Better Budgets Spark Growing Tech Activity

Rebounding from recession, states and localities launch a wide range of system upgrades.

by / March 10, 2015
E.Republic's Beyond the Beltway event was held March 9 in Falls Church, Va. e.Republic/Steve Towns

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- With tax revenue bouncing back, states and localities are poised to spend billions of dollars on technology this year. E.Republic’s annual Beyond the Beltway Conference held this week just outside Washington, D.C., offered insight into how state and local CIOs intend to use those funds.

The big winners will be system modernization, cybersecurity and open data, according to more than a dozen city, county and state CIOs who talked about their priorities at the day-long conference on Monday. They also pointed to issues around privacy and storage created by emerging trends like police video.

Overall, e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government estimates that state and local governments will spend $97 billion on technology in 2015. Here’s how some of the largest jurisdictions want to spend it.

Legacy Modernization

Most CIOs said they are attacking old systems and software – and they offered up a laundry list of upcoming deployments.

The city and county of Denver will replace a 15-year-old ERP system and is shopping for a new content management platform, said Denver Deputy CIO Christine Binnicker. Harris County, Texas, is implementing LTE broadband communications for public safety, replacing one of the nation’s oldest integrated justice systems and expanding e-permitting, according to CIO Bruce High. And improving identity management and expanding integrated eligibility are priorities in Ohio, said Deputy CIO Spencer Wood.

The flurry of activity is the result of improving state budgets, in some cases for the first time since the recession hit. For instance, state revenue was up 12 percent last month in Georgia, compared with February 2014, said CTO Steve Nichols. The state is preparing to replace its auto licensing and registration system, along with its portfolio of public health apps, he said. “Our budget is looking pretty good. We’re finally getting past those dark days.”

But CIOs aren’t just launching new systems, they’re using optimization and consolidation efforts to reduce or eliminate hardware and pare down overlapping applications.

Washington State CIO Michael Cockrill is one of several CIOs who are rationalizing apps as they modernize. He said a comprehensive inventory uncovered nearly 2,000 systems operated by the state, with 700 to 800 of them requiring upgrades. As those systems are modernized, the state also intends to weed out duplication. In particular, Cockrill said there is an opportunity to reduce the number of case management and eligibility systems run by state agencies.

To Host or Not?

Multiple CIOs said they’re moving key systems to the cloud – often to reduce the amount of time they spend tending to computing infrastructure. Denver is implementing Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 for employee email and collaboration, as is Cook County, Ill. Last month, Denver also kicked off a project to create a new 311 case management system using the hosted Salesforce platform.

“Seventy-five percent of our employees’ time is spent on keeping lights on, and only 25 percent on innovation,” said Binnicker. “We want to flip that.”

Orlando – which has aggressively pushed systems into the cloud, including a hosted ERP system from Workday completed last year – is now finalizing procurement of a cloud-based platform for delivering mobile services, said CIO Rosa Akhtarkhavari. The city also wants a hosted solution for storing video from police body cameras, she added, if it can find one that complies with the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information System security requirements.

But, despite the cloud’s inroads, most CIOs doubt they’ll abandon their data centers anytime soon.

Georgia’s Nichols estimated that about half of state systems will remain in his data center over the next decade, particularly applications that are highly regulated or have strict security requirements. He said cloud providers still struggle to meet employee background check requirements that come with federally funded law enforcement and tax systems.

Political forces also can make the cloud less attractive for government, added Cook County CIO Simona Rollinson. Although she came into the job determined to outsource data center systems, reality is yielding a mixed environment.

“Given our scale and the desire of elected officials to maintain autonomy, we’ve decided to continue hosting,” she said. “We use some cloud. But we don’t have a cloud-first strategy, we have a whatever-makes-sense strategy.”

Similarly, Florida expects to create a mixed environment as it consolidates data centers. The plan is to build an integrated portfolio of cloud-based and on-site systems, according to state CTO Eric Larson.

Even Orlando’s Akhtarkhavari said the cloud can only go so far. “We are adopting the cloud. We have a cloud-first strategy. But cloud isn’t ready for all government services.”

All About Security

As CIOs modernize, they’re keeping a close eye on cybersecurity. Almost every Beyond the Beltway speaker identified protecting systems and data from rapidly expanding cyberthreats as their No. 1 priority. The issue is drawing unprecedented attention from political leaders, they said, and many noted that high-profile security breaches have become one of the quickest ways for government CIOs to lose their jobs.

“We’re trying to focus on building security into everything,” said Akhtarkhavari. “Security by design is constant in everything we deliver.”

Georgia’s Nichols said lawmakers in his state have introduced three separate bills this year to create cybersecurity study committees. “Our legislature is not really having conversations about IT right now, except for cyber,” he said. “And they haven’t been active on that issue before.”

CIOs also are struggling with the closely related issue of privacy, particularly as they implement more sophisticated data sharing and analytics initiatives. One key issue is deciding when and how data collected from citizens for one reason can be used for other purposes.

Washington’s Cockrill has recommended that the state hire a chief information privacy officer to advise the governor and legislature on how to create an enterprise view of data and privacy. Oregon CIO Alex Pettit is having similar discussions with lawmakers in his state.

“It’s a sovereignty issue," Pettit said. "When a citizen interacts with a government organization, what information do they have to give up? And at what point does the agency have the right to the data?"

Open Data Expansion

Finally, several jurisdictions intend to launch or expand open data initiatives this year. In Florida, the newly created Agency for Enterprise Information Technology is charged with creating a single website for public records, which will become a foundation for new data activity. “We’ll use that statutory language to drive open data and data sharing between agencies,” said Larson.

Meanwhile, Raleigh, N.C., CIO Gail Roper wants to include GIS data in her city’s open data efforts. And Ed Winfield, CIO of Wayne County, Mich., hopes to partner with Detroit on an open data initiative.

“The city of Detroit just put up a nice open data site,” he said. “We’d like to collaborate with them.”

Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.