How did the pandemic affect states’ IT modernization efforts?

While most state governments were turned upside down by the pandemic, Nebraska mostly continued on without interruption, state Chief Information Officer Ed Toner says on StateScoop’s Priorities podcast.

Toner says Nebraska’s centralized IT model allowed operations to continue without interruption because agencies were already using single tools across the state government for each function — like VPN or video conferencing. The lack of disruption is a testament to the power of good governance and a centralized IT model, he says.

“I think the only thing we did different was in some cases we did make house calls, dropped equipment off at peoples’ front doors and things like that, but it didn’t slow down any of our major projects,” Toner says. “We just kept moving forward.”

Nebraska’s story is unusual during a pandemic in which disruptions to state operations have been widespread and frequent. Legacy IT systems running on mainframes and old operating systems like COBOL — such as many states’ unemployment platforms — have become a symbol of the technical debt that so many governments carry. But Toner says the ire is misdirected.

“Well, guess what?” Toner says. “Eighty percent of all the financial industries in this whole country run on COBOL. … It all has to do with did you keep up your code? Did you continue to support and upgrade as you went along? Because if you didn’t it’s because it was a black box and you were afraid to touch it and you just let it crash.”

Later in the podcast, Ohio CIO Ervan Rodgers attributes his state’s success during the pandemic to preparation, including a statewide IT innovation initiative that is pushing the state to centralize 1,600 servers and share more than 220 data sets with the public.

“That has really been the foundational element to give what I feel is a year head start on the pandemic, not knowing that the pandemic was coming,” Rodgers says.

On this episode:

  • Ed Toner, CIO, Nebraska
  • Ervan Rodgers, CIO, Ohio
  • Colin Wood, managing editor, StateScoop & EdScoop

Listen to archived episodes of Priorities from Season 5 (2020),  Season 4 (2019)Season 3 (2018)Season 2 (2017) and Season 1 (2016). Catch all of StateScoop’s podcasts on SoundcloudApple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PlayStitcher or Alexa’s TuneIn.

This story is part of StateScoop & EdScoop’s special report on one year of the COVID-19 pandemic.