State CIOs say their top barriers to innovation are lack of funding, workforce skills, and time, according to a new report from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and Accenture.

“The pace of technological change keeps accelerating, bringing new challenges and opening opportunities, and state CIOs have an important, central role to play in fostering innovation to help government deliver better services and value to citizens,” said Doug Robinson, NASCIO’s executive director. “State government operating models should evolve to better enable, emphasize and capture the benefits of innovation, and this research points the way forward,” he said.

The report released Jan. 16 finds that state CIOs see innovation as “a major part” of their job, with 83 percent saying it is an “important” or “very important” part of their day-to-day responsibilities. Innovation also landed on NASCIO’s State CIO Top 10 Priorities for 2020, which is based on voting by 50 state CIOs. However, despite that recognition, only 14 percent reported “extensive innovation initiatives” within their state governments.

Key findings of the report are:

  • The majority of CIOs (63 percent) said lack of funding is their top barrier.
  • Workforce issues come in as the second top barrier to innovation, with 43 percent rating it as their top barrier, and 85 percent citing struggles with finding the right skills for innovation.
  • Roughly a quarter of CIOs said that state administrative leadership has made innovation a state priority, and only 6 percent said their legislature has actually made it a priority.
  • Governance structures to oversee innovation are becoming more prevalent, with 49 percent reporting having one, and 31 percent in the processing of developing one.
  • The report found that collaboration in innovation ecosystems is mainly internally focused. More than half of CIOs (63 percent) cited employees are the top source of innovative ideas. Less than half pointed to external collaborations, and only 14 percent cited input from citizens.

The report also offered recommendations for states looking to ramp up their focus on innovation.

  • Even when navigating twists and turns, stay focused on the true destination: The report urges state CIOs to remember that their goal isn’t a better-designed web portal or a more efficient transaction process. Instead, the report says “an outcome supports better lives: healthier children and families, stronger economies, more vibrant communities.”
  • Straddle the line of “disciplined experimentation”: State CIOs need to “get clear about the rules of the innovation road.” The report said CIOs need to be clear about how decisions will be made and how the CIO’s office will interact with other agencies. NASCIO suggests establishing “guidelines for creating innovation business cases.”
  • Give yourself license to grow: The report says that as the role of the CIO grows and shifts, CIOs need to develop new skills in marketing, communication, and collaboration. CIOs need to “conduct an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses and then identify opportunities to partner with others inside or outside government to build or bolster key skills.”
  • Invite more parties on the innovation ride: Currently most innovation ideas come from state employees. However, state CIOs need to begin cultivating ideas from other sources, including private-sector partners and citizens.
  • Get creative to pay the tolls: Budget is always a concern for CIOs, which can make innovation seem impossible. The report says that when working within the constraints of a state’s laws and governance, CIOs should “seek out opportunities to use money from the general fund, to establish a special innovation fund or to partner with agencies to fund innovations from their budgets.”
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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs