Connected Nation

On the road: 2024 Govtech Digital Government Summit (Part 3)

June 12, 2024 Jessica Denson Season 5 Episode 21
On the road: 2024 Govtech Digital Government Summit (Part 3)
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
On the road: 2024 Govtech Digital Government Summit (Part 3)
Jun 12, 2024 Season 5 Episode 21
Jessica Denson

The Connected Nation Podcast wrapping up from Lexington, Kentucky at the 2024 Govtech Digital Government Summit. In the final installment of our coverage, Jessica Denson speaks with the SLED East Director from Socure, a Kentucky State Senator, and the CIO of the Kentucky Department of Education.

Visit the links below to listen to parts 1 and 2 of the Digital Government Summit podcast coverage!

Part 1 - click here
Part 2 - click here

Recommended Links:
Frank Snyder's LinkedIn

Sen. Gex Williams III Profile

David Couch's LinkedIn

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The Connected Nation Podcast wrapping up from Lexington, Kentucky at the 2024 Govtech Digital Government Summit. In the final installment of our coverage, Jessica Denson speaks with the SLED East Director from Socure, a Kentucky State Senator, and the CIO of the Kentucky Department of Education.

Visit the links below to listen to parts 1 and 2 of the Digital Government Summit podcast coverage!

Part 1 - click here
Part 2 - click here

Recommended Links:
Frank Snyder's LinkedIn

Sen. Gex Williams III Profile

David Couch's LinkedIn

Jessica Denson (00:08):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds with talk technology topics, and impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods. On this episode of Connect to Nation, we wrap up our coverage from the Kentucky Digital Government Summit hosted by govtech. In this episode, I talk with Frank Snyder, who is with So Cure about the one thing you should be doing to protect yourself from fraud. Kentucky State Senator Jay Williams iii, who shares what's being done to modernize and invest in IT projects across Kentucky. And I talk with David Couch, who is the Kentucky Department of Education's chief Information Officer about his cutting edge work at the State's K through 12 school districts. I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation. I am at the Digital Government Summit taking place in Lexington, Kentucky, and I have run into Frank Snyder, who is one of the vendors here. He is the Director. Director, executive director.

Frank Synder (01:11):

I'm the East director.

Jessica Denson (01:12):

Oh, I'm sorry, east Director of Public Sector for Socure. That's right. Tell us a little bit about what So Cure is and what you do in your role.

Frank Synder (01:22):

Alright, thanks Jessica for having me. For sure. Yeah. So I manage the east of the United States for Socure, and what we do is identity verification and fraud prevention. And we're doing it a lot at the state portal level. Many of the governors are trying to create constituent or resident or citizen identities so that when they come in, it's like an Amazon experience. You come into the state at the state level, and then you go anywhere in the state with a single identity and you're not put through a lot of identity rigor and they can recognize you at each one of the agencies and then provide the benefit services.

Jessica Denson (01:56):

So when you say, when you come into the state as you move into the state kind of thing? No,

Frank Synder (02:00):

No. As you enter the state's ecosystem for benefits, so you come in and you go to, for example, in Ohio, you go to the Ohio id, you get your Ohio id, and then you are able to go get your unemployment benefits. You're able to go over to MVA, you're able to get your whatever benefit services you need.

Jessica Denson (02:24):

So you help streamline that and prevent identity theft. That's

Frank Synder (02:27):

Correct, yeah. And when that identity is created, we check it to make sure it's not a fraudster, creating that account, and then as it perva through the rest of the state and goes to the agency, then we put the appropriate rigor for that agency on that identity. And we do it in a very seamless way. And we've been doing it for the banks for the last 12 years. We came out of doing it for all the banks. We have five of the five top banks, 13 of the top 15 credit card issuers, top payroll service, DraftKings, FanDuel, all those things. We're doing it for where identities, access finances, where fraudsters want to steal identities.

Jessica Denson (03:08):

What are some of the things that the average person can do to protect themselves from that kind of thing?

