Though much is demanded of IT departments, not much is always given to them in the way of resources and trust.
In a recent StateScoop podcast, IT leaders from Colorado, Minnesota and Rhode Island discussed some of the challenges they face and some of the initiatives they’ve put in place to align state IT more strategically with the government and citizens’ goals.
Perhaps the No. 1 priority for all three states was cybersecurity.
“What became really clear, very quickly, was that first priority is that we needed to secure the state,” said Minnesota Chief Information Officer Tom Baden. “So we put in place a series of enterprise policy standards and guidelines, the first signed off last July, the first time in the state.”
Boosting cybersecurity is a lofty but incredibly broad proposal. But Baden and the state of Minnesota have specific outcomes that they’re seeking.
“Proactively managing risk, improving situational awareness, having a robust crisis and incident response plan, and partnering with public and private entities to ensure that success” are what the state hopes to see as a result of the cybersecurity initiative, Baden said.
One of the biggest challenges any IT department faces is in getting non-IT departments to value its contributions beyond just maintenance. As government work has become increasingly digital, the struggle to communicate the value of IT has become less challenging, but it still requires proactive communication and collaboration on IT’s part.
“We’ve been working hard to have [the legislature] understand the technology debt and the ongoing need to invest in IT as a key strategy item in itself,” said Colorado Chief Customer Officer William Chumley.
The key to communicating and driving that increased IT value comes in planning in five-year increments but adjusting and updating those plans every year, Chumley said. And it requires people on the non-IT and IT sides to take ownership jointly to drive change.
“Once we set out some of those key outcomes that we’d like to see from a plan, we identified service owners, so we looked for folks who might drive the data centers or might drive the customer service portal and asked them to work with the state agencies to come up with key initiatives over the next five years,” he said.
The biggest barriers to collaboration between IT and non-IT departments are the silos within IT and among the other agencies. That’s why Rhode Island CIO Thom Guertin has made it his business to build bridges and break down silos.
“The biggest difference I see that we’re making is working directly with the agencies on the business end of things … to partner with them and have individuals helping guide them in making some of these technology decisions, cause too often they’re working in silos,” he said.
While tales of innovation and IT vision planning are ideal, the reality is that currently much of IT’s time and resources are spent maintaining and patching legacy IT.
“We have a lot of applications that are 20 to 30 years old. Being able to say, ‘If we can get everything onto a common platform,’ that then helps us stabilize the skill set we need in IT, it lets us then do that innovation,” Chumley said.
Chasing the cool factor, while shiny, new and attractive, can’t be an excuse for letting legacy IT fall by the wayside. In fact, showing success and stability in maintaining legacy IT is a great way to build trust for investments in emerging and experimental technologies.
“I think we all wanna do the cool new stuff, and the only way to do that is by stabilizing everything as it exists today,” Chumley said. “We’ve had a lot of success with our legislature and the agencies in being able to show what the plan is across the next few years, and then we can go back and say look we delivered on this, trust us with the next evolution, trust us with migrating to something new.”
More than half of Colorado’s agencies have IT modernization efforts going, and with the groundwork that’s been done, the IT team is in the driver’s seat for those discussions.
And being in the driver’s seat for the next chapter of state IT is where every leader should strive to be.
“I really do believe that the government needs to be fully integrated, it needs to be intelligent, and it’s gotta be innovation platforms,” said Minnesota’s Baden.