Customer Service, State and Local Partnerships Key for CIOs

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Connecting state and local government leaders

The findings of NASCIO’s 2019 survey of chief information officers highlights areas of concern and evolving priorities among state information technology leaders.

Nebraska’s chief information officer, Ed Toner, set out to consolidate the state’s information technology work and data centers in 2016, an effort that led to a 20% reduction in his agency’s staff.

Today, his office provides information technology services for 83 of the state’s 94 counties and the agency picks up a new city or county customer about once a month.

It’s one of the ways that state CIOs can achieve cost savings and promote consolidation while strengthening relationships with local governments, Toner said Tuesday as part of a a panel discussion at the National Association of Chief Information Officers conference in Nashville. As importantly, it can improve cybersecurity at the local level, he said. 

“We’ve become the state cloud,” Toner said. “It’s now picking up because of concerns in the cities about security and we tell them the best way is to come on in. When the economics work out, they do.”

Tuesday’s panel discussion was centered on findings of NASCIO’s 2019 survey, which asked state information technology leaders about their priorities and evolving responsibilities.

Among the findings, state CIOs are increasingly focused on improving customer service, including with state agencies and local government partners, while cybersecurity improvements continue to be a top priority.

“From establishing dedicated units to managing customer relationships to increasing the transparency in how they charge for services, CIOs are now more than ever treating strong customer relationships as vital to their success,” said Graeme Finley, a principal with Grant Thornton, which collaborated with NASCIO on the survey.

For local governments, that’s primarily meant seeking help with security infrastructure, particularly in light of hackers’ focus on local governments as targets for ransomware. Sixty-five percent of state CIOs who responded said security infrastructure was a top service offered to local governments. The survey identified other primary services available to local governments as network services (60%); data center hosting (56%); backup services (49%); and storage (47%).

As a way to improve Nebraska’s relationships with its county and city customers, Toner said his agency routinely conducts customer satisfaction surveys and follows up with any customer who gives the agency a low rating.

“That wins us a lot of credibility when we actually follow up,” he said.

The NASCIO survey found that 36 of the 49 states and territories that responded to the survey have initiatives in place to address customer relationship management and six other states are developing such programs.

“Nearly all CIOs expressed the clear sentiment that they want to be an enabler of success to their agency customers, and to do that they must take an active role to build relationships from the senior executives down through the technology staff,” the report said.

John Quinn, Vermont CIO, speaks during a panel discussion at the NASCIO convention in Nashville. (Andrea Noble)

CIOs indicated that to improve relationships with customer agencies that they are assigning dedicated leads to address needs in each partner agency. An increased use of automated service requests and customer satisfaction surveys are also being used to improve customer relationships.  

The report also asked for the first time about management of information technology costs and found that most states have complicated cost management processes in place.

Most state CIO organizations operate as internal providers of information technology services like data center, network and email services to state agencies “on a chargeback, user fee or comparable basis,” the report found.

Toner said his agency is one of those that has to chargeback for all work they do. To do so, he tries to be transparent about the agency’s rates for service and offers an open house every time he offers a new service.

“We proactively make sure they understand how we determine that rate and one of the things we do is we try to incent good behavior,” Toner said.

In one instance, that meant working with a customer to reduce the frequency of system scans. His agency was charging the customer for each scan, racking up high bills due to the excessive reviews.

John Quinn, Vermont’s CIO, said during Tuesday’s panel discussion that recovering costs from customers can create tension.

“It’s a point of contention with the agencies,” Quinn said. “It’s a constant back and forth for what they need, what they think they should be charged for, what is allocated across the headcount.”

To ease through those issues, Quinn said he meets in person with agency heads to go over costs. In one meeting to review the number of software user licenses an agency needed, he discovered that the agency had been paying $1,500 a year for a license for a person who no longer worked at the agency.

“Someone said, ‘That person has been dead for two years,’” he said.

Providing that granular level of detail has evoked praise from agency partners, he said.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty.

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