Frank Synder (03:13):


Jessica Denson (03:15):


Frank Synder (03:17):

Well, definitely from an identity perspective, it's not what we do at Socure. We kind of put the trust in the identity, but partners like Okta or Microsoft, they will do single sign-on where they'll do a multi-factor authentication, provide some MFA. So every time that you're asked to add multifactor authentication to your identity, do it. Definitely do it. And that helps keeps the fraudsters from identities that already created and that's in the single sign-on experience. That's part of identity lifecycle management, which we just put the trust in the identity and then give it to those partners like Okta to manage

Jessica Denson (03:58):

The identity to make it. So you're really on the back end of things working with the larger group. You don't work with individuals.

Frank Synder (04:04):

Yeah, all those individual identities will come in and we'll passively check them. They don't even know we're there. It's amazing, Jessica, a snap of a finger. You never know when you hit the next button to sign up for your Bank of America account and you put all your PI and you hit next, you have no idea what happens to check and make sure you're not a fraudster. And that's what we do. It's all silent, very passive and really helps.

Jessica Denson (04:29):

It's just another level. So when you see that trust in encrypt, that's what that is.

Frank Synder (04:32):

Sure. I mean it's similar to that exactly that, but it's,

Jessica Denson (04:37):

I'm always trying to boil it down because I'm not a techie. Yeah,

Frank Synder (04:40):

Yeah. So one of the things that I like to say is, say a hundred people are trying to get into a bar, and I'm the bouncer of the bar. 80 of those people are good identities and 20 of them not so good are fraudsters. Not when you walk through that line and hit that bouncer, you want to be able to just check, ask 'em their name, their PII, and instantly know whether they're good or bad. That's the experience we're trying to do. And that's kind of, so we want to get a hundred percent of those good identities through and stop a hundred percent of those 20 fraudsters and let them not get through. And that's our job. And then they go into the bar where the identity management system takes care of 'em and says, oh, you can sit at this bar a nice, yeah, go have a nice drink. Is that simple enough?

Jessica Denson (05:23):

Yeah, I love it. Thank you. I like analogies. I'm a big fan. So are you national or is it global?

Frank Synder (05:29):

We are national. We are expanding internationally, but our roots were right out of New York City by a millennial and a new to country person, and they just couldn't get verified online. And so we brought the modern ability to do identity verification passively with low friction, but be highly accurate and keep fraud to a minimum.

Jessica Denson (05:51):

So AI is a big topic obviously in any technology circle, especially today, there's five panels that are about ai. Are there any concerns when it comes to identity and fraud when

Frank Synder (06:03):

It comes to ai? We put a lot of time and energy into that. We're a very highly machine learning company with a lot of ai. And I think what's really important is that we stay ahead of the power curve, that we get a lot of feedback. We do a lot of model governance. We're constantly testing our ml. We have very good control of our AI and ml, but we have to work really hard of it. The bad guys are working hard too. Yeah. You know what I

Jessica Denson (06:31):

Mean? I do. So why was it important for you to be at the summit today?

Frank Synder (06:35):

Well, I think it's really important. The states really experienced a lot of, they have experienced a lot of fraud with a lot of benefit services over the last five years, especially with the pandemic. It was just unbelievable. And so they're putting a lot of time and energy into identity proof and identity verification. So being here, a summit like this, it's a great opportunity to meet and hear the government stories about what they're struggling with and the pain they're struggling with. So then when you do meet them outside of the summit, you understand you've heard their pains, you able to hear and repeat the pain that you experienced from them

Jessica Denson (07:14):

And really identify those pain points is important, I imagine.

Frank Synder (07:17):

Absolutely, yes.

Jessica Denson (07:19):

So what do you hope for the future? What's ahead for Socure?

Frank Synder (07:22):

Oh, well, we want to be the trust component for identity in every state, for every major benefit agency. That's our goal. We want a mass domination. We want to modernize that proofing service across the country. We want it to be frictionless for the citizen. We don't want them to go through a lot of rigor, but we want to be able to catch all the fraud. And so that's our mission. A hundred percent verification of good identities and eliminate all fraud on the internet. That's our mission.

Jessica Denson (07:52):

Okay. Well, I'm going to put your company's website in the description of this podcast for our audience, but is there something else they should do to get ahold of Socure? If it's a

Frank Synder (08:01):

Yeah, just go right. If you're a public sector client, just or, you can definitely just reach out and it'll come directly to us.

Jessica Denson (08:14):

Alright, well thank you Frank so much. I really appreciate

Frank Synder (08:16):

Your time. Thank you so much for having us. Thank you.

