NASCIO Still Growing After 50 Years of Serving States

As state CIOs, public-sector thought leaders and tech companies descend on Nashville for the 2019 NASCIO Annual Conference, we examine why the nonprofit has thrived for half a century — and the bright future ahead.

by / October 6, 2019

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) is celebrating 50 years of serving U.S. states and territories. This anniversary celebration will culminate in a record-breaking NASCIO Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, Oct. 13-16, 2019.     

I say "record-breaking" because the number of event attendees, the number of Corporate Leadership Council (private-sector) members joining and the level of overall interest in public policy issues and IT solutions impacting nationwide governments, has never been higher. The agenda promises to bring together the best and the brightest to explore challenges and solutions, share best practices, network between public and private entities and celebrate award-winners.       

But this is not a group of old-timers who gather to reminisce on “the glory years” from past decades.  

On the contrary, talented state government CIOs and industry thought-leaders will be leading the sessions. Hot topics from ransomware to securing election systems to data analytics to developing strategic partnerships will be covered. In addition, the changing CIO roles and responsibilities will equip new (and veteran) government technology leaders to improve their effectiveness in discussions on “CIO as a broker.” The focus is all about the future of serving residents and government innovation.       

As we head into the 2020s, NASCIO continues to offer a collective voice in congressional testimonies, state procurement initiatives, cybersecurity and so much more. The NASCIO Award website is a treasure trove of great projects that are “shovel ready” (to borrow an older term) for other states and local governments to implement to enhance their services.

Note: I have written about NASCIO awards numerous times, in “how to” blogs for the NASCIO Community as well as in after conference summary blogs for govtech.com. To say that governments and private-sector CxOs can gain huge value from the NASCIO best practice white papers and awards website is an understatement.   

History, Please?

According to the NASCIO Website:

“NASCIO was founded in 1969 as the National Association for State Information Systems (NASIS), but has evolved over the years as the use of information technology and the roles of its advocates have developed in government. In May 1965, the Council of State Governments' Conference on Automated Data Processing was held in Lansing, Michigan at the request of the National Governors Conference. At that meeting, an Ad-Hoc Committee on Automation Technology and Data Processing was established. It was comprised of 20 members and was charged with studying state needs in these areas. In December 1965, the ad-hoc committee became a permanent standing committee for the group, and in 1967 changed its name to the Committee on Information Systems. …

In 1989, the membership voted to undertake a major realignment for the association, including a change in name to the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE). This new name reflected an expansion of the association through associate memberships as well as the developing role of technology as an integral component of the programs it supported. The mission and structure of the association also changed to reflect an increased focus on system planning and government administration, and the breadth of need for government-wide technology policies and standards. In early 1990, the association affiliated with CSG for management services. Further, the majority of NASIRE's committee and board structures changed to encourage involvement of the broadened membership, and corporations were invited to be members, since developing a leadership council of their own. … 

In 2001, the membership of the association again voted to change its name to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) to better represent the evolving roles and responsibilities of its members. Like its primary members, NASCIO continued to take on more leadership regarding IT business practice policies both nationally and within the states themselves, delving deeper into long-standing issues such as privacy and security and breaking new ground in the development of enterprise architectures and homeland security. NASCIO also established a Washington, D.C. presence in order to better track federal legislation and issues that may affect state implementation of technology. …”

This YouTube slideshow is from the 40th anniversary.

I like this article by John Thomas Flynn after the NASCIO 2019 Midyear Conference, which also highlights that (as of May 16, 2019), there were 24 new CIOs since 2018.

“The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) celebrated its 50th anniversary recently at National Harbor, just outside of Washington, DC. We were fortunate to have a chance to chat with NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson, who was enjoying his 37th year of state CIO conferences, and Lindsey Parker, D.C. chief technology officer, who was attending her first.

“My first conference was in Nashville in 1992 as a state member attendee and I lost count on how many I’ve come to … two conferences a year. And, I just began my 16th year as NASCIO executive director on a Friday,” Robinson said.

The conference has grown immensely over the years as we could both attest and this month’s event had the largest attendance for a spring conference. My first conference I hosted in Boston in 1993. Attendees all fit in what was really only a large conference room. We had maybe 40-50 people, primarily data center managers and the vendor community.

