Aerial view of Seguin, Texas 

Apr 25 2024

Extreme Connect 2024: Texas Officials Spotlight Cybersecurity Cooperation

The state CIO and top IT officer of Seguin, Texas, both discussed whole-of-state security efforts in separate panels.

“One of our biggest challenges is tackling the whole-of-state approach to cybersecurity,” said Texas CIO Amanda Crawford in a chat with Extreme Networks Chief Marketing Officer Monica Kumar on Wednesday.

Crawford and Seguin CIO Shane McDaniel addressed a sold-out audience on a very busy and productive day at Extreme Connect 2024, emphasizing that cybersecurity cooperation between levels of government remains top of mind for them, in Fort Worth, Texas.

Speaking in a morning general session, Crawford explained how her agency, the Texas Department of Information Resources, strives to unite the federated state government structure around an IT strategy.

“When building our technology strategy for the state, we build a forward-looking strategy based primarily on principles — security, innovation, data governance, digital government. Those are big foundational principles. And that way, you can start to plug and play new technologies as they emerge,” Crawford said. “It is a constant challenge. ... And we really leverage our private sector partners and rely heavily on the partner community to fulfill our mission.”

That approach has produced successful engagement with both citizens and local governments, Crawford said. 

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TxT Application Allows Citizens to Choose Digital Government

Crawford highlighted the success of the Texas by Texas (or TxT) mobile application deployed by the state. 

“It’s a digital assistant that allows you to interact with government services from anywhere, at any time, from any device. It’s secure, and it has multifactor authentication and push notices,” Crawford said. “You can do things like renew your vehicle registration, renew your driver’s license, get an occupational license, and you don’t have to stand in line.” 

She added, “It’s been a little over two years since launch, and more than 7 million Texans have created an account through that app. We are really proud of it and the difference that it’s making in the state.” Texas has a large state government to serve the 30 million people who call it home, she noted.

READ: Texas CIO Amanda Crawford discusses digital services with StateTech.

Texas Regional Security Operations Support Local Government

With regard to cooperation with local governments in a whole-of-state approach to cybersecurity, Crawford applauded her state’s regional security operations centers. Authorized by the Texas Legislature, Texas DIR established the first RSOC in West Texas at Angelo State University.

“This regional security operations center provides security services — secure networking, education, outreach, incident response — to local governments in Texas. We know that local governments are truly some of the most vulnerable. They can provide those services directly with state funding,” Crawford said.

The first RSOC was so successful that the Legislature funded additional centers, which Texas DIR will establish at the University of Texas at Austin and UT Rio Grande Valley

“There is not another state in the country that has really followed this model and the partnerships with the universities. There are a lot of economies of scale that you can leverage with the universities. They are partners in their communities, and they are trusted by the communities,” Crawford said. 

DISCOVER: New York's cyber chief describes how his office supports a whole-of-state approach.

Seguin Focuses on IT Workforce and Funding

Addressing an Extreme Networks panel later in the day, Seguin CIO Shane McDaniel said his growing city requires increased IT investment. 

“I am in a historically rural community that is transforming in real time,” McDaniel said in conversation with Extreme Networks’ Brian O’Connor, global director of security and compliance. “We have seen 30 percent population growth since the 2020 census; we are pushing 40,000 people now.”

When McDaniel took his job in 2018, the city had a flat network, “which I thought was crazy,” he said. Over the following year, his team built a resilient and redundant network in partnership with Extreme Networks. 

Building and maintaining a skilled IT workforce and dedicated technology funding have been two of McDaniel’s biggest challenges. 

When he worked as an IT supervisor in the Dallas area, McDaniel saw up to 125 applicants for every open position. “In Seguin, I maybe get 10 applications for every position,” he said. In response, he has increased his travel and training budgets to invest in his people. 

“When I showed up in 2018, there was one four-year degree on staff and no certifications. Right now, there are 11 degrees and 25 certifications across my staff,” McDaniel said.

Grant funding has been important to financing Seguin’s growing IT demands, he added.

“We take advantage of every single avenue that possibly exists,” McDaniel said, adding that his city submitted projects for funding to Texas DIR under the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program. “I throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.”

In fiscal year 2022, the first year of the SLCGP (a component of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law), Texas received roughly $8.5 million. In 2023, the state received another $17.5 million. It will receive a total of $40 million over the four-year period of the grant, with an obligation to pass 80 percent of the funding to local governments (25 percent of total funding must go to rural communities like Seguin). Grant recipients must pay 20 percent in matching funds.

“It pays for itself,” McDaniel said of grant funding.

Jacob Boomsma/Getty Images

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