In times of transition, State CIOs simplify IT priorities


If you’re reading this, you probably know it’s an election year. Voters in 36 states will elect governors in a few months. As of this writing, advertisements for local contests from where I am writing in California have just started to slip onto the television airwaves. And depending on your social media platform of choice, you’ve no doubt seen campaign activity surface there as well. It will only get more exciting from here.

GT did a pretty deep data dive a few years ago on state CIOs, going back to the mid-90s. Some of the most interesting takeaways were about the likelihood of a CIO keeping their job even if there was a change of governor. Changes in administration have indeed a dramatic impact on the IOC. This fact is valid even if the party of the new governor is the same as that of the former elected. Overall, state chief information officers stay in place throughout an election cycle only 34% of the time. In other words, there will be plenty of new state tech leaders when 2023 rolls around.

This sense of transition was palpable at the recent National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) mid-year conference in National Harbor, Md. — an event that drew CIOs from 39 states. A state technology leader offered this perspective: “It’s an election year for us and priorities change about every 22 minutes. Several others said that with elections and related changes on the horizon, they cannot tell you what their plans will be for the next few years. Instead, they focus on the next few months.

But a few themes have emerged for IT managers, regardless of the looming election. Having successfully navigated their operations on the other side of the pandemic, they are endowed with new energy to refine government services for their residents. And it is a priority that transcends any political change on the horizon.

Washington, DC, CTO Lindsey Parker, during a Q&A panel with a handful of her peers, told the audience, “We’ve spent the last two years grinding.” She was rewarded for her work with an additional title last October to add to her duties as CTO: deputy municipal administrator. Now she’s turning her attention to broader challenges like making sure every digital service the city offers is running at its peak.

“How are we really rethinking government? she asked. “How can we ensure our residents have a cleaner, clearer, fairer, simpler and faster way to deal with the government? »

Predictably, we also pushed many of our interviewees to NASCIO for their views on things like cryptocurrency, automation, blockchain, and other flashy new technologies. Most, however, cleverly reminded us that their work begins with a business need. It may be that an “emerging” tool can help solve a problem, but it’s just as likely that using an existing tool in a new way can achieve the same gains.

West Virginia CIO Josh Spence challenged the concept of a buzzword in emerging technologies, which people tend to confuse with the end goal itself. “So it’s not so much that you want to hit the buzzword or hit that as a goal; it’s about making sure you understand the business outcomes you want to leverage this tool for,” he said.

We also heard repeatedly from CIOs that another priority close to their hearts is supporting their workforce: adding staff, increasing compensation to help communicate the value of their work and their give modern tools to work with.

“People are the most important part,” said Bill Vajda, CIO of Wyoming GT in a sentiment that was echoed by many. “And if you don’t focus on embracing those big ideas, finding a way to make them happen and giving people the opportunity to burn themselves out and do great things, you’re wasting your most critical asset.”

Noelle Knell has been the editor of Government Technology magazine for e.Republic since 2015. She has over two decades of writing and editing experience, spanning public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she worked in state and local government and graduated from the University of California, Davis, majoring in political science and American history. She can be reached by email and on Twitter.

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