Is the future of the office changed forever? Will conferences be as well?

These questions hung over Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, (NASCIO), and Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute/CompTIA (PTI), as they shared their views this week on their 2021 Technology Forecast based on recent research activities and conversations with state and local government technology leaders.

In addition to the impact on offices and conferences, Robinson and Shark, marking their 12th anniversary in delivering their technology forecast, presented their findings with an underlying theme of agility, resiliency, and uncertainty. Perhaps the situation was best exemplified by the announcement by NASCIO to again hold its May conference virtually, and the fact that state CIO ranks saw nearly a 20 percent turnover rate during 2020.

Highlights included the fiscal impact of the pandemic on 2021 budgets with uncertain revenue levels, constrained budgets, reduced spending levels, and the possibility of additional Federal funding – each of which would impact IT spending.

Also, the presentation emphasized elevated cyber threats during the pandemic, more focus on enterprise cybersecurity models, fraud detection, and whole-of-state cyber coordination.

Finally, drawing on NASCIO’s State CIO Top Ten Policy and Technology Priorities for 2021 released last month, Robinson underscored the prioritization of digital government services, user-centric design, streamlining experiences, citizen IAM, expansion/adoption of .gov domain, and artificial intelligence.

With these impacts, the outlook for states in 2021 indicates budget stress and deferred projects, new broadband initiatives, legacy modernization, cloud migration, and all the attendant cybersecurity risks. COVID-19 vaccine applications and logistics – already under some pressure – will be at the forefront for scrutiny, realistically, throughout the entire year. Plus there’s the new Biden administration ensuring significant impact on state IT as well.

While PTI’s Shark outlined similar issues and forecasts affecting local governments, he also highlighted several significant ones with local government emphasis. These included ransomware, greater local-state collaboration not only on infrastructure but cybersecurity, and the enhanced stature of the CIO. This last point is most critical, as the IT teams in both local and state government, especially their CIO leadership, have been thrust forward as essential to elected government leadership at all levels for nothing short of ensuring the continuity of operations during this pandemic. It was perhaps their finest hour.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly to the 20 million-plus state and local government employees across the U.S. will be the decision whether to sustain the remote work environment and/or a return to the workplace, along with the IT impact both will entail.

Like every organization in the world, both NASCIO and PTI have undergone significant strain over the last year due to this 100-year pandemic event. Certainly, none of us who celebrated NASCIO’s 50th anniversary at the 2019 annual meeting in Nashville would have anticipated the black swan that would appear just a few months later.

With the 2021 New Year, there’s still continuing gloom but for the first time with the introduction of a vaccine, there’s a new ray of hope on the horizon that our long national nightmare of isolation, distancing, and yes, even masks may be coming to an end. Let’s hope so.

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.