Jessica Denson (08:20):

I am at the digital government summit taking place in Lexington, and I have run into a Kentucky State Senator Jay Williams ii. He represents District 20, which I'll let you list off what that is. What district? Germany,

Sen. Gex Williams III (08:34):

Franklin, Owen, Carol Galton, Southern Boone in Southwest kitten. Did you

Jessica Denson (08:38):

Get 'em all? We don't want to leave.

Sen. Gex Williams III (08:39):

I got 'em all six of 'em there. Okay.

Jessica Denson (08:42):

I think it's interesting. Jay asked me, do you have any idea how to say my first name? And it's spelled GEX. I was like maybe Jax or Gex, but it's J, it's definitely

Sen. Gex Williams III (08:51):

J in Kentucky. We know how to pronounce the French language and we got J in Versailles. Okay.

Jessica Denson (08:59):

So tell me why you're here today.

Sen. Gex Williams III (09:02):

I'm here because I am co-chair of the Information Technology Oversight Committee, which is a new statutory committee that is looking at innovations and re-imagining technology for government in Kentucky. We've got a couple different charges on that. So technology can have a major impact and should have a major impact in how we do business as a state.

Jessica Denson (09:25):

And that's all different areas, right? Broadband, ai, other types of technology. What really is the main focus you feel right now for your board?

Sen. Gex Williams III (09:36):

So we're really charged right now. We have a capital projects committee and they set the budget for our capital projects. But so many at projects are moving from a capital budget to an operating budget. So we're in charge of getting all of the technology products in the state, the projects that are going on there and prioritizing them for the budget. Wow. And this is aimed at two years from now, not the current. We're a fairly new committee, so really we're in an information gathering phase at this point.

Jessica Denson (10:12):

How many are on your committee right now?

Sen. Gex Williams III (10:14):

We have three from the Senate and three from the house.

Jessica Denson (10:17):

That's a big task for the next couple of years.

Sen. Gex Williams III (10:21):

Well, we are working in conjunction with COT is working with us, but it is a big task, but the budget's a big task in all these years. And so we're just there for technology, a small piece of a huge budget. To put a little focus on that, we're supposed to also look at legacy systems, which are costing us a lot of money and try to make sure that we're getting off these legacy systems. We have some very expensive legacy service that is happening out in Arizona. It's not the cloud, it's old COBAL programs. And I feel somewhat responsible for those legacy systems. I was a member of the Ansy COBAL committee from 77 to 82, we developed COBOL 80. Oh, wow. And now these COBOL programs won't die. They won't even fade away. So you made

Jessica Denson (11:12):

'em last.

Sen. Gex Williams III (11:14):


Jessica Denson (11:14):

Made 'em to

Sen. Gex Williams III (11:15):

Last. Yes.

Jessica Denson (11:16):

So technology, is that an area of interest for you as a human being, not just as a senator?

Sen. Gex Williams III (11:22):

Well, I have a master's in science in electrical engineering. I have come a long way from when I first started, everybody asked me, did you start with punch cars? I said, no. I started with paper tape. Wow. And then I went to college and got high speed paper tape readers, and then I evolved to punch cards.

Jessica Denson (11:45):

I come from a journalism background, so I talk beta tapes and stuff like that. And now we're all digital. There's no film. There's none of that. Yeah, it's wild. Yeah. So what do you really hope to see for the state of Kentucky in this area of technology and that you're working? Or what can you tell us?

Sen. Gex Williams III (12:01):

Well, what we really want to do is empower citizens. We want to have a better citizen contact. We want our constituents, our citizens, to be able to access the services that are available to 'em and to be able to, when there's problems, when there's issues, to be able to get the help they need or just their day-to-day activities without a lot of paperwork, without a lot of redundancy, without a lot of time lags that we see in the frustrations you get with many government services.

Jessica Denson (12:35):

So just making it easier for constituents to interact with government even. Right.

Sen. Gex Williams III (12:39):

Yes. And quite frankly, upfront, they talk about ai, but to get answers that are correct, I'm not sure AI has all the correct answers yet either, but we're starting that path.

Jessica Denson (12:54):

So what are some things that, have you been here all day or just for part of the day or what are some things that have been interesting to you?

