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State CIOs Balance Innovation and Legacy, Survey Says

Tech chiefs across the nation keep up with the old while introducing the new in state government IT.

by / October 22, 2012
Image courtesy of NASCIO/TechAmerica/Grant Thornton LLP

At the 2012 NASCIO Annual Meeting held in San Diego, the association, along with TechAmerica and Grant Thornton LLP, released a survey that discusses how state CIOs deal with the continual introduction of new technologies, such as mobile devices and applications, social media, big data, cloud computing and public safety broadband, while simultaneously providing essential IT services to states. 

"More than ever, state CIOs must keep up with the old while continuing to bring in the new," said NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson in a press release. "It's a real balancing act for CIOs who are trying to be responsive to governors, legislators, state agency heads and citizens."

This year's survey, Advancing the C4 Agenda: Balancing Legacy and Innovation, finds that CIOs are confronted with a variety of responsibilities and leadership challenges, and they're working to advance that agenda in a fast-changing environment where budget hardships and uncertainty overshadow everything.

High-Priority Mobility

When it comes to mobility, Robinson said, this year's survey saw three times the number of questions on the topic compared to 2011 given its level of importance. And CIOs also see the importance -- 57 percent see mobile devices and apps as high priority or essential, and at the NASCIO 2012 Annual Conference, North Dakota CIO Lisa Feldner said she recalls responding as neutral as far as the CIO organization's readiness to deploy and support mobile devices and applications. "I think we're aware of our shortcomings," she said, "but we're not necessarily unprepared."

As far as which mobile apps and services are most popular, the survey notes that the hierarchy of mobile app popularity is evident -- 60 percent of respondents see traffic, road conditions and DMV mobile apps and services as most popular, while 58 percent of respondents find parks, recreation, hunting, fishing, boating and outdoor activities as such. 

On the whole, the adoption rate for mobile apps shows room for improvement. In Massachusetts, CIO John Letchford said his state always expected mobile apps to become very popular. "And they have been; the adoption is high," he said. "Our approach is to push the raw data out. It's a bit simplistic, but I can't even remember how many transportation-related mobile apps there are for the Boston area -- there's a huge number of them."

And through innovation grants, Letchford said, the state is working with the CIO in Boston, and collaboratively will soon roll out about 25 to 30 311-related apps for towns and citizens.

Social Media Diversity

The report also included social media, noting there's a significant diversity in its use in state government. In Massachusetts, Letchford said the state has done some very good things around developing social media targets and is taking a sensible approach. "This year we're trying to work at how to take social media and do something of value with it," he said. "The citizen engagement piece -- we're still using it to present the information, but we've got to go a little further with it."

Graeme Finley, director of public-sector practice for Grant Thornton, also said the next question is what beyond just tweeting can make social media useful? "In emergency services and disaster recovery is where a lot of people see the benefits."

In North Dakota, Feldner said the state has policies for enterprisewide social media, and there's been some adoption, but there's a difference between North Dakota and Massachusetts when it comes to communicating this way: "You don't know everyone in your state," she said to Letchford, "and we all kind of do."

IT Workforce Shortage
The IT workforce was another topic in this year's survey. In Massachusetts in 2010, Letchford said the state had about 1,850 IT employees. "We now have 1,540, despite trying to hire everyone we possibly can," he said. "We have a lot of competition for IT people in the Boston area."

Letchford also noted that the demand for IT skills is continuing to increase. "Forty percent of my workforce can retire in the next five years, so there's certainly a challenge there. We're in the process of presenting some reforms."

The IT workforce situation in North Dakota is entirely different from that in Massachusetts, however -- the state has literally no turnover, Feldner said. "We get people who, if they left the state after college to go see the world, they want to start a family and they come back. So we don't have turnover, and right now we're meeting our staffing needs." For North Dakota, she said, the workforce need lies in project management.

With state IT personnel lacking for most agencies, CIOs see contractors, used in appropriate ways, as an essential ingredient in providing state IT services. To that end, one CIO said, “Leveraging the private sector appropriately is invaluable in achieving public goals.”

Also detailed in Advancing the C4 Agenda: Balancing Legacy and Innovation was big data, cloud computing, IT procurement and public safety broadband, to name a few. Read the full report at

Image courtesy of NASCIO/TechAmerica/Grant Thornton LLP

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Jessica Mulholland Former Web Editor/Photographer

Jessica Mulholland served as the Web editor of Government Technology magazine from October 2012 through September 2017. She worked for the Government Technology editorial team for nearly 10 years.

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