As states continue to receive American Rescue Plan Act funding for technology upgrades, state technology officials said during an online event Tuesday that they’re balancing top priorities for a “neverending” modernization process that poses unique challenges.
While the $350 billion pool of ARPA funds for states can be spent on expanding broadband access, affordability and digital inclusion efforts as they see fit, technology’s continual evolution poses a strategic problem for some state tech departments on how to spend it. And as states contend with ARPA’s 2024 spending deadline, several state tech officials said Tuesday determining which modernization projects should be prioritized is a process in itself.
During StateScoop’s IT Modernization Summit on Tuesday, Stephanie Dedmon, chief information officer of Tennessee, said that there’s more to determining modernization priorities than just the technology involved.
“So one of the things we do is a risk analysis to say, where do we need to start?” Dedmon said. “And there’s several factors to that, I mean, is it mission critical, what kind of population or program does it support? How ready is the agency to go through a large modernization effort? Because it’s more about the sponsorship and the business participation than the technology.”
Dedmon said her department helps other agencies combine IT modernization projects and set priorities for the coming years, but sometimes it’s not beneficial to think far in advance because of how rapidly technology changes.
“Technology is changing so fast though, as we all know it,” she said. “Having much more than a three- or four-year plan is sometimes not really worth the effort because there are new solutions and new ways to solve or address modernization every day.”
New Hampshire CIO Denis Goulet agreed with Dedmon about technology’s continual evolution posing challenges to modernization. But, he said, including ARPA spending in each agency’s strategic plan is essential for speeding along IT modernization.
“We’re setting some examples there, particularly with the ARPA funds, because that money goes the way of the dodo if you don’t use it,” Goulet said. “There’s certain rules about when you have it committed, and then when you have to consume it by. We want to make sure we’re not leaving money on the table.”
But, Goulet said, ARPA’s 2024 spending deadline might have positive effects on how his department sets its modernization goals.
“What I’m hoping is that — and planning to do is — to not have that slow down after ARPA, but set the example that the pace can go more quickly, and for forever, not just because we have to with the money.”