“We have, I think approximately, because I’m not sure how many checked in this morning, but probably 625 or more in terms of mid-year conference. So this is what three or four years ago was a fairly good size annual conference,” Robinson said. “So we expect based on our San Diego attendance last fall, probably 850 or more at our national conference in Nashville this October.”

This article has more details and quotes about the upcoming NASCIO Annual Conference.

Future Buzz

So why is there so much buzz around NASCIO right now? What is the secret of NASCIO’s success over half a century, and why do I believe the future is bright?

While I’m not predicting another 50 years of dramatic growth, I strongly believe that NASCIO will see even more success and interest throughout the 2020s and beyond.

As existing state and gubernatorial, local and federal priorities become more aligned, new priorities and new technologies emerge and grow and become implemented into society and government, the need to collaborate across jurisdictional lines will grow even further.

The speed of change is accelerating. Issues and necessary solutions such as cybersecurity cut across all sectors. From artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles to quantum computing to the Internet of Things (IoT), along with new ways to secure the cloud and mobile, partnering smart and digital government across traditional boundaries in new ways is a must. CIOs in the states and territories are well-placed to lead that charge.

Here are just some of the reasons that NASCIO has been so successful despite ongoing changes in the country over the past 50 years.

  • Dramatic innovations in governments have elevated the role of technology and security leaders in state and territorial governments.
  • NASCIO has successfully maintained a nonpartisan stance, so changes in political power have not eliminated the need for CIOs and their teams.
  • NASCIO has had great leaders both at the CIO Executive Board level (state CIOs elected as President, Vice President and Treasurer by peers) as well as within the association with exceptional leaders like Doug Robinson who is the current Executive Director.
  • As the role of government services continue to grow, the technology solutions across governments have provided synergies and common experiences for many CIOs (and their teams) that go beyond state boundaries. Ongoing relationships endure with federal agencies, local governments, other nonprofits and much more.       
  • NASCIO has relentlessly looked to pragmatic solutions that work, and the people/processes/technology that enable those projects. The best practices are not just theoretical, or academic exercises. Committees are year-round, providing meaningful conversations and road maps to success. 
  • NASCIO has continued to look to the future and what’s next.
  • State CIOs have benefited from the wisdom that comes from those who mentor and share real-life stories they experienced in the past. CIOs (and CISOs, CTOs and other CxOs) benefit from the good (and not so good) during election cycles, turnover of staff and many other important government topics and repeatable scenarios.
  • NASCIO elevates a national recognition of statewide perspectives, which is also a necessity for state — local partnerships. The organization addresses and engages gubernatorial service priorities (e.g., NGA), and works with other key associations (e.g., NASBO). There is a strong PTI/NASCIO partnership.
  • The private sector has rallied around the NASCIO vision and brought solutions to the table. A common set of rules and business etiquette has enabled greater win-win approaches to public/private interactions.
  • Sustained emphasis on public-sector policy, customer service values, response to dynamic changes — balanced within in a public-private partnership (PPP) context.
  • A willingness to readjust and evolve as needed by all involved.
  • NASCIO has created a community that endures with like-minded professionals (although many contrary opinions can emerge) with similar missions, visions and values. This engaging, mutually beneficial culture brings both value and fun for participants. Speaking as someone who participated for two decades, there is much to be gained for government staff and private-sector pros, and one gets the most benefit if they participate consistently.

Closing Thoughts         

There will be hundreds of articles, tweets, pictures and more coming out of the NASCIO 2019 Annual Conference in Nashville next week with specific details on many topics — so watch #NASCIO19 online.

Meanwhile, we also need to recognize the wider good that NASCIO continues to offer, beyond the specific awards and sessions and solutions. Bottom line, NASCIO has worked for more 50 years, and that will continue.

I am most grateful for the people within NASCIO. Public service is a noble calling, and NASCIO enables and strengthens our public-sector technology leaders and business leaders to do their important jobs with thoughtfulness, excellence and financial accountability.   

Finally, I want to say a personal thank you to everyone who has made NASCIO the organization it is. This includes the current leadership and great people helping in the public and private sectors. And equally, I am thankful for those who built NASCIO from 1969 to 1999 — long before I attended my first NASCIO conference.   

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the NASCIO Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) Chair in this 50th anniversary year. I am looking forward to this special conference — and the decade to come.  

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