Sen. Gex Williams III (13:02):

So when I got my master's,

Jessica Denson (13:05):

People can't see you, but I could see you and you've got this

Sen. Gex Williams III (13:07):

Smart Yeah. The interesting thing is the AI talk, it was a great talk and he talked about technology and moving the spectrum and how if you ask the guys, he used an example of changing race cars. I have the Kentucky Speedway in my district, so that was an appropriate example back in 72. It took 28 seconds and they would never have believed that in increments. Today it takes under two seconds to do a pit stop. They just wouldn't have believed it and wouldn't have believed it was possible and thought you would. Absolutely crazy. So I think when people look at technology today, they see it as a barrier. They see it as a high wall, and I don't think they can even envision the possibilities that you can create with that. And then the other thing you mentioned with artificial intelligence, which when I was getting my master's, he said it started back in 57 is a term I was born then, but I wasn't conversing in that.


But when I went to college, we said, yeah, there's artificial intelligence. It's more artificial than intelligence. And back then it was, he wants to call it something other than artificial intelligence now, but it's probably still artificial intelligence. And it's still, we had a term called garbage in, garbage out. Okay, we got the technology, maybe it's not being programmed, but I was a data guy database guys. So it didn't matter how good your program is, it doesn't matter how good your AI program is or learning, if you put garbage in, you're going to get garbage out. And so I think one of the things we have to do is really look at how we're training our ai. The recent Google failure shows it that just because we got an algorithm that can learn on its own, if we're not feeding it the right stuff, just like we don't feed kids the right stuff, it doesn't work out well in the end.

Jessica Denson (15:10):

So another big issue would be cybersecurity or internet safety. Is that something that you guys work with too?

Sen. Gex Williams III (15:17):

Yeah. So we have two main call offs. One is for legacy systems, the COBOL I talked about. The other one is for cybersecurity. Look at cybersecurity. One of the things we're trying to do with cybersecurity is really, it's very difficult to quantify how much that's costing it. So a lot of this other technology, we can see cost benefit. We can see this is going to help us here. This is going to save costs, or we can quantify the cost justification. With cyber, it's very tough with cybersecurity because people don't like to tell you they just paid a ransom or people don't like to tell you they hired a contractor for a week at exorbitant rates to get us back up on that. But we're trying to do that with cybersecurity is to determine the real cost of cybersecurity and provide some real funding that might otherwise be considered over the top or frivolous or more than what we need so that we can protect ourselves.

Jessica Denson (16:15):

So does the state of Kentucky do officials with the state of Kentucky? Is there some cross-pollination with other states where you see and look at what other states are doing well or are not so well?

Sen. Gex Williams III (16:28):

Yes, there's at several different levels. There are Commonwealth Office of Technology, they have where the CIOs from all the states get together and talk about things. I think there's actually, that's where some of the COT people are this week. They're out at that conference from a staff level. We have national conference of state legislators where their staff, they have something called nail it. I think it nail it. Okay. And the staff go and talk about what the staffs, what's happening from a legislative standpoint on that. And so there's these various venues where we see that, and there's state governments, there's local governments. So there's a lot of interplay. I would like to be more like from a purchasing standpoint. We have the National Association of State Procurement Officers and they do a lot of IT procurement that's in common. I think all of our wireless contracts for the state. A lot of the telecom come after a shared contract that is a nationwide, but it's not a federal contract. It's the 50 states that are cooperating and produce to not reinvent the wheel in every state.

Jessica Denson (17:46):

So what is something this, it might be off topic a little bit, but what is something that would surprise people about being a Kentucky State senator? What do you think people get right and what do they get wrong? I can't let you go without asking that I stumped

Sen. Gex Williams III (18:05):

You. Yeah. Surprising about being a Kentucky, well, most people would be surprised that I am a Kentucky State senator. I was a state senator in the eighties. I've been out for 24 years. Oh wow. Did it in the Senate. I've been retired and nobody is more surprised than me that I came back to the Senate. And the other surprising thing is back in the nineties, I was really probably the only senator that had an IT degree. Now I think we got a hundred hundred percent improvement. And now after really 30 years since I first went in, we now have two of us. So that's a 200% better it. And we got a couple others that know a little more about it, but we have six members of this committee and it was probably the only six that know the most about that. So technology is still for a senator, not something that you see is coming.

