State CIOs Juggle COBOL, Cloud, and Drones

3 min read
  • Information Technology

State CIOs have to take on the biggest challenges of any IT department because they have to handle both old and new technologies. What’s more, they have to do it in the fishbowl of the public eye.

Tennessee, which has a 40-year-old computer system, is finding that it may have sent out as much as $171 million in inappropriate unemployment claims, writes Anita Wadhawni in The Tennesseean. And this isn’t a situation unique to Tennessee. “A survey of state chief information officers across the country found that most state computer systems responsible for managing large health and human service programs that needed modernizing had not been upgraded or replaced,” she writes.

While it’s tempting for state CIOs to focus on dealing with old technology, it’s important to look for opportunities to take advantage of new technology as well. “The technology won’t be here tomorrow, but it’s arriving soon enough, and it’s the role of IT leaders to understand the issues surrounding those technologies so government can lead and innovate when the time comes,” writes Colin Wood in Government Technology.

For example, state CIOs have to deal with public policy issues on bleeding-edge technologies such as drones. Although unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have myriad uses in state government, ranging from agriculture to zoology, more than 60 percent of state CIOs responding to a recent survey from the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) said that drones “weren’t on their radar.”

But drones need to be a significant issue for state CIOs, argues NASCIO’s recent report, Unmanned Aerial Systems, Governance and State CIOs: On the Radar.

  • Drones generate a lot of data, which CIOs need to store and manage when state agencies are using them.
  • State governments can save money by using drones rather than piloted aircraft.
  •  In the past two years, more than half of the nation’s state legislatures have considered laws regulating drones.
  •  Drones are associated with a number of public policy areas, most notably security and privacy.

“States need to consider the implications of hackers disrupting government owned and operated UAS and what steps must be taken to properly secure the data drones collect,” writes Jake Williams in StateScoop. “Agencies may also need to consider the radio frequencies that flight operators use, to ensure that third parties cannot interfere with state operations.”

The report recommends that states develop a standard process for data collection, labeling, storage, retention, usage, sharing, and deletion, as well as deciding whether the new data is considered a public record and whether it should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, Williams writes.

Another new(er) technology trend state CIOs must consider is moving to the cloud, which offers two advantages:

  • Clouds and other infrastructure-as-a-service solutions make it easier for any organization, including state government, to ramp up and down based on need, rather than having to keep enough hardware in-house to handle the busiest times, such as tax season.
  • Outsourcing infrastructure services means state governments can work with fewer full-time staff, which saves money in tight economic climates. A recent NASCIO survey found that nearly half of the state information officers surveyed said they planned to “expand outsourcing,” while less than 10 percent planned to “increase state IT staff,” writes Jon Ortiz in the Sacramento Bee.

Reducing the number of staff required also helps with one of state IT’s biggest problems: Finding qualified personnel. Quoting NASCIO, which recently published a report on the subject, “Close to 30 percent of states’ IT workforces are eligible to retire in the next year,” Wadhawni writes. In fact, many employees eligible for retirement had held off due to the economic climate. Hiring in state IT departments is typically stymied by small salaries compared to the private sector, tight budgets, and compliance with state hiring regulations, writes David Wagner in InformationWeek.

However, to take advantage of computing services, many state IT departments need to revamp their procurement systems, due to outdated legislation that makes acquiring such services challenging, writes Billy Mitchell in FedScoop.

While state CIOs sometimes have to deal with more challenges than CIOs in private sector companies, state CIOs have a lot to offer to CIOs in private industry, specifically because they’re public, noted panelists at a recent NASCIO conference.

“It’s not easy to get an inside look at how the best companies run their tech operations,” writes Robert Bartley in FierceCIO. “That’s why state CIOs—who have the same budgets, supervision and problems as private sector CIOs but none of their privacy—are a great resource for tech executives.”

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