At its fall conference in Louisville, Ky., this week, the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO), with the support of Grant Thornton, published its 2022 annual state CIO survey – entitled The People Imperative – with workforce challenges emerging as a pervasive theme in both the report and at the conference.

In addition to workforce challenges, the CIOs reported that their states continued to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but to a far lesser degree than previously. “Now they are looking to the post-pandemic future and long-term impacts to the state technology landscape,” the survey reports.

Survey Thumbnails

The 13th edition of NASCIO’s State Chief Information Officer Survey, gathered “feedback from 51 state and territory CIOs on topics as diverse as business models, federal funding, privacy and state and local collaboration”.

With the coronavirus pandemic appearing to be on the wane from its peak, the challenge of maintaining and growing a diverse and sustainable workforce is taking the fore. As one CIO framed it, “Workforce is the single largest challenge any leader faces and getting the workforce component right is the make/break for the success of the CIO.”

NASCIO asked a number of specific questions related to CIO organization workforce priorities, but these challenges also presented themselves when discussing the role of the CIO, digital services and collaboration across different levels of government. Not surprisingly, CIOs also stressed the importance of cybersecurity, forward thinking, and what role technology can play.

As states have begun to consider a new post-pandemic normal, “the acceleration of digital services adoption that began during the pandemic has been joined by an increased
focus on workforce challenges that have become only more pressing,” the report says.

The labor market itself, the culture of the emerging workforce combined with new remote and hybrid work expectations, and the continued evolution in CIO business models, “have presented state CIOs with a range of people-related challenges,” it says, ergo, the survey’s title.

It will be the ability of CIOs to respond to these many challenges which will have a significant impact on “how state CIO organizations will support their state and citizen customers in
2023 and beyond,” the report concludes.

Governors’ Support

While no state government IT leader can deny the criticality of the workforce issue in 2022, it seems the NASCO survey has ignored the 800-pound gorilla in the room, i.e., the governor’s unwavering support of the State CIO.

Regarding the survey’s questions pertaining to the CIO role, governance model, and even the solicitation for one critical piece of advice for a new governor from the CIO, very little is mentioned about the role the governor plays in creating the environment for a successful state CIO.

While the survey asked CIOs their views on the three most important leadership traits or attributes critical to their success, their top three answers were ranked: (1) strategist, (2) communicator, and (3) relationship manager

Little was captured about the indispensable ingredient for state CIO success like the visible, demonstrable, statutorily defined authority with cabinet member status for a gubernatorially appointed state CIO, except one free-form quote from a very perceptive state CIO – “The success of implementing enterprise change is directly related to the level of support provided by the governor.” (Underscore added.)

However. ask any of the dozen or so state CIOs who enjoy such beneficence by having cabinet member status – as I have – and they’ll tell you the same thing. They could not do their job without it.

Instead, where the survey elicited from the CIOs the one critical piece of advice they would tell a new state CIO, the CIOs “focused consistently on three themes: (1) building relationships; (2) supporting your workforce; and (3) being a great partner to agencies and others.”

While admirable, these traits have to be subordinate to that special relationship with the CIO’s boss, the governor. That’s the sine qua non for a successful CIO tenure.

See the NASCIO-Grant Thornton survey itself here.

Read More About
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.