Many of the issues that affect state and local government IT leaders are the same ones impacting their counterparts at the federal level, just at a smaller scale. The same is largely true for the technology trends that are expected to dominate the government in 2019.
Like at the federal level, state and local governments will face the Jan. 14, 2020, deadline when Microsoft will stop mainstream technical support for Windows 7, meaning many of them will likely be looking to upgrade to Windows 10. Their device lifecycles are not “remarkably different” than that of federal users (three to four years), says Shawn McCarthy, director of research at IDC Government Insights, meaning they are due for an upgrade.
“The interesting thing for state and local is that local is where a lot of the action is happening in computing,” McCarthy says. “I have been covering government for years and years, and it’s the first time I have been able to say that local is leading.” By computing, he means the Internet of Things, smart city applications and solutions — networked everything.
While smart city deployments will continue next year, there will also be lots of other big issues on the horizon, including the evolving cybersecurity threat landscape, the changing nature of the state CIO role, continued cloud migrations and data center consolidations, and the beginnings of 5G wireless network deployments. Here are the key trends to watch out for in state and local government IT in 2019.
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1. Cybersecurity Threats and Defenses Will Evolve
Earlier this month, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) released its list of top state priorities for 2019, and topping the section on strategies, management and process solutions was security and risk management. Cybersecurity has been the top NASCIO priority on every list since 2014, StateScoop notes. It is not hard to see why.
New adversaries keep cropping up, and the threat landscape is always changing. Phishing remains a concern, and CISOs are also worried about the rise of commodity malware, ransomware and cyberattacks being launched from other government devices. Attacks are coming from both sophisticated criminal enterprises and nation-states that are targeting American institutions and democracy. Smart cities are not immune from cyberattacks either, making it a major concern at the local level.
To combat these threats, NASCIO says state CIOs are focused on governance, budget and resource requirements, security frameworks, data protection, training and awareness, insider threats, and third-party security practices as outsourcing increases.
McCarthy says that data encryption will be a major solution for state and local governments to invest in over 2019, as will networking monitoring and using artificial intelligence to recognize certain patterns and anomalies.
“Part of security is also just business continuity,” he adds. “Just understanding something different is happening in your data center — suddenly power consumption has gone up. Suddenly you have a hotspot in certain servers you didn’t have before. Things like that. Using AI to help recognize what’s going on in your data center is an important part of business continuity.”
2. CIOs Will Change Their Role to That of a Broker
The role of the state CIO is quite different than it was five to 10 years ago, as IT leaders have moved to keep pace with changes in technology. The evolution is going to continue over the next several years, according to state CIOs.
NASCIO has put forth a new model for the role, that of a broker of IT services, and the report the organization put out points to “a consistent trend of moving towards CIOs operating as a business manager or broker of services as opposed to an owner and operator of assets. More and more states are using shared services models for their IT operations.”
The report shows that the turn toward brokering services is driven by desire for cost-effectiveness, modern capabilities, high-quality service, good business outcomes, access to resources and flexibility, among other factors. State CIOs say that in 2019 and beyond they will continue to evolve their roles to embrace that new model.
“If you are a pure IT and systems management person, you will be focused on that more, as opposed to someone who came up from the business realm,” McCarthy states. That latter kind of person is more likely to conduct a return on investment analysis and compare various vendors.
“There is more pressure on agencies and the CIO to take more of a business approach,” McCarthy says. “CIOs need to recognize within themselves, ‘Do I need this skillset, or is this a skillset I want very quickly in one of my deputy CIOs?’”
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3. Cloud Migrations and Data Center Consolidation Will Continue
Like their federal counterparts, state and local governments will continue to move applications and data to the cloud and shutter data centers.
NASCIO reported last year that 46 percent of states (23 states) had completed their data center consolidation efforts, including Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania and Washington state. Meanwhile, 42 percent (21 states) told NASCIO their consolidation work was ongoing; six other states said consolidation efforts were planned.
Meanwhile, Gartner expects double-digit growth in government use of public cloud services, with spending forecast to grow 17.1 percent on average per year through 2021. Across all industries, companies spend an average of 20.4 percent of their IT budgets on cloud, according to the research firm, compared with 20.6 percent for local governments.
McCarthy says he thinks that the move to the cloud at the local level will be in concert with the level of government above those governments. For example, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gives grants to states so they can comply with reporting requirements for Medicaid. And, he says, “At a certain point, agencies need to ask themselves, ‘Why am I forcing local governments or cities to constantly upgrade and change systems so they can comply with this year’s report and legal requirements?’”
Instead, state and local governments could use a cloud application that can be easily updated for all agencies that need it. “Cloud iterations will become the de facto for new systems that are built,” McCarthy says.
State and local governments will continue to consolidate data centers in part because “there are fewer apps that agencies host and manage themselves,” McCarthy says. Those data centers that remain will be larger and host more applications than they did before.
McCarthy also predicts agencies, especially those in city governments, will begin deploying tractor-trailer-sized data centers to the network edge to support IoT and smart city technologies.
“Because the data is needed at the edge,” he says, whether it is large video or image files or weather data, “those will reside locally.”
4. 5G Will Start to Impact Smart Cities, Public Safety
Cities have been anticipating the shift to 5G networks by deploying small cell networks to support IoT devices and increase network capacity in areas of two to five city blocks. Small cell network deployments “transfer nicely” to 5G networks, McCarthy adds, which will be similarly located.
Most 5G networks are expected to use a wireless spectrum that is a higher-frequency spectrum, meaning it will have weak propagation characteristics and not travel that far or penetrate buildings. However, it will be very useful for the delivery of lots of data very quickly over short distances.
5G networks will be especially useful for smart city applications, such as video streaming wirelessly from HD cameras positioned on streetlights at intersections. 5G can also potentially help first responders in areas like critical communications, indoor location and situational awareness, virtual reality, predictive analytics and more.
McCarthy says such 5G applications will become more common. “And I don’t think we even know what they all will be, because people surprise me with the applications they come up with,” he says.
According to FierceWireless, AT&T has installed mobile 5G network equipment in areas in the 12 markets where it plans to make 5G available in 2018: Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Oklahoma City; New Orleans; Raleigh, North Carolina; San Antonio and Waco, Texas. AT&T expects to expand its 5G coverage to parts of seven additional cities including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.
Verizon has said it plans to launch a mobile 5G network in the first half of 2019.
Meanwhile, FierceWireless reports that T-Mobile, which plans to acquire Sprint, will also be deploying 5G service in 2019:
At the beginning of this year, T-Mobile outlined its general 5G plans: Its network vendors Ericsson and Nokia will build a 5G network across the carrier’s 600 MHz, 28 GHz and 39 GHz spectrum in 30 cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas — during 2018. And T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said the operator expects to sell compatible smartphones for the service in 2019.