Jessica Denson (19:09):

Yeah, that's one of the things I am fascinated by when it comes to politicians. You have to be kind of an expert in all these things that not everybody is.

Sen. Gex Williams III (19:20):

Well, here's the thing about not just Senate, just the legislature. Everybody thinks that politicians are one kind of person, but the most amazing thing is we have 138 people in the Kentucky State General Assembly. They're the full gamut. I mean, there's butchers and bakers. I don't think we have any candlestick makers though, but there are people that are from all, yeah, there's lawyers, but that's not predominantly lawyers. And I'm not going to identify anybody, but there are some people that are absolute geniuses here and there are some people that are certifiably insane. And so you get the whole gamut of American society. I think that's the strength of our legislature is it's not one kind. We don't have a professional political class like they have in Europe. And that's I think a very good thing for us. Yeah, I think

Jessica Denson (20:16):

It is too. I think we can leave it there. Thank you so much, Senator j Williams. I really appreciate it.

Sen. Gex Williams III (20:21):

Very good. Enjoyed talking to you, Jessica.

Jessica Denson (20:26):

I'm continuing my coverage from the Digital Government Summit here in Lexington, Kentucky, and I'm now with David Couch, who is the CIO of, I want to try to get it right. You wanted to explain it. Kentucky Department of Education, but it's really K 12 Tech.

David Couch (20:42):

So I'm responsible for the education technology and the Department of Education, the Kentucky School of Deaf and Blind, the area Technology centers, but also education technology, 171 school districts.

Jessica Denson (20:52):

That's 171 school districts. That's a lot. It's all public school districts or is it? Yeah, these are

David Couch (20:57):


Jessica Denson (20:58):

School districts. So just so you know, and I think I mentioned this when I grabbed you in the hallway that I just talked to Senator Williams and he said you were his favorite at the department. So you're a bright spot is what he said specifically. He loves technology. He has a background in technology.

David Couch (21:14):

He does. Yeah. He's probably the most knowledgeable in our legislature about technology, just given his background.

Jessica Denson (21:20):

So tell me a little bit about your background before we get into what you do now.

David Couch (21:24):

Well, I grew up in Eastern Kentucky. I'm mainly known as Mrs. Couch's son because my mom is a love teacher that gave a lot of kids a good run and go at life. I went to the United States Military Academy. I actually played college basketball for Coach K, who's now really known as Coach one K because he's the winning us all time leader in basketball.

Jessica Denson (21:43):

That's amazing.

David Couch (21:45):

And then the Army paid for me to go to computer science, a master's in computer science and then led the Army's first and most advanced technology facility. They had that. We used a lot of things successfully in Operation Desert Storm. My mom wanted me to get involved with something safer

Jessica Denson (22:02):


David Couch (22:02):

The Desert Storm, and so I joined the Kentucky Department of Education and the birth of the Kentucky Education Technology System. And so been doing that since 1992, the longest acting CIOK 12 in the United States by far. Oh wow. Typically it's five, seven years being 32 years. So I've got to really see C from his birth all the way through there and us remain relevant. The really cool thing I think that we've done, we became the first state in the nation to connect all the school districts, and we did that in 1995 and then all the classrooms soon after that. And we have a long list of historic first, and I always tell folks, we're the pioneer national leader or most aspects of education technology, but we're always looking to get better, remain relevant and change. And that's including all the way up to where the national leader in cloud-based computing, we did the first email system cloud-based for all K 12 largest financial management system transition for all of K 12. So, but I would say I've been part of a great band. I did none of it alone and the teammates I had, it's just not those with me in the Office of Education Technology, but Commonwealth Office Technology, our vendor partners, and obviously our school districts.

Jessica Denson (23:12):

Being in that role for so long, the change that you've seen, what is something that really sticks out to you as something as a moment that, oh wow, this is really going to make a difference for our schools?

David Couch (23:24):

Well, I would say that moment when we connected all the school districts, I'll be honest with you, I didn't realize and around Kentucky that in 1973 when Secretariat won the last leg of the Triple Crown by 34 links and you see the jockey turn around and look and didn't realize they were ahead by 32 links for a real long time, I didn't realize how far out Kentucky was. And Connected Nation used to be, its roots are connected Kentucky and the leader at the time was Brian Mefford. I remember Brian well after this. This is amazing. And I never really realized that no other state had done it, I didn't realize for a couple years. But the reason I mentioned that in this context has been a great building block for us to do things. And I can remember simple things as when growing up, if you went to the library in the school and someone had checked out a book or they put it and misplaced it or even trot a page, you couldn't get access to it.


