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How the Pandemic Accelerated Modernization Efforts in Arizona

Speakers at the Arizona Virtual Digital Government Summit examined how the pandemic tested existing digital infrastructure systems — and how it demonstrated the need for governments to evolve.

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The pandemic accelerated the need for many government organizations to modernize their digital infrastructure, which was a central topic of discussion during the Arizona Virtual Digital Government Summit* earlier this week.

Throughout the June 8 event, speakers talked about the ways scalable cloud networks have helped agencies combat increasing cyber threat risks and overcome the limitations of legacy systems.

While the pandemic certainly pushed government systems with high levels of demand, this influx did cause many in the public sector to jump-start enterprise resource planning upgrades.

Paula Mattingly, assistant director and CIO of the state of Arizona’s Department of Health, noted a positive outcome of rapidly having to adapt in the past year during a session titled “Readiness, Responsiveness and Resilience."

As she described, the global disruption caused by the pandemic offered the opportunity to implement change and improve service delivery.

CLOUD CAPABILITIES: SCALABLE RESILIENCE


Mattingly said her department’s move to the cloud prior to the pandemic positioned her team well for the challenges of the past year.

“I think we would have been in a world of hurt had we not had the systems in the cloud,” Mattingly explained.

While the types of emergencies that agencies face may differ, she said, the ability to respond is a unifying factor. The scalability of cloud technology allowed the department to meet the increased public demand for information, on everything from daily COVID-19 cases to vaccine distribution.

Morgan Reed, executive government adviser for Amazon Web Services and former CIO of Arizona, weighed in with his own experiences at the state, where he led his team through digitizing processes and implementing secure platforms. By using a cloud-first strategy, the state was able to move 80 percent of data to the cloud within 18 months. he said.

He also noted the benefit of moving to the cloud as a method of adding scalable network capacity — a foundational component of meeting high demand for government services and being prepared for future disruption.

MODERNIZATION’S ROLE IN SECURITY


Citing a significant increase in ransomware attacks in the last year, Reed explained that the human element leaves governments that have not modernized their systems susceptible to these threats.

“It’s not a matter of if a government system gets compromised, it’s when,” Reed stated.

Older systems are most exposed, and even more so if the original vendor is no longer supporting them — and failure to modernize leaves government data vulnerable, Reed said.

While some government leaders may not know where to begin, Reed said IT leaders should make the case and present recommendations for funding cybersecurity upgrades within their organizations.

During his time as Arizona CIO, he used the news of a security breach on the East Coast to bring his agency director’s attention to the issue, making it clear that it could happen to their own systems if no action was taken. He added that, “nobody wants to be the one to say no to funding cybersecurity.”

Reed warned that these risks are becoming increasingly prominent, pointing to an analysis that found Google had registered over two million phishing websites in 2020.

LEGACY SYSTEM LIMITATIONS


While technology upgrades often have associated costs, so can maintenance of outdated digital infrastructure.

During the general session “The Art of Reinvention,” Alicia Graham, managing director for experience transformation focused on public service and health with Accenture, referred to results of a survey from 2020. It found that 80 percent of government IT spending goes toward maintaining legacy systems, limiting the funding available to invest in new technology.

Reed explained that the pandemic put many governments’ antiquated legacy systems under a microscope, revealing their inability to adapt to the changing conditions and increased demand, which pushed many to the breaking point.

However, these challenges create an opportunity for CIOs to push forward on technology improvements, he argued, saying the pandemic taught an important lesson about the need to have scalable technology available.

“Look at legacy systems, and ask, ‘how would we solve this problem using 2021 technology?’” Reed advised.

*The Arizona Virtual Digital Government Summit was hosted by e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.
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