NASCIO Day Two: The Changing Face of the CIO

In its annual survey of chief information officers from all 50 states, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers forecasts the skills needed by the next generation of CIOs.

On the second full day of programming at the NASCIO Annual conference in San Diego, the organization released its report summarizing the findings of its 2018 State CIO Survey. Executive Director Doug Robinson was joined by Grant Thornton Principal Graeme Finley, as well as California CIO Amy Tong and Minnesota CIO Johanna Clyborne, on a panel devoted to insights from the survey. 

Titled State CIO as Communicator: The Evolving Nature of Technology and Leadership, top technology officials from all 50 states weighed in. Given the upcoming elections, likely to usher in many new faces to state CIO offices, NASCIO positioned the document as guidance for the next class of state technology leaders.

As the document’s title suggests, the survey offers insights on the changing way CIOs view their role, with communication skills, easily outranking all other abilities needed for the job, signaling the end of the era which saw CIOs laser-focused on overseeing sound technology infrastructure. Other skills needed by successful CIOs include strategic thinking and relationship-building — traits underlined by many tech leaders GT interviewed over the course of the conference.

“Build those relationships. Get to know your fellow cabinet members,” said Vermont CIO John Quinn. “It’s really important that the cabinet level understands security, understands where you’re headed from a technology perspective so when they talk about what they need, they know to come to you and to use you as a trusted adviser, rather than just the IT guy that fixes your phone.”

The survey also reflected an expanded definition of digital transformation, which has broadened beyond just moving services online. “State leaders aspire to have seamless citizen transactions, increase engagements, provide mobile services, establish common online identities, and enable crowdsourcing and digital assistants to help navigate services,” the report reads. Not surprisingly, most CIOs felt they should be a key driver in those efforts, or as Robinson called them, “the conductor of that orchestra,” noting their enterprisewide perspective on what it will take to execute on digital transformation. 

As to California’s journey, Tong described the state as in the process of transforming. “Digital government is less about what tech is being made available to citizens or residents in California,” she said. “It’s really about accessibility,” noting that the state is moving toward an approach that is user-centered, delivering services in the way that is the most convenient to people. And that requires a lot of work on back-of-the-house systems and processes. In California, a governance body meets monthly to ensure efforts to transform are well coordinated. “Digital government is really about the business process transformation behind the scene,” Tong added. 

In Minnesota, Clyborne reminded those in attendance that she became state CIO under challenging circumstances, in the midst of the troubled upgrade to the Minnesota License and Registration System (MNLARS). Along with getting that project on track, described by Clyborne as having gotten to the point of being “so broken,” she spoke about the launch this week of a new state portal, aimed at enabling intuitive access for citizens to state services.

Echoing the survey findings about the importance of CIOs communicating effectively with all relevant stakeholders, including agency business partners, Clyborne also offered an early observation of the challenges she’s encountered since being named CIO earlier this year: “The vast majority of the issues that I’ve seen in my short tenure as CIO are not technology-focused, but business-focused,” she said. 

On the emerging tech front, 57 percent of respondents to the survey pegged artificial intelligence as having the greatest transformative potential, up from 29 percent in the last survey. That jump stands in contrast to the next highest-ranking emerging technology: the Internet of Things. Twenty-seven percent of CIOs ranked IoT as the most impactful technology this year, as compared with 44 percent in 2017.

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter. Follow @GovTechNoelle