North Dakota’s CIO wants to automate 20 percent of state government

Ask a state chief information officer to name his or her top priority and you’ll get one of a few answers, usually something to do with cybersecurity or modernizing legacy systems. North Dakota CIO Shawn Riley’s top priority draws a direct line to the people his government serves.

“Our top priorities in North Dakota is we are empowering people, we are improving lives and we are inspiring success,” Riley says in a recent video interview with StateScoop. “We are completely transforming the experience that citizens have with government.”

To achieve that transformation, Riley is proposing a suite of upgrades and technology projects that will improve the efficacy of state government.

“We are looking to automate 20 percent of government, really changing the efficiency of government across the board,” he says. “We’re looking to change the experience people have with government.”

Riley, who gave a talk at TEDxBismarck in August called “Why You Should Want to be Replaced by a Computer,” is advocating for automation anywhere institutions can find it. Just as the agricultural revolution propelled the work life of humanity, so too will the rapid influx of automation guide people to new, more fulfilling work, Riley says.

“The pregnant horse urine collector,” Riley says in his TED Talk. “I can’t imagine a single person in the country or on the planet who really wanted that job. It’s a job I’m sure absolutely everybody was happy was gone so they could do something else.”

For government, he says, this paradigm will mean using technology to automate tasks and unburden government workers to work on other things, providing faster and higher quality service to the constituency in the process. 

“A real simple one is no one ever stands in line again,” Riley tells StateScoop in the interview. “Just a very simple thing from a citizen’s perspective, but really changing their experience and changing how they interact with government across the board.”

Riley on education:

“We have said we’re going to empower every single child, every single school, every classroom, to have computer science and cyber science, kindergarten through PhD.”

Riley on transportation:

“Transportation today is this large, emerging field and we’ve got autonomous vehicles that are conversations today.”

Riley on how he sees his role changing in the future:

“It’s interesting, people think of the CIO role as really a nerdom and a geek role, but the reality is what we are is we are communicators and we are helping technologists interact with people.”

These videos were produced by StateScoop at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in October 2019.