Well, really, I can remember that time to where everything this information's on the internet and everybody can get at the same time and the equity of access and opportunity for, and I grew up in a very poor part of the state. And the cool part for me was the eastern part of our state was the very first one connected because they saw the difference it could make in their lives, their educational lives and the information they would have access to. And so that's allowed us to do the building blocks of the first that cloud based and the largest scale all the way up to the kind of things that we're doing today.

Jessica Denson (24:54):

So what do you see when the things we're doing today, what are some things that are happening now and that you're looking forward towards?

David Couch (25:02):

Well, I can remember the transitions of calculators. I can remember the transition of the internet, and it took a while for folks to embrace that and say, this is not just a fad, it's going to be here for a while. And embracing that the pandemic as bad as it was, helped accelerate a lot of our educational goals. We always wanted one computer per student and the pandemic accelerated that down to all grade levels. We always wanted digital learning coaches, working with teachers on how to maximize technology instruction. But we had more than that, more than ever that we've ever had of that. The other cool thing that's happened is the virtual learning part of it. We found out during the pandemic there's a percentage of students that thrived in a virtual environment and a good number of students they need in person, but there's a certain percentage they thrive in it, or at least they could take a class that normally is not available in their district. And that really saw a massive change. It's not going to go back right now. It's a transition of artificial intelligence.

Jessica Denson (26:02):

I course was going to ask you about that.

David Couch (26:03):

Going back to my time in the military being part of the birth of artificial intelligence in the US Army, I was always kind of wondering when it would show back up in education. And as we're working through that now is probably in the past year. The biggest difference is we've given out guidance to school districts before. They weren't really asking about it this time, probably last year. Now they're asking about it and that guidance gives out. It doesn't say thou shouts, but it says, here's the plus sides, here's some risks, here's how you mitigate those risks. But probably it's a big thing, try these tools out because I really think artificial intelligence will have as biggest benefits in education in the medical field. Obviously being a former military, I get concerned about bad actors misusing it obviously. But right now it's just the area that we're at now is probably the biggest area is artificial intelligence and how to appropriately use that in the K 12 setting where the guidelines, where the words of wisdom that we have around that new tool that by the way, our students want to be skilled in because that's going to be part of their future

Jessica Denson (27:05):

Workforce. So you said you were there at the birth of ai, so what's different now? Did you expect it to be what it is now or was there the conversation completely different and that's kind of how technology goes. You start at one place and you end up somewhere else.

David Couch (27:22):

Going back where chat GPTs at now reminds me of the early days. The part that probably creeps me out a little bit is when I see AI in robots, and I know Amica was displayed in Las Vegas not that long ago, and they programmed and had some sassiness and you're going, whoa. And some of the audience was asking her questions that were a little bit unnerving and then they're thinking about putting legs on it. I said, why are we putting legs on that thing? Now? Keep in mind, I'm in my early sixties, so I can remember as a 13-year-old seeing this movie called Westworld,

Jessica Denson (27:59):


David Couch (28:00):

Which HBO made into a miniseries a couple of years ago. And then you had iRobot that came out, then you had the Terminator with all that. So the part is trying to make sure folks don't spend too much time on that because AI has a lot of plus size. But I would say the part I see that's different from 30 years ago is only a few people had access to interact with it. Now ai, everybody can interact with it, which is great for folks wanting to use it appropriately. It's concerning about bad actors misusing it. What steps do you do to protect yourself with bad actors? As I said, in the education field, it'll be a wonderful teacher assistant things, the teacher, what's great things I include in my lesson plan, for example, is a big one. How can I grade this very quickly and give students feedback? And definitely it's going to be part of the student's future of probably the biggest pushback we get now is education focus is well writing. It's writing papers, it's going to write papers. You'll probably have to embrace that. My mom's a former English teacher. I'll keep in mind what her sons does, but it will write a first draft. It'll still require you to understand it's sentence structure, for example, to make modifications. Well, I've asked it to write something is I edit a lot of it, but it helps me get a start. I can see

Jessica Denson (29:12):

