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NASCIO Day Two: State CIOs Take a Turn Toward the Customer

The release of the organization’s annual in-depth survey of state technology leaders offers an evolving view of the role, with insights on customer service, cost management strategies and performance management.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On the second full day of programming at the annual NASCIO conference, the organization, in conjunction with its partners Grant Thornton and CompTIA, released “The Responsive State CIO: Connecting to the Customer.” 

The 2019 edition of the survey includes insights and analysis from in-depth interviews with CIOs and their designees from 49 states and territories. It’s a much different group from the last survey — nearly 40 percent of respondents were different from last year’s participants due to turnover that’s occurred, heightened by the changes in executive leadership brought about by the 2018 election cycle.  

Among the chief takeaways offered by the report is a pivot on the part of previously more internally focused chief information officers toward a customer-centric approach. And the definition of customer is broad, extending beyond the citizens on the receiving end of government services to include internal customers in state agencies as well as partners in local government. 

Panelist and Nebraska Chief Information Officer Ed Toner has adopted this mindset in his consolidated IT operation, using surveys and keeping in close contact with agencies that IT provides services to, reaching out for feedback to anyone rating their services lower than a four out of a possible five. 

Asked by NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson whether the state has a chief customer officer, Toner’s response was revealing. “It’s me,” he said. 

His approach is not unique among his peers. Three fourths of survey respondents said they have someone in the IT organization responsible for managing relationships with customer agencies. Of the remaining group, half are working on developing similar initiatives.

On a related note, the survey also offered insights on the growth of performance management efforts. More than half of survey participants reported that they had a formal program in place, normally led by the governor and cabinet. And while this practice is gaining ground in government, it’s not a key responsibility for the CIO: approximately 30 percent of state CIOs report playing a supporting role rather than a leading one.

Performance management within the IT office is gaining ground as well. Vermont CIO John Quinn and his agency built Power BI dashboards for agencies that help him provide granular data to agencies about what they’re paying for when it comes to IT services. “We can show them the cost per user which forces them to be very efficient,” he said. 

Toner uses performance and survey data to hold his staff accountable as well. “Each of our teams have a goal that they must meet,” he explained. “They have to show how they’re going to improve.”

Another interesting finding involved the use of as-a-service technologies. Grant Thornton LLP Principal Graeme Finley noted a “significant uptick” in states considering the model. Ninety-two percent of states reported that their plans to deliver IT services in the next three years include expanded use of software-, platform-, infrastructure-, and other as-a-service delivery options.  

In Vermont, Quinn cited procurement as a hurdle on the journey to using cloud services, though he remains optimistic about future as-a-service opportunities. In Nebraska, by contrast, the state has a shared data center, offering cloud services to localities all over the state. “We’ve really become the state cloud,” Toner said.

Eyragon Eidam is the web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at