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Tennessee Centers Tech Work on Modernization and Automation

Over the past year, the state’s IT journey has been propelled by an emphasis on system modernization, digital government services and strategies to integrate emerging technologies.

Tennessee CIO Stephanie Dedmon
David Kidd/Government Technology
Tennessee has embarked on a transformative journey in recent years, with modernization and automation being the figurative axles that keep the wheels of IT service expansion rolling in the state.

“I honestly cannot remember a time in our history that we've had so many huge modernization efforts going on simultaneously,” Tennessee CIO Stephanie Dedmon said. “There are several large legacy modernization efforts and processes occurring as we speak, including the overhaul of our unemployment insurance system and our offender management system, along with several electronic health record projects and the replacement of our child welfare system. We’re focusing on replacing these applications and migrating existing legacy applications to the cloud.”

Dedmon heads the Strategic Technology Solutions (STS) division of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration. A significant focal point for the agency has been business process automation and enterprise services. Their automation efforts also funnel into a popular topic today: artificial intelligence (AI).

Tennessee has been steadily diving into the AI space, expanding use cases for the technology while also developing policies to protect against associated risks.

“We’re early in our AI journey, but it continues to be a focus within our strategic road map as we work with our agencies to both understand, promote and support use cases for AI, as well as work on policies to govern and understand the risks associated and highlight the discipline needed to harness this technology,” Dedmon said. “Our role from a central IT standpoint is a fine line between progressing innovation and strategy.”

Various government agencies within the state have been utilizing AI-enabled chatbots since the COVID-19 pandemic to help with an increased volume of inquiries and help requests. However, the STS is hoping to expand AI capabilities this year, already starting the process of integrating bots into its enterprise resource planning system.

“We are currently making changes to the system so that it mirrors the same concept of a chatbot that is educated and uses artificial intelligence to make the interaction with our state employees easier by streamlining digital navigation to complete transactions more smoothly and access information faster,” Dedmon explained.

She considers the agency to be in “the education phase” of helping customers understand how AI can be used to improve services. In the next year, Dedmon says that the state will graduate from that level and begin to aggressively work toward adopting products that they can safely roll out and use to promote use case development for AI.

The evolution of process automation is also exemplified through the state’s digital government strategy — with continued updates to the state’s MyTN App being one example among many. The application is a one-stop shop for citizen services, offering access to over 60 services in one location.

Dedmon said, "It’s always rewarding to receive unsolicited feedback about how our mobile app has helped someone do something in the heat of the moment, something they needed urgently.”

The STS is also collaborating with five agencies to create a comprehensive business gateway to assist entrepreneurs throughout the process of opening a business.

“That’s a big step for us to begin bringing together those agencies and offer a centralized path for a citizen to start, maintain and run a business in our state,” Dedmon said.

The CIO also discussed a critical concern for all government agencies: cybersecurity. It remains a top priority within the state, with Tennessee utilizing funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and participating in federal grants to enhance cybersecurity measures. And according to Dedmon, intergovernmental partnerships have also been key to their strategy.

“Cybersecurity is an ever-evolving area for us just in terms of acquiring additional tools and technologies to further protect our state. This is why we are partnering with our local governments to assist in understanding each agency’s specific, current risk profile,” she said. “Through those partnerships and our federal funding, we can progress in several areas such as training and completing national cybersecurity review assessments with each of our local government entities to pinpoint opportunities for improvement.”

Looking ahead, Dedmon encourages fellow CIOs and other technology leaders to search for opportunities to collaborate — an often overlooked, but key component to success in government IT. Her role in organizations such as the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) helped shape past and future initiatives for the state.

“NASCIO, specifically, has been a safe space for peers to come together and talk about challenges in IT and understand how others have addressed those challenges,” she said. “All states are facing similar concerns. Some of us are further ahead in some areas and some are behind, so I feel it’s a great opportunity to share our journey and learn from others on their journeys, which is better for the overall citizen experience.”

As Tennessee continues its digital journey, the state’s commitment to innovation, modernization and expanding digital government strategies will be beneficial to enhancing the tech landscape in the state for years to come.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.