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Minnesota CIO Tarek Tomes said states must see the transition to cloud as a continually evolving effort, not just a series of one-off investments.
States’ transition to the cloud requires a “whole of government” effort, Minnesota Chief Information Officer Tarek Tomes said, including sustained financial investment and constant improvement of products and services.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed the need for innovation as many government functions and services were digitized, Tomes said during StateScoop’s IT Modernization Summit, adding that states must recognize that most people prefer the convenience that digitization offers.
“I think we have a responsibility to meet people where they are,” Tomes said. “Digital is as much a location as physical space.”
To achieve that shift to the cloud, Arizona CIO J.R. Sloan said it takes at least two full budget cycles in planning and funds to allow agencies to plan and adopt the technology, in addition to some “overlapping investment” in existing infrastructure while the cloud is stood up.
Tomes said state leaders also must continually look to improve their cloud products, as he said governments “can’t serve people when [they make] one-time investments and then let [services] lay dormant again.”
The cloud-based approach is already bearing fruit. Tomes said Minnesota created a digital-first way for residents to apply for benefits from its human services department and in doing so cut the time it takes to fill out an application from one hour to just 10 minutes. Around 500,000 Minnesotans have taken advantage of the new system, he said, as part of a trend where residents expect services on a “timeline that meets them where they are.”
The transition to cloud services also helps workforce development in state IT departments, as those previously employed as server administrators or in other roles see their jobs change. Sloan said the retraining of employees in cloud operations is a “double-edged sword” as re-skilled workers often find good career opportunities outside government.
And while both Sloan and Tomes said staff retention is important, there is also a pride in seeing people take their new skills elsewhere.
“To use a sports analogy, to see assistant coaches go on to be head coaches is a good thing, a healthy thing,” Tomes said.
Both acknowledged there is plenty of work ahead in their states’ efforts to embrace the cloud. Tomes said Minnesota now has a modernization playbook for other agencies and businesses to follow. Meanwhile, Sloan said Arizona launched a cloud center of excellence and steering committees to share knowledge and best practices. It will also carry out a self-assessment to see where improvements and efficiencies in cloud use can be found.