It’s two steps forward, one step back for state government IT

The pandemic and advancements in tech are affording states new opportunities — and presenting challenges — state IT leaders said during an online event.
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State IT leaders predicted during a virtual event Tuesday that their operations in the coming months will involve more remote work than before the pandemic, greater collaboration with other government entities and — in some cases — a continued reliance on legacy processes to support the services states provide to residents.

Indiana Chief Information Officer Tracy Barnes said it was typically state agencies to which his technology division provided services that residents interacted with. But he said the pandemic’s rapid transition to virtual services was accompanied by a need for the IT department to become the face of the state as it quickly developed solutions that people could use virtually. That work was followed by a surprise, Barnes said.

“One of the most shocking revelations we ran into was realizing that no matter how great of a online application or system or process was put in place, we still had about 20% of our residents that were still of the legacy mindset and wanted to call and talk to somebody,” he said during the event hosted by Scoop News Group and VMware. “Call centers, as much as we wanted to phase them down and phase them out, [we were] not able to do that.”

Many state IT leaders have predicted that remote work will at least partially continue beyond the pandemic. Former Ohio CIO Ervan Rodgers, who resigned earlier this month, said during a separate discussion that remote work was “frowned upon” in state government before the pandemic, though he now expects a hybrid format to take hold.


But that new environment poses new challenges for state technology leaders. Barnes said security concerns and the need to support more cloud providers has complicated the state’s IT management. Continually keeping the state’s technology fresh while also eliminating its technical debt is also a challenge, he said, particularly since there’s seldom dedicated funding for the latter.

“The list of challenges and things that keep me up at night are unfortunately growing, not shrinking,” Barnes said. “Industry is leading so much, especially on the cyber side, and we’re trying to figure out at the state, local level how do we make sure we’re not left behind? How do we identify both the resources and some of these tools where they’re a good fit?”

Indiana used robotic process automation to help tackle unemployment insurance and COVID-19 contact tracing, and also used chatbots at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Barnes said officials are now also pondering potential applications of blockchain technology, particularly for identity and access management.

In a panel on cloud computing, Montana Chief Technology Officer Matt Van Syckle said he’s pushing for greater automation in the state’s onboarding and offboarding of employees. That process, he said, should fall to human resources, not IT.

“It should be all automated,” Van Syckle said. “It shouldn’t take an IT person any manual effort to onboard anyone in your environment all the way through identity management, all the multi-cloud access they need and the same thing when an employee leaves. IT shouldn’t need to be involved.”


The maturation of cloud computing technology and its surrounding policy structures in government — such as pre-vetted vendor standards, like FedRAMP — also gives states major opportunities, Van Syckle said.

“Being a smaller state, Montana, we’re really working with North Dakota and South Dakota to drive security standards and cloud standards and a common framework,” he said. “I think cloud has enabled us to not just automate at a state level, but work across the normal boundaries. Five, 10 years ago it wouldn’t be normal to work with other states on a common framework, and now we can. That’s the part that gets me really excited.”

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