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Partnerships, Cooperation Key to Long-Term Gov Tech Success

Public-sector agencies are often tasked to “do more with less,” but challenges faced by today's gov tech leaders are more manageable when tackled with support from peers at all levels of government.

people collaborating with laptops and smartphones
State and local government technology leaders are facing strong headwinds. Ransomware and cyberattacks are commonplace. Technology officials responsible for election security are under constant pressure and scrutiny. And the new COVID-19 virus has further complicated the already action-packed agendas of CIOs and IT management. Most technology departments are short of staff, funding and time.

How can we cope with these issues? It’s important to remember that we can’t and shouldn’t go it alone. 2020 presents a golden opportunity to connect or reconnect with our peers, residents and colleagues across the technology spectrum. We often overlook talent and resources in our backyard as well as around the country. We get so busy in daily operations that we may miss tangible ways to strengthen our team’s resiliency. Let’s look at some ideas to boost your capacity to undertake the current threats and challenges.

We have friends and significant resources at the federal level. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency offers substantial training, tools and support for state and local agencies. The Center for Internet Security and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center are outstanding organizations willing to help. Additionally, the United States Digital Service, 18F and the Defense Digital Service at the Department of Defense are doing amazing and inspiring work for all of us to model after.

State CIOs, CTOs and CISOs are increasingly interested in forging new partnerships. There are examples of regional and statewide cooperative groups to tackle cybersecurity, digital inclusion and procurement, and National Guards are quickly becoming cyber first responders in many states. The National Governors Association launched a Resource Center for State Cybersecurity, and we’ve seen innovation from states like Michigan in building a cybersecurity version of the Medical Reserve Corps. The Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps is a group of trained civilian experts who stand ready as a rapid response team.

We’re likely to see new examples of mutual aid agreements, not for fighting fires or criminals, but for cybersecurity. The public safety versions of these agreements have been in place for decades, and most agencies are ill-equipped to deal with the new reality of cyberdisasters. IT staff from neighboring jurisdictions could help stem the digital avalanche. Mutual aid agreements typically stand the test of time regardless of the turnover of elected officials, city/county managers or IT staff.

One of the most significant rewards of working in the public sector is the ability for us to share information and best practices with colleagues playing for other teams, as we’re generally not in competition. Denver’s Peak Academy has improved operations not only in that city, but their staff has also evangelized the techniques and best practices to other government agencies throughout the country. Everyone is better off for their efforts. The private sector doesn’t typically provide these sharing opportunities.

Residents and citizens are frequently untapped resources. There are experts on data, user-centered design, cybersecurity and many other areas who can collaborate with us. These volunteers are generous with their time and help us stay grounded to our constituency. Plus, nearby universities and colleges offer students seeking internships and work-study opportunities. The students gain valuable experience, make a lasting impact and add new ways of thinking.

Associations also offer outstanding opportunities to learn and grow, but perhaps, most importantly, the chance to commiserate about our shared battles and predicaments. It’s like gov-therapy: good for the brain and the soul. Excellent examples include Engaging Local Government Leaders, Government Management Information Sciences and the National Association of Government Web Professionals.

Government IT leadership can be lonely and daunting at times. Still, we can survive — and even thrive — with innovative partnerships, collaboration and looking beyond our boundaries for assistance.

Luke Stowe is CIO and interim director of administrative services for Evanston, Ill. One of Government Technology's Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers of 2018, he works to bridge the gap between technology and business practices.