CIOs Must Prepare for Drones

Drones can do all kinds of things, but a new brief from NASCIO explains that it's going to take some introspection and planning.

by / May 28, 2015

State CIOs aren’t thinking about drones, but they should be. That’s the message of a policy brief released by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) on May 27.

Data in the seven-page brief taken from NASCIO’s 2014 State CIO survey shows that virtually no state CIOs are making drones a priority – 63.5 percent said the technology is not “on their radar,” and 25 percent said they’re addressing the technology on an “ad hoc” basis.

But drones are coming, and if state CIOs are to be ready for them, they need to start thinking about the technology now, said Washington state CIO Michael Cockrill.

“Drones are a touchstone issue,” Cockrill said. “They are a technology issue that is very quickly becoming a public policy issue. The reason I know that is because I’m watching at least 33 different states passing laws about drones. For the most part, what they’re really doing is responding to citizens’ concerns about privacy.”

CIOs need to educate themselves about drones, Cockrill said, because when they arrive, it’s the CIO’s job to be a responsible and well informed adviser to the legislature. NASCIO’s paper serves to educate public-sector CIOs about the issues, challenges and landscape surrounding the upcoming technology.

The paper lists possible uses of drones in the public sector, which include things from livestock monitoring and bridge inspection to 911 and firefighting applications. Also detailed in the paper are the manifold challenges facing those who pursue drones, issues like data standardization, safety, security and risk management, IT asset management, and privacy. Whenever the topic of drones comes up, Cockrill said, the first thing he thinks of is the privacy issue – it’s what the public cares about.

“The places where you’re most likely to see that in state government are what we refer to as the naturals and public safety,” Cockrill said. “From a financial and technology perspective, you’ll see the state using them [in public safety] as soon as its legal and the larger policy issues are ironed out. In the naturals, you’ll see them in two to four years, and they’ll use it for things like erosion, crop maintenance, the kinds of things they do today with airplanes that will be cheaper and safer to do with unmanned aircraft.”

Drones are in the same category as body cams, the Internet of Things, and connected vehicles. The technology won’t be here tomorrow, but it’s arriving soon enough, and it’s the role of IT leaders to understand the issues surrounding those technologies so government can lead and innovate when the time comes.

NASCIO’s brief, Unmanned Aerial Systems, Governance and State CIOs: On the Radar, can be downloaded from NASCIO’s website.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.