IT leaders in state government perform a juggling act each day, balancing the needs of government agencies, the concerns of citizens and the realities of budgets. When it comes to technology solutions, no leader is pulled in more directions than the state CIO, who must answer to the governor, legislators and citizens on a variety of issues ranging from the security of state records to the modernization of legacy computing systems. At the same time, state CIOs must stay ahead of many IT trends.

In September 2016, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) released its 2016 State CIO Survey, in which CIOs reported the most pressing IT trends facing state governments. The results highlighted significant technology gaps in state government and identified several areas that CIOs agreed require additional attention.

Improvements in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity issues continue to concern state CIOs after a series of high profile incidents struck states around the nation during 2016. CNN reported that hackers successfully penetrated voter registration systems in both Arizona and Illinois, raising public scrutiny of state cybersecurity. NASCIO reports that state governments face a cybersecurity hiring crisis that inhibits their ability to mitigate these threats. According to the NASCIO survey, 83 percent of respondents reported that only 1 to 2 percent of their IT workforce specializes in security issues. And this problem isn’t unique to the public sector. When the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium published their 2015 Global Information Security Workforce Study, they found that 62 percent of organizations worldwide felt that they were understaffed from a cybersecurity perspective.

Despite their staffing challenges, state governments did make progress on several major cybersecurity projects over the past year. According to the NASCIO report, 94 percent of CIOs reported that they adopted a standards-based cybersecurity framework, up from 80 percent in 2015. Similarly, 71 percent of CIOs reported the implementation of a cybersecurity disruption response plan, up from only 52 percent from the previous year.

Evolution of the IT Workforce

The IT workforce is changing rapidly, driven by generational shifts and changes in private sector employment practices. State CIOs told NASCIO that human resources and talent management issues rank among their top priorities. When asked to identify the personnel reforms that would be most impactful in their state, CIOs gave several responses:

  • Modernizing IT titles and job classifications (30 percent)
  • Modernizing office culture with flexible work schedules and telecommuting options (20 percent)
  • Removing IT positions from the civil service system (15 percent)
  • Eliminating state unions representing IT (13 percent)

In addition to these potential reforms, state CIOs reported that they simply can’t compete with the private sector on compensation, and that they must turn to innovative practices to recruit and retain talented IT staff. CIOs found it helpful to promote the non-salary benefits of state positions, such as job stability and diversity of experience. A majority of CIOs also use the “call to public service” as a recruiting and retention tool.

Legacy System Modernization and the Cloud

State governments face a crisis when it comes to modernizing their legacy computing systems. Despite IT outsourcing efforts over the past decade, NASCIO found that state governments lag behind in their efforts to modernize, with 85 percent of CIOs reporting that at least 20 percent of their systems fit into the legacy category. More than a third reported that the majority of their IT systems are due for replacement or modernization. One CIO summed up the problem by saying, “We’re coming out of a period of time where we weren’t investing in technology; we have a lot of catching up to do.”

Many states are coping with the burden of legacy systems by turning to the cloud as an IT outsourcing solution. When asked about their cloud migration plans, three-quarters of CIOs reported that they have or are developing a cloud migration strategy for legacy applications. “Cloud first” strategies are also common among state governments, with 54 percent of states adopting a formal or informal preference for cloud technology.

State CIOs face a complex set of challenges as they seek to modernize government IT systems. They must balance the competing demands of cybersecurity, workforce development and legacy system modernization with many other requirements presented by senior government executives, legislators and citizens. Meeting these demands requires innovative thinking and creative solutions.

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