Cybersecurity, workforce and budgets challenge IT upgrades, state tech officials say

Nearly all states lack the staffs needed to complete critical IT modernization projects, according to a new report from NASTD.
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Cybersecurity, staffing shortages and budget constraints are challenging state government IT organizations as they attempt to modernize old systems, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Association of State Technology Directors.

The report, conducted with the help of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, gathered data from IT officials in 38 states, where approaches and strategies varied but all were challenged by several common factors. Eighty-four percent said the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their efforts (only 5% said it slowed efforts), and cybersecurity was the most commonly named challenge facing states’ existing applications, followed by limited product support and lack of flexibility.

The report, presented primarily as a collection of charts and graphs, illustrates that the work of modernizing state government IT assets is a never-ending process, said Victoria Wallis, NASTD’s research committee chair.

“The results illustrate perfectly that state government understands IT modernization is not a ‘once and done’ activity,” said Wallace, strategic project manager for the Iowa Communications Network. “As soon as the current legacy items are addressed, new ones will take their place in the priority list. What is most surprising is the multitude of differing issues, as well as priorities and strategies, being utilized by government to address their specific IT modernization challenges.”


States’ varied approaches to modernizing IT could be reflective of their varied IT environments. While a majority still operate their mainframes in-house, there’s also managed service models on and off premises, fully outsourced hybrid models and other hybrid models. Respondents also said their levels of control over their environments varied widely.

“Depending on how a state’s IT office is structured, the amount of control over the modernization process varies,” the report reads. “States with consolidated IT operations have more control.”

States reported many challenges in attempting to modernize their old systems, including only 3% of states saying they had no shortage of qualified staff to complete the work. While states continue struggling to recruit and retain IT staff, their modernization challenges remain sizeable: The average amount of systems that need replacement today is around 44%, according to state IT leaders’ estimates.

Colin Wood

Written by Colin Wood

Colin Wood is the editor in chief of StateScoop and EdScoop. He's reported on government information technology policy for more than a decade, on topics including cybersecurity, IT governance and public safety.

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