Agency relationships are more important than ever for state IT leaders

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Recent advances in technology have brought about changes in the demands placed on government technology leaders. And increasingly, that means state IT leaders with any hope of being effective must carefully manage relationships with the agencies they serve, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers said this week.

A NASCIO policy brief released Wednesday on customer relationship management, or CRM, dives into the changing dynamic between state CIOs and the agencies they serve. That change, NASCIO says, was spawned by a broader shift in the role of state CIOs propagated in part by wide availability of cloud services. No longer are CIOs merely the directors of back-office repair shops, but “brokers” of IT services who spend the bulk of their days fiddling with contracts and relationships rather than switches and wires.

“It is more critical than ever for CIOs to prioritize cultivating partnerships — especially with government agencies responsible for delivering life and safety citizen services,” Delaware state CIO and current NASCIO president James Collins said in a press release.

The seemingly obvious business function is a relatively recent development in state government. NASCIO, which surveys state technology leaders each year to identify top trends in the field, only identified CRM as a top priority for its membership last year, but 75 percent of state CIOs say they already have a formal CRM function with their office to manage customer agency interactions.

The new NASCIO publication highlights top challenges that state IT offices can expect to face as they manage relationships with customer agencies. Often, it states, these challenges are wedded to the trend of IT centralization, in which previously disparate and autonomous IT shops are consolidated under a central department.

Many agencies perceive this consolidation as a loss of control over how they manage IT. This “emotional component” should be taken seriously, because even IT enterprises that are consolidating following gubernatorial or legislative mandates will see better results if participation by customer agencies is voluntary, the report says.

Perhaps even more pertinent is that mandates can be reversed and organizations rearranged, which is why the report encourages state IT leaders to nurture congenial relationships with their customers.

Taking office culture into account and involving everyone in projects are indispensable pieces of ensuring successful customer relationships, the briefing says. As one state CIO told NASCIO: “When employees feel valued, heard and recognized as a key contributor to the success of the organization, you’ll see better customer experiences, greater commitment and possibly an increase in innovative ideas put forth.”

Procurement processes can stymie relationships, too. NASCIO notes that in one state it surveyed, agencies have 12 months to spend their funding, but because the procurement process saps half that time, they’re left with much less room to be innovative.

Centralizing IT statewide can save hundreds of millions of dollars, but those savings are often not evident to the individual agencies. NASCIO says that IT leaders should explain to agency heads that even though their new services might appear to cost more, they’re getting more value overall. If agencies don’t have to operate their own data centers, for example, then they’re not paying for all of the auxiliary costs like back-up generators, security patching and electricity.

To explain issues like these and build lasting relationships, NASCIO recommends holding both individual and group in-person meetings. Through its surveys, the association found those modes to be vastly more effective than communication by email or phone.

The group also recommends forming a communications plan, which it shows can substantially increase the odds of successful relationships, and encouraging feedback and the use of performance metrics to measure success.

Other essential ingredients for success identified in the report are strong executive support from leadership and a thorough understanding of the business needs of each agency. It’s become a truism among state CIOs that they are supposed to be “business enablers.”

“At the top of every agency’s wish list would be greater knowledge on the business side from the technology team,” the report says.

The full publication on CRM can be read on NASCIO’s website.

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customer relationship management, NASCIO, National Association of State Chief Information Officers, state IT
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