Government CIOs don’t often get the credit they deserve for innovation. But the release of two separate surveys offering insights into what state chief information officers (CIOs) have to say has the industry talking. There may be only 50 of these state CIOs, but they represent some of the biggest organizations in existence, and their problems mirror those of the private sector.

The first survey from the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO), along with Grant Thornton and TechAmerica, asked state CIOs to look at their most pressing issues, and published the findings in the report Charting the Course: Leading Collaboration During Uncertain Times. This annual survey, performed since 2010, offers an excellent response rate (52 states and territories this year) and is therefore thought to be an accurate representation of how state CIOs really feel.

“The role of the CIO continues to evolve,” NASCIO writes. “The CIO is increasingly a broker of services—they must coordinate the activities of multiple disparate entities, many of them are commercial organizations with their own drivers and objectives. In the absence of extra resources and facing challenges in staff retention and training, innovation continues to be an important weapon in the CIO arsenal.”

So how are these state CIOs innovating? The survey primarily covered three topics:

Planning and Oversight of Large, Critical Projects. Increasingly, CIOs’ most important job is to manage system integrators, NASCIO notes, adding that there’s more to procurement than simply having an award with no protests, and “the best way to improve the success of large, multi-year projects is to stop doing large, multi-year projects.”

Sourcing. Nearly 60 percent of respondents say they planned to expand their existing IT shared services model, and almost 50 percent said they planned to outsource business applications through a software-as-a-service model. In comparison, less than 10 percent said they planned to increase state IT staff.

Managing Data as a Strategic Asset. While there has been a lot of interest in open data in state government, there are a number of barriers, the survey found, starting with agencies’ unwillingness to publish it. Other issues include data quality and reliability, and, of course, funding for open data projects.

In particular this year, state CIOs are much more willing to look at the cloud, writes Jeffrey Stinson for the Pew Charitable Trusts. Delaware, the first state to the cloud seven years ago, is now about to move to the public cloud, where a third-party vendor will manage the assets, he writes. Numerous other states, including Utah, Michigan, California, and Pennsylvania, have already or are also making the move to the cloud, he adds.

In fact, the 2014 survey found that 20 percent of states already consider themselves highly invested in cloud services, while last year only 6 percent did. In this year’s survey, 73 percent of state CIOs report that they have “some applications in the cloud and are considering others. In 2013, 68 percent used cloud services and in 2010 only 54 percent did, according to Pew. Only 6 percent of states say they’re still investigating cloud services, versus 22 percent the year before. And no states say they rejected cloud services, while in 2013 2 percent did. Estimates are that state and local governments will be spending $625 million for cloud services in the upcoming year.

What’s making cloud so popular this year? Cost, Stinson writes. Using research from the Brookings Institute, he estimates that states can save from 25 to 50 percent in computing operations by moving to private-sector cloud. Delaware, for example, saved $5 million in 2009 by making the switch. And pressed by the recession, many other states made the move.

State governments have also followed the lead of the federal government, which started to move projects to the cloud in 2010. “The policy helped spur state information technology chiefs to drop some of their queasiness about the cloud, especially the public cloud, where firms such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others have huge capacity and offer services on a subscription basis,” Stinson writes. “Simply renting servers rather than buying them can lower capital costs.”

Last year’s NASCIO survey found that the top issue for state CIOs was security—and it remains a major concern. States not only hold large amount of personally identifiable data, which can be used for identity theft, but state governments are also increasingly the target of hackers—millions per month in the case of Texas, Stinson writes.

Given that security is such a priority, NASCIO and Deloitte & Touche LLP also surveyed state CIOs and chief security information officers (CSIOs) specifically to explore security issues. This second survey, State Governments at Risk: Time to Move Forward, was released at the beginning of National Cyber Security Awareness Month. States such as Montana, Washington, and California have reported major breaches, with 60 percent of states reporting attacks, compared with 50 percent two years ago, Stinson writes. States are also facing a rise in “hacktivism,” or “hacking into government computers to make a social statement, cause mayhem or provide a platform for activist groups to gain exposure,” he adds.

Despite this upswing in cyber breaches, states devote only about 1 percent of their budgets to security. This is because the state governments can’t pay as much as the private sector, Stinson writes. According to the survey, 59 percent say they are short on trained cybersecurity personnel, compared with 46 percent two years ago.

Interestingly, 60 percent of officials in state departments and agencies surveyed say they are “very confident” in their states’ abilities to protect them and their information—but only 24.5 percent of the information and security officers said they were “very confident” in their ability to do so.

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