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Tech Q&A: Harry Herington, CEO of NIC

Ever wonder what — or maybe more accurately, who — enables citizens in your community to access your police department’s website? Ever wonder how that Internet voodoo happens? Harry Herington of NIC can tell you all about it.

I first learned of Harry Herington though his effort to raise money for — and public awareness of — Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), through a program called Ride4Cops. At some point down the line, I will write in greater detail about his work in that regard. For the time being, suffice it to say that Herington has been riding his Harley to state capitols around the country, making donations to C.O.P.S. at each stop, raising more than $150,000 for the organization since Ride4Cops was created in 2009. While communicating with Herington’s team about the Ride4Cops program, I discovered that his company — NIC Inc. — is one of interest to all public safety and public service organizations. We exchanged some email, and the following is a summary of our electronic Q&A.

Founded in 1992, NIC is a provider of official government web portals, online services, and secure payment processing solutions for 25 states and two federal agencies, representing more than 3,000 federal, state, and local agencies across the United States. NIC delivers its services through a unique self-funded business model, which does not require appropriated tax funding, but rather generates fees from services that create efficiencies for citizens and businesses.

Please tell me a little bit about NIC — precisely what sort of online and web applications do you provide for local, state, and federal government agencies?
To date, NIC portals have developed a library of more than 7,000 online services. The majority of these services help make business-to-government interactions more efficient and convenient. Examples include Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filings and searches, district court record searches, professional license renewals, and more. Examples of citizen-to-government transactions developed by NIC portals include obtaining a hunting & fishing license, renewing a driver’s license, securing a copy of a birth or death certificate and vehicle registrations. NIC also has launched more than 70 mobile applications for government on all mobile platforms, and was the first to launch a government application for the iPad. Our “FBI’s Most Wanted” mobile application was recognized by Microsoft as one of the Top 10 federal government mobile apps.

When was the company founded and why? Did you go directly from police work to establishing this company? Were you answering a need you saw in your PD?
NIC was founded in 1992 — pre-Internet and back during a time when dial-up seemed revolutionary. The driving force behind starting this company was the inability to get timely information and documentation from government agencies. The original company worked to have a law passed in Kansas to allow for state agencies to provide services via dial-up technology.

I joined the company in 1995, as a founder of the national company, NIC Inc. I began as the Director of Portal Operations in mid-1998, soon advancing to Chief Operating Officer in 2002, becoming the company’s president in 2006, and finally being named CEO and Chairman of the Board in 2008. Prior to joining NIC, I was an attorney with the Kansas League of Cities and Municipalities, after serving in law enforcement in Midland (Texas), and Wichita (Kan.).

Three years ago, I founded Ride4Cops, an initiative to raise awareness about the inherent dangers of law enforcement and to support the families of fallen officers. When I was in law enforcement, I made a promise to my partner, just as hundreds of officers still do today — ‘If something happens to me, take care of my family.’ I knew that officers’ greatest fear wasn’t falling in the line of duty, but what would happen to their families if they did. It’s a promise that is hard to keep. That’s why I’m committed to riding my customized Harley-Davidson “Memorial Bike” motorcycle to each state capital to help raise awareness and funds to support the families of fallen officers. All of the money raised at each event stays in that community and goes to the city’s local chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.). It takes organizations like C.O.P.S. to truly provide the type of support that families of fallen officers need. To date, we have ridden to 20 state capitals and raised more than $150,000.

Who are some of your police agency customers, and how are they using your technology offerings? 
Some of the agencies we work most closely with are the Departments of Public Safety and the Motor Vehicle Commission, which often oversees the state patrol.

A great example of our technology at work to make citizen interaction with law enforcement more convenient is in Utah. Utah.gov recently worked with the Utah Department of Public Safety to launch a new service making accident reports available online, at http://crashreport.utah.gov. This eliminates the need for individuals to go in-person to a law enforcement office. After verifying a person’s identity, the report is available for purchase and can be printed from a home computer. The Utah Highway Patrol said its law enforcement agencies process more than 56,000 accident reports a year. So, you can see how this online service brings not only convenience to citizens, but also provides efficiencies to the state agency by relieving some of the in-person traffic to obtain accident reports.

In Montana we launched the Roadside Citation ePayment service. This service allows law enforcement to immediately accept payments for a fine by using a debit or credit card. It is convenient for both the highway patrol officer and the citizen, plus it is more secure and less risky than the past method of accepting cash or checks.

We’ve also developed mobile applications to assist law enforcement in doing their jobs. In Kentucky we worked with the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security (KOHS) to develop an iPhone application called “Eyes and Ears,” which captures real-time suspicious activity reports submitted by the general public, private sector and non-law enforcement first responders.

The free mobile application allows users to report suspicious activities and items. “Suspicious activity” is human action logically indicating the possibility of an immediate or a near-future unsafe event. A “suspicious item” is any article or “thing” that reasonably could become harmful to others, therefore meriting professional inspection and disposition. The Eyes and Ears on Kentucky mobile application captures information about the incident, subject(s), and vehicle(s), and takes advantage of built-in functionality from the iPhone such as global positioning and the camera.

One of the first mobile apps created for government — NIC’s “Most Wanted” app — was created for the FBI. This app has secured nearly a million downloads since its launch. It contains information about the FBI’s Top 10 most wanted criminals, missing children and bureau history. In January 2011 it was named among the top 10 federal government apps as part of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 Federal Apps Contest.

We also created an app for the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms & Explosives.) This app traces the history of the bureau from prohibition to the present. It also uses GPS technology to help users locate the more than 300 local field offices.

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