Top Air Force, IT techs push for ‘smart city, smart base’

Harnessing IT and the power of cyber means a quicker movie download from Netflix, pinpointing the exact arrival time of the city bus from your smartphone or accessing a faster WiFi connection anywhere in downtown Montgomery.

Technology effects everyone and permeates all aspects of a city. Making Montgomery an easier place to live, work and play is all just a matter of time, technology and partnership with our military neighbors, said Joe Greene, the vice president at Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

It means moving toward becoming Mayor Todd Strange’s vision of the next “Gig City” through the “smart city, smart base” initiative. It means making the process to becoming a small business or getting a drivers license quicker and smoother.

The city has the infrastructure and the capacity. Now it’s just a matter of spreading the word and getting businesses on board.

“The main focus is access to data and information,” Greene said. “From transportation, to where the worst potholes are, to what’s going on in the city and an open checkbook to city spending.

“Open data allows a smarter bus system, smarter traffic signals, signs, buildings. It’s sharing information and improving processes for people and improving their quality of life.”

One piece of that puzzle is the Air Force Information Technology and Cyberpower conference that begins on Monday and will last through Wednesday in downtown’s Renaissance Hotel.

One of four Air Force IT conferences in the nation, Montgomery’s annual AFITC invites Department of Defense leaders and business IT experts from companies like Microsoft, IBM and Amazon together to create partnerships and share the cutting-edge initiatives in tech and cyber security to make Montgomery a smart city.

In 2016, the AFITC returned to Montgomery after a four-year hiatus and proved to be a huge success once more. This year, it is already on track to surpass last year’s numbers in registration and economic impact of several million dollars.

Marcie Rhodes, the chair for this year’s conference, themed “The Future is Now, A Digital-Age Air Force,” said so far there are 150 vendors and more than 2,300 people registered with more expected to register on Monday.

“Part of the focus of a conference this magnitude is on IT and where it’s going,” Rhodes said. “Last year we added the cyber component with the Cyber College at Maxwell moving forward.

“We’re also showing cutting-edge technology and where it is going and having that partnering with industry and the Air Force side is critical.”

A Hackathon is a new addition to this year’s conference as a means to scout local IT talent in area schools and bring them in front of top military leaders in cyber.

Fifteen teams made up of local students, a military member and a representative of a company serving the DOD will each be given a set of problems that may face cities looking to becoming a “smart city.”

Those with the best solutions will present in front of an elite panel of military leaders at AFITC and the winner will be announced on the final day of the conference.

“We want to get in the school and find where the talent is for the future workforce,” said Rhodes.

Through better cyber security and building up the next generation of IT specialists, on a local level, AFITC 2017 means shifting the impressions of Montgomery toward a more attractive place for millennials and businesses through cutting-edge technology.

The bottom line is getting jobs, said Meg Lewis, director of Brand Development and Special Projects for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

Montgomery already has the infrastructure to make that happen with the new Internet Exchange, a digital data hub known as MGMix.

Internet service providers, businesses, government entities and others connect to the hub, which launched last year as a central point for global data transmission. In less than a year it passed similar hubs in Miami, Florida, Nashville, Tennessee, and Jacksonville, Florida, to become the second busiest exchange in the Southeast in terms of data volume.

Its members include data giants like Hurricane Electric and Akamai Technologies alongside consumer providers like WOW! and Charter Communications.

Because of the area’s large military presence in Montgomery, the city offers unique military capabilities when it come to IT and cyber. Maxwell Air Force Base’s Gunter annex houses at least five different organizations that deal with information systems and cyber on a daily basis, said Greene.

“Our military capabilities here are really not present anywhere else with the types of capabilities that we have in a number of areas,” Greene said. “We have big data and mass data storage capabilities and gives us a broad contractor base in all those areas.”

Gunter also houses the Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate, which provides secure combat information systems and networks for the Air Force and the 26th Network Operations Squadron, which defends the Air Force network worldwide.

If the capabilities at Gunter and the innovation from the city and the state work together toward the “smart city/smart base” vision, that model can be replicated in other cities and other parts of the Air Force, Lewis said.

A larger 100GB capacity internet exchange will also help small and minority businesses compete with larger companies for military contracts. It will also help draw manufactures.

The focus now is to get businesses already here using the exchange.

Since last year, the state of Alabama and Auburn University at Montgomery have already begun taking advantage of the exchange and have seen a cost reduction by two-thirds, said Greene.

“It’s just about becoming a smart city, because we already have the infrastructure for that. It’s about now becoming a smarter city over time,” Greene said. “In one year, we’ve seen significant cost savings in internet service and that infrastructure is the backbone that will allow us to do everything else.”