Presented by Guidehouse
As state chief information officers begin to plan for a post-pandemic “new normal,” they’re juggling recruitment challenges and more responsibility. A rapidly changing work environment is demanding more of the CIO as a strategist while complicating efforts to fully staff a highly skilled workforce.
The 2022 State CIO Survey, an annual collaboration between Grant Thornton Public Sector, recently acquired by Guidehouse, and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, or NASCIO, reveals the most pressing issues affecting the state technology landscape.
Competing With the Private Sector
“The state government marketplace has always been somewhat challenging for recruiting, partially, because it’s not the easiest or fastest hiring process, and partially, just the ability to compete,” says Graeme Finley, a partner at Guidehouse, which recently acquired Grant Thornton’s public sector advisory practice. “In most cases, states aren’t able to match the salaries offered by the private sector, so they have to look for other avenues.”
As the flexibility and remote lifestyle many workers enjoyed for the past 2.5 years become expectations, CIOs say expanding non-salary benefits is more essential than ever to attracting talent. Now that many private sector organizations, particularly in tech, are permanently adopting at least a hybrid model, some CIOs fear requiring a full-time return to the office would make recruitment harder.
On the plus side, this new model of work extends the talent pool statewide.
“Historically, if you were working for the state IT organization, you were probably working in the state capital,” Finley says. “Come the pandemic, and everyone suddenly going remote, not only did that allow current employees to move, but it has also expanded hiring opportunities to locations that weren’t really practical before.”
In addition to providing state employees more freedom of choice, this flexibility could benefit local economies, particularly in rural areas, where state employees may now choose to settle down, purchase real estate and spend money.
Other key strategies for attracting and retaining employees include modernizing job titles to reflect the private sector, offering reskilling and upskilling opportunities, and potentially looking out of state to fill workforce gaps.
The CIO as Strategist and Business Leader
Adding another layer of complication to the pandemic response, CIOs not only had to manage remote work for their own direct employees, but often the entire state workforce. By playing a central role in this sudden pivot, state CIOs saw their responsibilities grow. Many became virtual secretaries of transportation as they managed the digital highways that enabled state employees to get to work.
This shift in the way state employees worked also revealed how fragile or outdated some state systems and programs had become from a technology perspective.
“The infrastructure had been lacking investment,” Finley says. “To extend the transportation analogy, it’s like the bridges and roadways hadn’t been maintained and, all of a sudden, they started failing at rush hour.”
While this created a host of complications, it also accelerated an existing trend. As technology becomes increasingly more ingrained in nearly all state functions, the CIO is evolving into more of a business leader and strategist.
“For quite some time CIOs have been evolving from being primarily technologists to having a much broader set of roles,” Finley says. “The pandemic only accelerated this evolution, with the role now being significantly involved in vendor and customer management.”
Planning for the Future
The past few years laid bare the consequences of neglecting legacy systems, creating both challenges and opportunities in the state technology landscape. As the public sector shifts from crisis mode to assessing long-term impact, CIOs expect the focus on legacy modernization to continue.
“The importance and the visibility of the CIO role was enhanced during this whole period, and it’s not going back to the way it was,” Finley says. “Even if they go back somewhat to the office, the state workforce is dependent on the efficient operation of state government technology to do their basic jobs.”
State CIOs also see their responsibilities growing further as advocates for the importance of technology in every project and decision. They now have even more of a seat at the table in making vital business decisions and express a desire to grow not only as technologists, but also as strategists, communicators and relationship managers.
“People now realize that the state technology community can do good things very quickly and be very successful, if given the opportunity,” Finley says. “State CIOs seem to have a fairly optimistic viewpoint: ‘We have proven ourselves able to deliver in a crisis, now, let’s use that as a platform to launch into the future.’”
This content is made possible by our sponsor, Guidehouse. The editorial staff was not involved in its preparation.
NEXT STORY: Powering Secure R&D Collaboration with Box