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New-era CIOs corral support for emerging technologies as IT brokers, says NASCIO 2017 survey

Business models are diverse among state IT offices, but the CIO as an IT broker role is now "dominant" amid a growing host of workforce, cybersecurity and digital government challenges.

Colin Wood
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Colin Wood Managing Editor

Colin Wood is the managing editor of StateScoop. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine. Before that, he taught Engl...

From left: NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson, Indiana CIO Dewand Neely, Utah CIO Mike Hussey, Grant Thornton Principal Graeme Finley (StateScoop)

State CIOs know their roles are evolving in tandem with technology, and on Tuesday, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) published its 2017 State CIO Survey showing precisely how that's happening.

The report provides a snapshot of the attitudes and emphases of today's state IT leaders, revealing a growing trend toward the state CIO's role as one of a "shared services broker that leverages managed services and outsourcing." And while this business model has cropped up with growing regularity the past decade, digital government initiatives and emerging technologies have created a landscape in which it is now "dominant" in state IT, the report concludes.

The 8th annual survey garnered online participation from 42 states and includes feedback taken from in-person interviews with 21 CIOs. The survey's "extraordinary response rate," said NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson, provides substantive insight into how technology leaders are adapting to their new roles and the emerging technologies that can assist them. 

A continued emphasis on cybersecurity, cloud computing and workforce challenges persisted in this year's survey, along with a few surprises not seen in NASCIO's prior research.

Emerging IT

Several in attendance at NASCIO's Annual Conference in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday expressed surprise that certain technologies — like digital assistants and the blockchain — were not forecast by survey participants to be "impactful" within the next three to five years, with just 10 percent and 9 percent of respondents, respectively, naming those technologies as being imminently influential. IoT dominated this category, with 43 percent of leaders predicting impact within the next three to five years, followed by artificial intelligence at 29 percent.

Graeme Finley, principal at Grant Thornton, an independent audit, tax and advisory firm that helped NASCIO conduct its survey along with CompTIA, said he was surprised to see blockchain so far down on the list of promising emerging technologies, because it can help government both in its missions of safeguarding data and has so many use cases for transparent recordkeeping.

Illinois and Delaware are the earliest adopters of blockchain policy, and the National Governors Association is now facilitating meetings to help other states see how the technology might fit into their portfolios. Illinois concluded its first blockchain pilot in May with mixed success — a project between the Cook County Recorder of Deeds and several private and legal partners to design "a real estate conveyance software workflow" was deemed technically successful, but a disagreement with between the office and its technical partner has delayed implementation.

Some CIOs told StateScoop that while they see the potential in blockchain, the technology is still distant.

With emerging technologies overall, most states — 69 percent — reported that their implementations were still in the discussion or ad-hoc stage. Only 21 percent said emerging technologies were included in their IT strategic plans, 14 percent reported having emerging technology roadmaps, and just 10 percent said emerging technologies were supported by an executive order or other policies.

Utah CIO Mike Hussey said he sees potential plays for his state in all of the technologies mentioned in the survey, and said that reaching out regularly to agencies to show what's available is an effective way to drive adoption.

One project underway in Utah now, Hussey said, involves the state using artificial intelligence to find ways to help its homeless populations. And while Utah has no blockchain projects engaged, it is examining use of the technology for vehicle titling at the Division of Motor Vehicles, he said.

Indiana CIO Dewand Neely said he also tries to approach his agencies from an "educational standpoint" to explain how the state's emerging technology offerings might affect agency businesses.

Neely noted particular surprise with digital assistants being ranked so lowly by CIOs, because he believes the kind of automation that technology offers could revolutionize when and how the public accesses government.

"I’m looking internally to create a more 24/7 government and digital assistants do that," Neely said. "We plan to explore more in that area."

Digital government

Among the survey's focus areas — cybersecurity, cloud services, agile development, business models, emerging technology, IT workforce, consolidation, and procurement — digital government was highlighted by the association as an area of particular importance for its broad adoption by state IT leaders.

Only 7 percent of those surveyed said the CIO had no role in the digital government space, while 78 percent said the CIO "is responsible for leading or participating in policy setting when it comes to digital services.”

