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A new survey sheds light on priorities and concerns for state chief information officers, over a year after their work was radically affected by the pandemic.
Improving the experiences residents have when interacting with government agencies online is the primary reason states are looking to expand digital services, according to a new survey of state chief information officers from across the country.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, it caused many government agencies to close down brick and mortar offices and curtail in-person services as public employees shifted to remote work. A report on the survey findings shows that over 90% of state CIOs said that the pandemic increased demand for digital government services.
Some states have shifted in this direction more smoothly than others, and now there are questions about how aggressively states will continue to expand their online offerings and what their priorities will be in doing so, as the Covid-era continues and eventually wanes. The survey, released by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers in partnership with Grant Thornton and the Computing Technology Industry Association, sheds light on these issues.
When asked what the biggest driver was behind expanding digital services, just shy of three quarters of respondents said providing “better online experience for citizens.” Increased public participation and engagement scored a distant second, with only 10% of CIOs pointing to this as the main reason for building out services online.
The survey also found rising interest within state governments in “low-code/no-code” technology, which enables users with limited programming skills to develop computer systems that suit their needs. In addition, the results show state CIOs are increasingly involved in state efforts to expand and improve high-speed broadband.
“We’ve heard about the need for better service experience. Citizens, as consumers in the marketplace, expect kind of a seamless, secure, trusted transaction, they’re used to those capabilities,” NASCIO executive director Doug Robinson said during the group’s annual conference, happening in Seattle this week.
“Many states have yet to deliver that kind of experience,” he added. “But we see that’s been a driving factor, a lot of states used that motivation to be able to do this during the pandemic.”
Graeme Finley, a principal at Grant Thornton, noted that governments, compared to the private sector, don’t always think about speed when rolling out new digital services. But during the pandemic, he said there was a “sense that speed was vital.”
“We saw this intense acceleration of delivering solutions quickly,” he said, explaining that this was both to meet citizen demand and to accommodate state employees working remotely.
“We’ve proven that this can work and that states can do things extraordinarily quickly, and do them well, the question is whether that speed and sense of pace will continue," Finley added.
CIOs from 49 states and territories responded to the survey.
Asked to rank the top five business processes, practices or investment changes they believed will continue post pandemic, CIOs’ top reply was “increased attention on digital government services/citizen experience.” That selection ranked in the third spot in last year’s survey. Just behind it this year were expanded work from home and remote work options and broadband investments.
In terms of automated and emerging technologies adopted in response to Covid that CIOs think will stick, the top choice was “chatbots,” virtual agents to help with citizen inquiries. Automated fraud detection using predictive analytics was second and “voicebots” to support government call centers was third.
Other Big Technology Concerns
On the cybersecurity front, ransomware was by far the biggest concern. Fifty seven percent of respondents said that it presented the top cybersecurity risk threatening the “continuity of government.” The next highest issue here was “compromises to the software supply chain,” which just 10% of CIOs flagged as their top concern.
While most CIOs have not typically taken a lead role with broadband expansion initiatives, the survey found a notable rise in the number who were involved in these types of programs.
“In the 2020 State CIO Survey only 23 percent of state CIOs told us they lead strategic planning and implementation—most, if not all, now have some responsibility in the deployment and adoption of broadband,” the report on the survey findings said.
The pandemic also highlighted the problems that can arise when state agencies depend on outdated computer systems. This was one of the factors that contributed to delays and other problems processing the crush of unemployment claims filed after Covid first hit.
Sixty percent of CIOs responding to the survey said that their strategy to update this “legacy” technology sped up due to Covid-19 and related funding that flowed as a result of it.
Jennifer Ricker, Illinois’ CIO, said she worries that some agencies might backpedal on technology they’ve adopted over the past year and a half as the pandemic wanes—especially as federal aid dries up and if they run into budget difficulties. “We’re working already to make sure they recognize the value of what they put in place,” she said.
The report on the survey findings can be found here.
Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.