That some

David Couch (29:12):

Ideas and use it. So it's a good way to phrase it. Ideas. Even when I'm presenting a session today, I'm going, what has changed over the past 12 months in AI that affects education? I saw its listing. I said, that's a good one. I incorporated maybe a quarter of it. Probably the biggest added value I've ever got when I've asked chat GBT about it says, whenever you're deploying in the organization, take a look at your goals and values, and that's important to see what you're trying to do and what are your values, but also understand this going to be part of the environment. It's going to be very difficult to block. Initially when it came out, we're going to block everything. And with students carrying around, we have such a high percentage of students carrying around a smartphone with internet access beyond the school building that they're going to get to this.


So teach 'em how to embrace the plus and minuses of it. And our big teaching point with everyone is try these tools out. Just don't see the Amica and get, because that'll warrior, you see Amica, see these other tools and try them out that folks interact with. But the other part that we have to educate folks on is AI is being built into so many products already for efficiencies. And so make them aware of that, but also try to deal with the people side of it is what tasks do you do? Can AI help you out with, for example, grant writing is smaller school districts, which are most of them midsize, don't have a dedicated grant writer. And this is important. They're going after grants, right? Typically your very largest are the ones that have a dedicated grant writer. So this really equals the playing field because you can have someone help you do a grant and be competitive and obviously the grant writer has to go, even the one that's doing it, we'll have to edit it a bit, but definitely can help out. And you want to spend some time on the plus size but also not ignore the ones that you have risk

Jessica Denson (31:04):

About. So really you just can't ignore ai. You have to figure out how to really use it in a good way.

David Couch (31:10):

And the thing that's probably different, other technologies that I've got to be around just at my age is how fast the adoption rate is. And the good part about it, people are asking questions of concerns faster than they've ever done it in higher percentages. That's a good thing. But I do think the important part is to get people exposed to it and let 'em see it and continuously educate 'em on it. And that's why we became one of the first states to give out guidance to our school districts. We regularly talk about it, get their input on it, because I think there needs to be a transparency with this, but also some words of warning, for example, AI could be really great in help you do summary in minutes, but if you do it in an open AI product, it sends those everywhere. So you got to be familiar with that when it's doing analysis of data for you, you got to make sure you're not using an open product because all that data goes out to world secret data. If it's fairly protected privacy data, it goes out to an open audience. It's educating folks that are trying to do the right things with this, the proper time and method to use these tools.

Jessica Denson (32:07):

Do you find because you have been in this space for so long that others and other states that reach out to you for some guidance or help? Or is that just a natural thing that happens across state lines or not at all?

David Couch (32:18):

Well, once again, I think because Kentucky is viewed by our peers as a, and I don't want to say we're the good number of these, we are the national leader, not one of them. The and pioneer in most of them. So the other states do look at what we're doing and some of 'em said, you guys go first. Let's see how it works out with

Jessica Denson (32:35):

You. Yeah, I heard somebody say earlier that we don't want to go first, we want to go fourth. So it's been tested,

David Couch (32:40):

Right? So a good number of that we have, and it wasn't just a total risk for us to go forth the cloud-based computing is an example. Right now everybody says cloud, but in 2010, no one had done it. And no one had done it to the scale of an entire K 12 organization of 700,000 people at the same time on the same day. Now, once we did it successfully, New York City said, well, that worked. We're going to go do it. And you saw other states follow that. Then to be honest with you, there are very few other states in the United States that take a whole statewide approach where their department of education is actually helping provide services. The exception to that is probably North Carolina. Delaware has been doing it for a while, Wisconsin to a bit now, Nevada a little bit. But for the most part, and I always say folks don't realize how far Kentucky is.


It's like the secretariat. We are looking back and we do want to help others when we come together. It's not like, I don't want to share the secret with you, but it takes a lot of work to do these and it takes some risk of innovation. And I would tell folks this, everybody wants to be innovative, but over my 32 years, there's times I've had to say, you know what? This may get me fired, right? If this doesn't go right, it'll be the top half of a newspaper. But I felt it was such the right thing to do for the state. I had to go beyond myself. And I had people willing to do that to make it the right answer. And that's how we've been a national leader in this, just like the email system. That was a big risk, but it was a right thing to do. We saw that was the future, and because that went well, it gave our customers confidence of us going to our cloud-based system for our finances. And the finance officers, this server, they used to have right beside their feet going, this is in the cloud. But we were able to do that and then we did our next steps and next steps. So that momentum, and it goes back to that 1995 and getting all the schools connected. We did it in 10

Jessica Denson (34:29):

Months. That's amazing. 10 months.

