NASCIO 2016: Arkansas and Cisco's Broadband Romance

When Arkansas began planning its massive K–12 network, it brought in a partner with a stake in the program’s success.

During his first official day as chief technology officer for Arkansas, Mark Myers found himself in an hour-long meeting with Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The two discussed four major technology projects for the state, but one rose above the rest.

“The governor told me the one thing you must get right is the K–12 network,” Myers said Wednesday during a panel at the 2016 NASCIO Midyear Conference in Baltimore. “A little later, in a separate meeting with the governor’s chief of staff, I saw a list of the top priorities for the governor in the whole state, and that network was one of them.”

To build the network, Myers knew he needed not just a vendor, but a partner. In what has been a theme throughout this conference, Myers described finding a company that not only would collaborate with him on the best solution, but also had a stake in the project’s outcome.

Future-Proof

To find the right partner, he asked three large vendors to design their best-of-breed vision for the network. One of these, Cisco Systems, brought six engineers to construct the network’s scope in just 48 hours.

“The plan looked great, but it was not at a price I could swallow,” Myers said. “I gave them 24 more hours, so they sharpened their pencils to get us the right structure at a price that worked with our budget.”

At the core of that projection was equipment. Myers wanted to future-proof his schools against rising costs. He knew that as technology advanced, new and more expensive equipment would become standard, and what he purchased would become obsolete.

That’s when Cisco helped bring the deal together, offering to let Arkansas purchase future equipment upgrades at the cost of their original equipment.

The partnership grew from there.

Dan Kent, Cisco’s public-sector chief technology officer and senior director of systems engineering, said the two worked together on a number of aspects of the project. Arkansas operated out of an incredibly affordable data center, so could easily afford to dedicate its floor space, as long as Cisco maintained the servers.

Cisco also agreed to send equipment close to the specific install date for each school. With a project this size, the installation would be done in phases, so having equipment delivered 15 days before an installation was better than getting it all at once.

Cisco also had a stake in the project: It wanted to install Cisco Cloud Web Security to protect the information going across the network in one of its largest implementations to date.

“It would be hard to sell going forward in state government if this project didn’t work out,” Kent said. “We needed this to work as much as they did.”

Arkansas is expected to launch the network in a few months. The goal is to provide one megabit per user, a monumental task for a system with more than 660,000 expected users.

Myers expressed optimism for the project success and was glad for Cisco’s help along the way.

“The key is communication,” he said. “What we need, and what every state needs, are partners in our projects. We can find people to do the work, but can we find people who can see our challenges and work with us to fix them? That’s where there is real value.”

Andrea Carolina Sanchez Gonzalez/ThinkStockPhotos
May 04 2016