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CIOs Peer into Crystal Balls at NASCIO Annual Conference

The future of government technology was up for debate at the annual gathering of state IT leaders Monday, and it’s not only about AI and cybersecurity, but also better strategy and relationships.

Denis Goulet, Laura Clark and Greg Hoffman sitting at a table participating in a panel discussion at the NASCIO Annual Conference 2023.
New Hampshire CIO Denis Goulet, Michigan CIO Laura Clark and North Dakota Deputy CIO Greg Hoffman during a session titled "Fireside Chat: The Future Role of the State CIO Organization" at the 2023 NASCIO Annual conference in Minneapolis.
MINNEAPOLIS — More strategic planning. Working with community colleges to help fill state IT jobs. The inevitable but still hazy embrace of artificial intelligence, with vendors leading the way.

According to participants at the first day of the NASCIO 2023 Annual Conference, those stand among the main tasks of state CIOs in the coming few years — responsibilities that will help determine how all types of public agencies deploy technology.

This year’s conference, with another full day scheduled for Tuesday, attracted attendees from 52 states, territories and the District of Columbia, according to Stephanie Dedmon, Tennessee CIO and NASCIO president.

When NASCIO gathers for its next annual conference, there is a good chance that more CIOs will have taken on a deeper strategic mindset, at least according to data and comments from the Monday sessions. A NASCIO survey found that 96 percent of respondents said that the future of the job will involve “strategic planning,” and panelists throughout the day agreed.

“CIOs will become more of a catalyst voice, doing transformation in government, not just modernization,” said Michigan CIO Laura Clark. “We are becoming the translation service between IT [and state agencies], and the legislative and executive branches, and the private and public sectors.”

State IT leaders also need to become relationship experts, according to Greg Hoffman, deputy CIO for North Dakota.

“We find ourselves working much more on the relationship side of this than we have in the past,” he said. “We go out with agencies and understand what a park ranger sees during the day, what highway patrol sees.”

Research and planning only gets you so far — plans need dedicated, trained professionals to carry them out. Tech labor shortages came up multiple times during Monday's conference, especially as state IT leaders discussed the challenges of cybersecurity, AI, and providing better digital and mobile services to residents.

The “talent gap” has occupied the mind of Sanjay Gupta during his first few months as the CIO of Illinois, for instance. That’s why he is helping to craft an IT training program that would involve six to 12 months of tech training at community colleges, with participants working toward state jobs.

“It would create a diverse talent pipeline,” Gupta said.

And as state officials vie for fresh tech talent, new technology is racing into an uncertain future. The most pressing example of that right now is artificial intelligence, seemingly a feature of nearly every new government technology product launch these days.

The growing pressure of tech progress forces CIOs to think harder about how to take advantage of the talent already on the payroll and the “talent that is coming,” said Trina Zanow, Wisconsin CIO.

The real and potential use of all that fresh tech — including better cybersecurity defenses — also means that building relationships with state agencies takes on added importance, she said.

CIOs also are looking for leadership from gov tech vendors, perhaps especially so when it comes to artificial intelligence.

“We will buy your tool and integrate it,” said Nebraska CIO Ed Toner. “We’ll let you do the hard work.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.