office capabilities," Gilman said.
As important as it was to use technology to transform the town, it was even more important to focus on the citizen experience due to a massive population increase in recent years, he said. The town's population is now 170,000, according to Raimundo.
In fall 2019, NWN rolled out a solution-as-a-service portfolio, coupled with a management platform, to provide enhanced business intelligence. Raimundo said town officials are looking at the new offerings but haven't decided whether to implement them.
Inevitably, technical issues crop up during an implementation, but Raimundo said they have been "little things," which is another benefit of having a long-term relationship with a technology services partner. That helps Cary's IT officials avoid a lot of more serious problems "because they know our networks, systems and people," she said. "If we had to go out and source for something we want to do, there's an inherent risk in that -- and you'll inherit more problems."
Digital initiatives ahead
As IoT becomes even more prevalent, every sensor Cary deploys will integrate into the town's existing enterprise-wide analytics and dashboard platforms. On the operational side, IT is working to get rid of some smaller, stand-alone apps it uses, and moving forward, Raimundo wants to work only with vendors with open APIs. This will enable IT to "push data to whatever platform we choose and not have to manage another 300 apps," she said.
For example, if there is a flood somewhere in town, right now, all the steps in the notification process are manual -- contacting the town and the police and public safety departments to block the road and redirect traffic. With all systems interconnected, the town can now send an automated communication to residents and news outlets, depending on how critical the situation is.
"Today, a lot of that is manual, and now we have technology in place to make it automated," such as flood sensors that talk to traffic and transit systems, as well as the public works and public safety departments to open work orders, Raimundo said.
The NWN-Cary partnership has helped the town make the most of its network, connect platforms and build connections to automate a process that will potentially save lives. "It's the whole aspect of how we work, live and play in Cary and automate processes through technology," Raimundo said.