Could the pandemic enable CIOs to ‘reinvent’ government?

State technology offices were forced to scramble earlier this year as they set up new work environments for thousands of staff, adopting video conferencing tools and other cloud-based software and infrastructure. That rush has now subsided and technology officials are absorbing the lessons of that project.

And despite the intransigence of state government’s slower moving agencies, some of the technological changes forced upon government by the pandemic may stick around for the better once the health crisis has subsided, two state chief information officers said on the latest episode of StateScoop’s Priorities podcast.

Tracy Doaks, CIO of North Carolina, said her agency invested in a cloud management platform two years ago that attracted few customers until the pandemic hit.

“It allows agencies, and local governments and universities, if they want to, to use the platform to put workloads into multiple cloud vendors,” Doaks said. “Once a pandemic hit, it started to move very, very quickly.”

Indiana CIO Tracy Barnes said the pandemic has forced adoption not only of new technologies, but recognition that ways of doing business and service-delivery standards already widely accepted in the private sector should be brought to government, too.

“Government’s been probably a little slow to adopt, but the mindset has really forced us to realize the possibilities and opportunity there and seeing it as a positive as opposed to a nice-to-have,” Barnes said. “It’s really getting to be a necessity.”

As governors plan to reopen their economies and many prepare for a return to the office, Barnes and Doaks said they hope recent adoptions of new technologies and new mindsets will persist.

“We’d be remiss as government entities not to look at those tools and technologies as the future opportunities for us to continue moving forward,” Barnes said. “Even as we do prepare to start bringing folks back into the office, the social distancing demands are still there so meetings and conference rooms are still limited.”

In Indiana, cost savings could be a motivator now that the pandemic has proved the viability of certain remote-work capabilities, Barnes said.

“Do we need desk phones if everyone can communicate very clearly and quickly though their computers and through other mechanisms?” he said.

The pandemic has presented an opportunity to double down on those improvements, Doaks said, and to “reinvent government.”

“We’ve seen so many things that have changed the way we work, the way citizens access government and the way that we work with agencies across the state and local government,” she said. “I think instead of rolling back some of those changes that we should lean all the way into them and continue to take a deeper dive into the technologies that we’ve already had agencies finally adopting. And that’s what I mean by the reinvention of government.”

On the podcast:

  • Tracy Barnes, CIO, Indiana
  • Tracy Doaks, CIO, North Carolina
  • Colin Wood, managing editor, StateScoop
  • Jake Williams, associate publisher, StateScoop
  • Gary DePreta, area vice president of US public sector SLED West, Cisco

Things to listen for:

  • Both Barnes and Doaks mentioned that their departments were ahead of non-IT agencies in adopting the latest technologies, like those used for remote work.
  • In Indiana, Barnes said remote-work technology may continue to be useful in the office as social-distancing guidelines persist.
  • Beyond the walls of state government, citizen services have proven a critical issue during the pandemic, Doaks said, highlighting the importance of broadband access.
  • Workforce and culture will continue to be key issues in North Carolina, Doaks said, as the technology agency seeks to inform others of state government’s function and attract new talent from universities and veterans organizations.

Produced in partnership with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, Priorities dives deep into each of the top 10 priorities of state CIOs outlined in NASCIO’s annual list. This episode is brought to you by Cisco.

Listen to archived episodes of Priorities from Season 5 (2020),  Season 4 (2019)Season 3 (2018)Season 2 (2017) and Season 1 (2016). Catch all of StateScoop’s podcasts on SoundcloudApple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PlayStitcher or Alexa’s TuneIn.