"State leaders aspire to have seamless citizen transactions, increase engagements, provide mobile services, establish common online identities, and enable crowdsourcing and digital assistants to help navigate services," the report reads.

Approaches to digital government strategy are diverse, the survey shows — 40 percent of respondents reported having a digital services organization in place and another 20 percent said they plan to create one, while 17 percent leave the role undefined and 23 percent leave digital services as a responsibility of the agencies. Where there are gaps in adoption, agency readiness and budget were named as the top two challenges.

Neely admitted that Indiana is among the states with an ad-hoc approach to digital government, characterizing their efforts as "undefined" and "disjointed."

"There's no holisitic look at these efforts," Neely said, and cited the difficulty in "pulling along the agencies" as the chief barrier to progress.

There are compelling reasons, like increased efficiency and cost savings, to adopt more digital solutions, Neely said, but "antiquated" policies sometimes create additional work for agencies because they are then required to maintain two work streams — a digital one and a paper one. What's needed, he said, are new policies to change some of these requirements and education campaigns to convince agencies there's nothing to fear.

Conversely, digital government efforts in Utah are "mature," said Hussey, and that has enabled healthy competition between agencies.

“It’s been kind of fun to watch as that evolution has taken place,” Hussey said, noting that Utah today offers about 1,300 online services.

Utah is among the few state or local governments to have created skills for the Amazon Echo, which are now available for fishing and driver's license test preparation. Making new services available in this way is helping to move their strategy forward faster, he said, because when other agencies see what the DMV and Wildlife have done, they see the possibilities of "a different way to interact with citizens" for their own agencies.

To further the state's online services efforts, Hussey said they plan to conduct "man on the street" interviews at physical government offices like the DMV to find out: "Why are you in this building?"

Robinson quipped that perhaps "some people enjoy pain and suffering."

Remaining challenges

NASCIO's 28-page survey report is among the most informative resources for anyone attempting to understand what's happening in state government IT, and this year's survey confirms the continuation of several long-standing trends, such as the budget difficulties in many state government IT offices.

About half of CIOs surveyed said they are struggling to deliver on specialized needs as they maintain challenges around cost recovery business models. NASCIO characterized lack of funding for state IT as a "significant barrier."

And while cybersecurity policies and technology are becoming more sophisticated in state government, lack of funding is particularly noticeable in this area.

One anonymous CIO told NASCIO: "IT is the bottom feeder of the agency budget and security is the bottom feeder of the IT budget."

Nonetheless, there is "clear progress" in cybersecurity, NASCIO says, with 95 percent of states reporting that they have adopted a cybersecurity framework based on national standards and guidelines, compared with just 78 percent adoption in 2013.

Some challenges, like workforce, are particularly challenging in the area of cybersecurity, the report says, but also extend into state government broadly. Despite the issue's prominence across state IT, only 17 percent of survey respondents said their organization had someone assigned to IT workforce initiatives.

"Modernizing IT job titles" was named — by 31 percent of respondents — as the single personnel change that could result in reforming the state IT workforce, the report says. In practice, 71 percent of state CIOs said they are "promoting non-salary benefits like greater stability and diversity of experience" to attract new talent to government.

While cloud adoption grows — more than 50 percent of CIOs said they are planning to move to the cloud within the next two to three years — and benefits around adaptability, cost savings, stability and reporting accuracy have been in align with expectations, scalability is lagging, the report shows. The number of IT leaders who expect to gain improved scalability out of the cloud — 81 percent —  is greater than those actually observing that benefit — 65 percent.

But whatever the challenge, Hussey said there's no doubt that his role is that of a broker of services providing "guidance and harmony" to ensure all of state government is using technology to head in the same direction.

NASCIO's 2017 State CIO Survey can be downloaded freely from its website.

-In this Story-

States, Indiana, Utah, State & Local News, Careers & Elected Officials, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Management & Workforce, Tech News, Cloud Computing, Cybersecurity, Digital Services, Emerging Technology, Internet of Things, Blockchain, IT Infrastructure, Association News, National Association of State Chief Information Officers, NASCIO 2017, State CIO Survey

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