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Nevada CIO Resigns Citing Role Changes, Barriers to Success

CIO Alan Cunningham stepped down Nov. 26, after his job responsibilities “totally changed,” he says. He tells GovTech the IT department struggled with limited resources, overwork and restrictive policies.

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Nevada CIO Alan Cunningham
David Kidd/Government Technology
Alan Cunningham stepped down as CIO of Nevada on Nov. 26, citing what he said were significant changes to his role that restricted his ability to have an impact. Cunningham, who now is seeking new opportunities, was appointed state CIO in August 2020, taking over from former CIO Michael Dietrich who also held the role for under two years.

“They totally changed all my job responsibilities from when I was hired,” he told Government Technology. “I just couldn't sit there and take the changes. It was just a case of being shuffled off into the corner … that’s not what I was there for. I was there to try and effect change.”

Among Cunningham’s prime concerns was the state’s request to create a five- to 10-year statewide technology strategy — something he saw as unrealistic and limiting. The fast pace of technological change, Nevada’s legislative session length and the state’s biennial budgeting make a two- to four-year plan more appropriate in his view.

“Technologists at the state are trying to use a crystal ball to figure out, ‘OK, what kind of technology will we need in next 24 to 48 months?’ And that’s really difficult,” Cunningham said. “… They [the state] wanted me to only have effect on strategy five to 10 years out. Quite frankly, the state of Nevada has never had that kind of strategy.”

Cunningham said the state IT department has been facing numerous challenges, including unmet staffing needs and a tendency for state officials to underestimate the work needed to achieve goals.

The pandemic sent state employees’ use of digital collaboration tools soaring, but the IT workforce that supports the technologies hasn’t grown enough to match increased need, he said. The department's database administrator team, in particular, is at 40 percent strength, and the state would benefit from hiring more.
Many IT staff members have responded by working longer days, leaving many feeling burned out, he said. The switch to working from home has led to employees stretching their work schedules into nights and weekends.

“Because they believe in the job that they’re doing, they extend themselves past where it’s healthy, to be perfectly honest,” Cunningham said.

States around the country have been struggling to recruit enough technology professionals, but Cunningham said Nevada’s requirement that employees live in the state adds an extra layer of difficulty. He believes that requirement is outdated now that the pandemic has demonstrated the viability of remote work and said that Nevada’s rising cost of living has caused several prospective hires to decide they couldn’t afford to accept positions that required moving in-state.

Another major challenge is that he believes government officials outside the IT department can be unaware of the work and resources needed to achieve desired projects.

“There's a fair bit of lip service provided to technology this, technology that, but when it actually comes down to funding said technology and planning for moving it forward for the next number of years, there's a disconnect at the legislative level,” he said.

This can create challenges both for defending the funding needed to sustain certain existing operations as well as what is needed to implement new services.

“It doesn’t ‘auto-magically’ happen. Routing needs to take place, switches need to be put in place, cable needs to be done, fiber needs to be done and we need to negotiate with vendors. None of that happens quickly, and it certainly doesn’t happen if you don’t have the resources,” Cunningham said. “Everybody wants database, everybody wants data or dashboards, and you can’t do that if you don’t have any DBAs [database administrators]. You can’t hire DBAs if you say they all have to live in Nevada.”

The governor’s office was contacted for this story, but did not provide comment by press time.

Editor's note: A statement about the state's IT workforce level was adjusted for clarity.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.