Why ‘cloud-first’ needs to be every CIO’s mission

Washington state CIO Bill Kehoe writes that it's critical for today’s public-sector CIOs to focus on building cloud-based solutions that offer a seamless digital experience
Clouds dance along the mountain tops viewed from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center near Port Angeles, Washington. (George Rose / Getty Images)

In more than 20 years as a chief information officer in state and local government, I’ve witnessed the role evolve from a tactical, back-office role to a strategic technology business broker.

It’s critical for today’s public-sector CIOs to realize that our business partners desperately need a strategic partner to help them transform services and solve business problems with technology. The days of CIOs waiting for agencies to provide directions to them – without being involved in upfront strategy – should be in the past. Instead, what’s needed are dynamic, strategic partnerships based on the realization that digital transformation cannot occur without technology.

Washington CIO Bill Kehoe (Washington Technology Solutions)

Today’s technology is driven by the cloud, and offering a path forward to migrate to a safe and secure cloud infrastructure must be the primary focus and ultimate goal. This “cloud-first” approach is critical to the public sector’s ability to provide modern and efficient services that are comparable to what is available by private companies.


In addition, CIOs need to focus on not only the needs of their customers, but also those of the public they serve. This requires an integrated, enterprise view of government services the public consumes. It also requires CIOs to improve the experience, access, navigation and timeliness of services, with a lens on digital equity and inclusion.

Governments over the years have created services and data silos across agencies without any integration. As a result, people are forced to go to different websites and enter the same data multiple times to get access to the services they need.

Yet at the same time, the public has seen the emergence of online, often-mobile commerce platforms from which they can order consumer goods, car rides and restaurant meals, without having to understand the various departments and divisions within the company offering them.

The public now expects this type of unified, seamless experience from government, too. Public-sector CIOs have an exciting opportunity to integrate systems, data and public services into easy-to-use, multi-channel platforms and portals that would transform the public’s experience of engaging government.

There are obstacles to eliminating this gap and improving the citizen experience. Which agency performs a certain function or holds certain data is less important to the public than getting the service they need. Delivering such a service requires enterprise collaboration across government agencies and their partners. In addition, government budget processes and systems are designed to fund department-specific projects. Funding enterprise projects will require a transformation in thinking about how governments structure their budget processes. This will be necessary to facilitate enterprisewide projects that integrate data and services.


This integration will not happen without the unification of data across organizational boundaries to facilitate a personalized customer portal to access services and push information to customers based on established profile (not unlike how online stores track your purchase history).

Governments need modern data strategies complete with data-sharing agreements and security and privacy controls. Data can no longer be an afterthought of modernization of legacy portfolios, but an up-front priority to be shared across the enterprise.

And as governments transform their digital experiences, the impact of the digital divide needs strong consideration. Improving the public’s experience means we need to increase access to information and communication technologies for all individuals and communities, regardless of their demographic and socioeconomic levels. Closing the digital divide will require a collective effort from both the public and private sectors to build the information infrastructure and improve digital literacy for a more connected society.

This is the challenge for today’s government CIOs: Focus energy and investments on leading organizations toward a future that first considers the people that we serve using modern, cloud-based technologies and strong public-private partnerships.

Bill Kehoe is the chief information officer for the State of Washington, director of Washington Technology Solutions and a former CIO of Los Angeles County, California.

Latest Podcasts