State CIOs Say Pandemic Bolstered Rollout of Automated Technology

Chatbot or live chat with customer help assistant on business website.

Chatbot or live chat with customer help assistant on business website. Shutterstock / Tero Vesalainen


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Chatbots were the most likely automated technology to be deployed by state governments to respond to the coronavirus, according to a NASCIO survey.

Automated technologies that some state agencies were skeptical of using in the past have seen widespread adoption during the government response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to state chief information officers.

The desire for automation so state agencies can address the evolving needs of residents has positioned state CIOS to roll out new solutions at a faster pace, said Tennessee CIO Stephanie Dedmon, speaking Tuesday at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers online conference.

“As is the case for so many, our agencies were willing to try technologies they had been skeptical of in the past,” Dedmon said, mentioning the use of chatbots as one example. “It really expedited some things we had been wanting to do, which was a positive.”

Chatbots were the most likely form of automation that state CIOs introduced during the pandemic to respond to agencies’ needs, with 76% of state CIOs indicating they utilized the technology, according to NASCIO’s 2020 State of the CIO survey.

Chatbots are software applications that state agencies can use to provide customer service information through an online or text conversation rather than through direct contact with an agency employee.  

The automation technology was particularly helpful in providing agencies a way to respond to the uptick in call volume from residents seeking information about government services, said Vermont CIO John Quinn.

“Because of the overwhelming number of people calling in and people looking for info, chatbots ended up one of the most used things across the enterprise,” he said during a panel discussion at the NASCIO conference.

The pandemic has required CIOs to shift their priorities and accelerated the rate at which states adopt new technologies, the NASCIO survey found.

“In particular, the digital provision of citizen services and the adoption of remote work by state employees has by necessity leapt forward and achieved a degree of change that would in normal circumstances have taken multiple years,” the survey said.

As more state agency employees began working from home during the pandemic, Quinn said his office tried to work proactively to provide a list of solutions that agencies would use to address a variety of problems. Agencies were more likely to embrace in-house technology tools and data that were already at their disposal, but that had gone under-utilized before the pandemic, he said.

“It’s been business-changing in the way they look at their data and the way they evolved to be able use those tools themselves now,” Quinn said.

Beyond chatbots, the other most popular forms of automation utilized during the pandemic by CIO’s were mobile apps for contact tracing (53%) and voice bots to support call center operations (40%), according to the NASCIO survey.

State CIO’s expect many of the changes that the Covid-19 pandemic have required, including remote work, to become permanent.

“Remote work will become more of the norm and as a consequence, remote collaboration platforms are going to be used much more significantly then before Covid,” Graeme Finley, a principal at Grant Thornton, which oversaw the survey.

The pandemic has also put more of a focus on modernizing legacy IT systems and expansion of broadband, Finley said.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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