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While it may be tempting to roll out flashy user-facing features, investing in the back-end infrastructure is even more important.
While it can be tempting for state agencies to chase front-end “eye candy” when they modernize, they must also address technical debt, one state IT leader said this week.
Many states have prioritized modernization to improve customer experience for residents, but if they do not use the influx of federal money to also clean up their back-end infrastructure, they will undermine those customer experience improvement efforts, according to Chris Rein, New Jersey’s chief technology officer.
IT leaders must “strike the right balance” in encouraging investment in the less flashy side of infrastructure as that can help drive efficiencies. Not doing so could leave systems overwhelmed in periods of high demand or prone to cyberattacks, he warned.
“If we just put a glamorous or an interesting feature set on the outside, and we haven't reduced the technical debt that may exist on the back end, then we still have a high-risk situation,” Rein said during an April 26 GovExec webinar.
Being able to message that to others in state government is crucial, he said, especially as they may be distracted by the shiny objects.
“It is a balance,” Rein said. “Some of the eye candy, if you will, that's out there … can do some really neat things, but if it is wrapped around a risky set of fundamentals, it's really not going to serve anyone well, in a sustainable manner.”
New Jersey has already taken significant steps toward modernization as part of its hybrid cloud strategy that relies on two on-prem data centers as well as the cloud. Last year, lawmakers codified that modernization when they passed the “21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act,” an effort that has parallels in other states and federally.
On the heels of that legislation, New Jersey’s Office of Information Technology (NJOIT) released its IT Business and Technology Strategic Plan, which noted that state agencies’ use of cloud providers has “grown steadily” over the last year, with centralized procurement and support providing “greater discount opportunities” for agencies.
Like other states that have moved to the cloud, Rein said there was some “initial resistance” on the part of employees who were comfortable with the existing infrastructure. Agencies that felt their data storage needs were “special” were particularly reluctant to a shift to the cloud, Rein said, but there has been an “erosion” of that resistance among staff who now see its benefits.
For the future, Rein said a major point of emphasis will be on redefining positions at NJOIT to better consider new technologies. He said the state also must move toward smarter procurement practices to keep up with the pace of technological evolution.
“Governments typically don't move at the speed of the private sector,” Rein said. “We certainly don't move at the rapid pace of technological advancements, so [smarter procurement] really becomes a big priority.”
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