By: Hardik Bhatt, Leader, Digital Government, Amazon Web Services

The Federal government isn’t alone in the digital transformation race – state and local agencies are sprinting towards the finish line as well. In this blog series, we’ll dig into a variety of hot topics related to IT modernization in state and local government including cloud adoption, implementation of next-gen technologies, smart cities, and more. First up, the role of the state CIO, and how it’s evolving as a result of new technology, legislation, and innovation.

Setting the Current Pace

What exactly does a state CIO do? That is an increasingly difficult question to answer as their responsibilities are constantly evolving due to advances in technology. Ten years ago, CIOs could get away with basic IT knowledge, but skills required to be successful have shifted dramatically. My main concerns back in 2006 while serving as Chicago’s CIO were not cloud and mobile. They were both nascent technologies at that time. And today, both are critical for a CIO’s success.

A recent NASCIO report talks about the new role of CIO as a broker. However, I see the role of broker as just one facet of the CIO’s role – today CIOs must wear many hats and their priorities have extended well beyond simply maintaining back-office infrastructure to overseeing broader IT transformation efforts. Some of these hats include, innovation enabler, data steward, security expert, talent magnet, and policy influencer, to name a few. CIOs are balancing many responsibilities as they strive to provide the best constituent services in the most efficient manner possible.

Challenges and Solutions

The evolving nature of technology certainly shapes the day-to-day challenges facing state CIOs – of which there are many. But which ones lead the pack? Here are the challenges that I see most often emerging at the front of the pack, as well as the associated mile markers for success:

  • Talent Recruitment and Retention
    CHALLENGE: The majority of public sector IT professionals with the expertise to manage legacy systems are retiring. On top of that, state and local governments must compete against the private sector – a sector that provides exposure to newer technologies and offers higher salaries.SOLUTION: To overcome the challenge of the talent out-flux with Baby Boomers retiring and competition against private sector, CIOs must be a talent magnet to attract top-tier external talent and drive internal cultural changes. CIOs must create opportunities for their workforces to implement newer technologies, such as containers, serverless computing, and data analytics, to attract the next generation of talent. To be successful, a CIO must also serve as a policy influencer. They cannot be solely a back-office technology person anymore. They need to be well-versed in policy and comfortable advocating for the city or state’s best interests.
  • Changing the Procurement Scene
    CHALLENGE: Long procurement cycles have been a major hurdle for state CIOs wanting to take steps forward with IT modernization. While funding has been cited as an issue, I have never experienced that as a major blocker; you can always find funding if you have the right business justification. The problem is strategically leveraging funding across an enterprise. But when it comes to procurement, the model is quickly changing from capital to operational expenditure.SOLUTION: A CIO must have the ability to intelligently buy Software as a Service, oversee implementations, and migrate existing on-premises systems to the cloud. For each of these, the CIO must understand and advocate the shift from IT being a capital expenditure to subscription model. Building a cloud environment that works across the enterprise is vital, so they do not end up with 30+ subscriptions to various software, all serving unique, disparate purposes. Bringing together technology in a harmonious way will enable innovation and will ultimately enable better constituent services.
  • Cybersecurity
    CHALLENGE: Another major threat to state and local governments is cybersecurity, in particular, a ransomware attack – a classic example that results from the lack of IT modernization. Not having a sense of urgency for modernization and transformation drastically impacts how successful a CIO will be in his or her role.SOLUTION: CIOs must actively evangelize the need for executive focus on cybersecurity. Cybersecurity must be elevated as a business risk, not just dealt with as an IT issue only. While keeping data secure, CIOs must act as true data stewards by helping Chief Data Officers enable agency analytics and facilitate cross-agency data sharing. This will drive a better understanding of the constituent and enable faster and cheaper services.

The Road Ahead

The future for state CIOs has always been difficult to predict – there’s no crystal ball. However, I feel that we’re headed in a positive direction. Recruiting and retaining top-tier talent, modernizing outdated procurement processes, and evolving cyber threats are all challenges CIOs must deal with every day. CIOs must also enable innovation through data analytics and technology modernization. In order to make meaningful strides, a CIO must fill many roles and most importantly, must be able to adapt to the evolving technology landscape in the race to modernize.


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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