David Couch (34:32):

And they gave us the confidence that these folks know what they're doing and we have good teammates with our school districts and our vendor partners.

Jessica Denson (34:38):

So since that time, you've really taken it as a statewide approach when you do these types of things with technology?

David Couch (34:43):

Yes, it is. And that's a really difference in the other parts of the United States. We leverage the buying power of the state. And also when you do things, you have consistency. So when a teacher goes from Johnson County where I grew up to Platy County, they don't have to learn a new school information system. We use the same one across the state called Infinite Campus. When a finance officer goes from Floyd County to Paducah Independent, they don't have to learn a new finance management system. It's the same one. So the training aspect, but also the data going back and forth, because it's consistent. We can have student records go between districts almost instantly when that student goes from one district to another one.

Jessica Denson (35:19):

So what do you hope, what is the future for the system in your mind?

David Couch (35:25):

Well, part as I take a look at it is the acceleration that we got during covid of the implementation of technology, can we keep that momentum going forward? And really it's just not technology for technology's sake. Is it adding value? So I think always part of the process as we take a look at it, our opening speaker for this conference today talked about having this gap of stuff you've already bought and you're not maximizing it. And AI is moving so fast. There's a good part of it, you're not maximizing. So I always tell folks, take an inventory every year, at least once a year, the stuff you're paying for and using, how much are you using it? And is it making a difference in education? And then sometimes you'll have very heartbreaking discussions with folks. There may be one out of a thousand in your district that's using it.


It say it's one out a thousand. We got to put our money in another place. So I think part of it is taking a look at these investments and see what's really making an educational difference. So that's an ongoing type of thing, but also this constant change of what AI brings to the educational experience. That's going to be a big part of what's going forward because it's moving so fast and it's not like even in the internet side, it took a while to say, this is really happening. This is happening at such a fast rate and changing it at such a fast rate of trying to stay on top of it.

Jessica Denson (36:43):

So I would be remiss if I didn't ask you what a parent, I'm not a parent myself, but what would you tell parents with this knowledge base that you have that they really should know right now and really do for the benefit of their children?

David Couch (36:58):

Well, one of the things is a parent, they had a four. The best thing that we asked parents to be an engaged parent, and when we deployed our infinite campus system across the state, we became the first state to give a parent portal on an app, on a phone. And it was away from me. When my kids were younger, they always would say, look dad, I got this and this out of third grade. And when they get older, what happened to school today? Nothing. So the parent portal allowed me to see how they were doing in school. First of all, were they showing up?

Jessica Denson (37:30):

Right? You get immediate one. That's a

David Couch (37:32):

Big one for optional assignments or any assignments turned in, was it a zero? And I would take a picture of that on my phone and go explain that.

Jessica Denson (37:38):


David Couch (37:38):

Yeah. But also their successes. And so I think there's tools that allow parents more than ever before to stay engaged with their children, especially as they get older, which I think is the key part that we, and I'm glad you asked about the parent piece of that, because I'm very proud of keeping the parents informed, at least from the data side of what's going on in their school system. And we also have, we call it the school report card suite, which it is a parent portal, but it also allows a parent to kind see how their school and their districts doing in comparison to others. And when parents are moving maybe to another district, that becomes very valuable.

Jessica Denson (38:15):

Alright. Well David, I can't keep you all day, although I can keep asking you questions. I can see why Senator Williams sees you as a bright spot. So thank so much for

David Couch (38:23):

Your time. Time. Well, thanks for the opportunity and obviously Connected Nation being its roots in Kentucky is a cool thing.

Jessica Denson (38:29):

It is cool.

David Couch (38:30):

And so we've appreciated that partnership over the years with Connected Nation.

Jessica Denson (38:33):

Yeah. Thank you so much. Alright, thank you. Bye. I'm Jessica Sson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and want to know more about us, head to connected or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.


Frank Snyder joins
Sen. Gex Williams III joins
David Couch joins
Conclusion + Outro