How State and Local Tech Leaders Are Looking at 2017 Differently

Representatives from state and local governments convened to discuss tech trends they are preparing for in 2017, and some of the difficulties they face.

by / January 13, 2017

Preparing for 2017 requires more than just making New Year's resolutions to lose 15 pounds or return that sauacepan you borrowed from your friend and never gave back. The year promises to bring incredible challenges for the IT community, including the increasing risks of cyberattacks and a continued commitment to consolidating systems to the cloud, just to name a few.

But how do these challenges differ from state to local governments? The Public Technology Institute (PTI), a group dedicated to provide technology support for city chief information officers, collaborated with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) to host a webinar forecasting the upcoming issues government technology officials should come to expect in 2017.

The annual talk helped shine a bit of light onto the differences in the functions of state and local government workers. Both groups survey members to understand what concerns they have and what their main resources are being put toward.

“Not surprisingly, cyber is at the top of both lists,” said Alan Shark, executive director of PTI. Cybersecurity jumped onto the front page in 2016. Although high-profile hacks in 2014 included the North Korean attack of Sony Pictures, and in 2015 the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was breached by nefarious actors believed to be in China, the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has also made everyone more aware of the dangers of hacking.

Due to the highly public nature of these attacks, every level of government is prioritizing secure systems. “Security is No. 1 for the fourth consecutive year,” said Doug Robinson, executive director of NASCIO. This means different things between states and local governments.

“The new thing is ransomware,” said Shark. “They are targeting small police departments, fire stations and small governments because they have the least capability to protect themselves.” Malicious actors have infected countless computer systems with the malware that encrypts files within a system. Only after a ransom is paid  will the encryption key be provided.

Another trend those in state and local governments are seeing is efforts to work across departments to consolidate data centers and sharing services to save costs. Shark explained, due to the sheer size differences between states and cities, consolidation is often a much higher priority for states.

A majority of PTI members are small to mid-sized cities, so there is less to consolidate between departments. However, this smaller size limits cities in IT staffing. Although there has been a general graying of the government IT workforce, local governments are feeling it.

City IT departments typically range from one to 10 employees, said Shark. This creates enormous strain whenever an employee retires or leaves for the private sector. For NASCIO, there remains a strong need for IT employees with knowledge surrounding cybersecurity, but for local governments, there is a need across the board. Additionally, due to the more intimate nature of local governments, customer service ranks higher on their list of priorities.

One way to help recruit and retain employees is to appeal to their sense of duty through public service. Both Shark and Robinson acknowledged that salaries will almost always be higher in the private sector, but public agencies can take simple steps by creating flexible work spaces and working to cultivate tech talent.

While there may be many overarching themes of what state and local IT workers can expect in 2017, there are very real differences in the approaches that different levels of government will experience. Due to the collaboration between NASCIO and PTI, these differences can be combated.

“We’ve worked with NASCIO on webinars and other events to really promote how states can become a better resource for local governments and how governments can work better with state government agencies in the executive branch,” said Shark. “We see improvements there in a number of states.”

Ryan McCauley Former Staff Writer

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.