Ignore the things you have heard about the government’s ability to innovate. The modern public servant doesn’t view the latest technology as something that’s just nice to have. Instead, according to our research, nearly 100 percent of them expect it. Driven by evolving citizen behavior and the need to accomplish basic tasks, government is aggressively pursuing innovative new tools and adopting cloud technologies.
At the vanguard of this change is the public sector CIO and CTO. Once perhaps a behind-the-scenes role, CIOs and CTOs have emerged as key players in advancing the work of government. In late 2018, Granicus brought together some of the leaders in these roles from across the country: Suma Nallapati (formerly with the state of Colorado), Bob Samson (state of New York), Denis Goulet (state of New Hampshire) and Rob Lloyd (city of San Jose).
During our conversation, six trends emerged as key drivers of technological change in government:
1. Technology Puts the Citizen at the Center
New tech solutions like the cloud enable government to streamline processes while saving time and money. But chief among drivers of change is how much technology in government can change the lives of citizens.
Take, for instance, Colorado, which aims to be a “cloud first” state, according to Nallapati, former CIO for the Governor’s Office of Information Technology. The state has taken a number of steps to modernize: It’s one of the largest users of Google’s G Suite of productivity tools and the state wants to be the epicenter of blockchain technology. Those are nice changes that can pay dividends in the future.
But many of the state’s most promising changes are already producing results. Colorado moved its Medicare/Medicaid eligibility program to the public cloud, which sped up processing and approval times. Now, Coloradans can spend less time waiting for their benefits. A tech change at the department of motor vehicles produced a similar result.
“Everything we do with technology is meant to improve the life of Coloradans,” Nallapati says.
But this is easier said than done. Citizen-centric government requires buy-in from leaders who will communicate and push for change every single day, says Lloyd, CIO for the city of San Jose.
“That’s why it’s important to be willing to test, to listen to citizens and stakeholders, and then to implement changes as you go along. At the end of the day, citizen or customer centralism is about delivering what people in your community want — not what you think they should want,” he says.
2. Technology Is Driven by Data
We live in an era of ubiquitous computing. And with that computing comes data —petabytes of it, in fact. Governments that acknowledge this and find ways to use data to improve both how they work and to improve the lives of citizens will be the new leaders of this century.
That’s why Samson, CIO for the state of New York’s Office of Information Technology Services, thinks of data as the new oil. “Oil is what props up a lot of governments today. Data is what will keep them going tomorrow.”
Data touches everything that government does, and that makes it crucial to monitor and assess, and to make change based on the findings from the data. Samson noted how New York makes use of data in everything from monitoring milk output from cows to gauging the amount of salt needed on snowy roads. The new, $4 billion Mario Cuomo Bridge in New York is packed with billions of transistors that monitor bridge health at all times of the day.
The ubiquity of data makes inevitable the coming of predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence that can be harnessed to improve the work government does and citizen engagement with the public sector.
3. Technology Should be Ready for the Future
The move to the cloud, as noted above, has shifted how government operates. No longer must the public sector use expensive, hard to maintain, on-premises hardware that’s inevitably dated by the time it’s deployed thanks to long procurement processes. Subscription-based services enable everyone in government to get the latest and greatest innovations immediately — with no worry about maintenance and often at a much lower cost. And keeping costs down is a high priority for government: In our “2018 State of Digital in Government Report,” nearly three in four respondents (73 percent) said they were being asked to accomplish more with less budget; flexible, affordable cloud solutions can accomplish that.
Of course, being ready for the future means preparing people for change. So much of the modern role for CIOs and CTOs is in change management, both inside and outside the organization. As the leaders of their departments, they must have structures that facilitate collaboration and experimentation. Outside the organization, setting expectations and offering support where necessary are important, and they require building relationships with various stakeholders. Change without trust is doomed to failure.
4. Technology Must Be Interoperable and Accessible
Government is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) producers of data. One of the most-exciting opportunities for government in a digital, modern era is the ability of many different organizations to collect and share data with each other more easily to improve outcomes. But this is only possible when systems have some level of interoperability.
For instance, the State of New York has a five-state agreement to share mental health information as it pertains to firearm permit applications. This can have a profound effect — preventing guns from getting into the hands of those who shouldn’t have one — but it requires a culture among governments to be open with their data and have the ability to easily share it.
Equally important, if not more so, is providing accessibility in all facets of tech. That means never making accessibility an afterthought, but instead something that’s involved in tech decisions every step of the way.
5. Technology Requires Security by Default to Thrive
According to a recent Forrester Research report, 95 percent of record breaches happened in three industries in 2016: retail, technology and government. As a primary target for cyberattacks, government organizations are often hit with phishing scams, denial of service attacks, or something equally dangerous due to the level and nature of information they host.
With new threats every day, technology must be wedded with constantly refined security practices. That’s an issue that’s top of mind for the CIOs and CTOs we talked to as well. Security threats change as quickly as the tech solutions that fight them, so it’s a constant battle. It also means the standards put in place rapidly age.
Fortunately, government leaders are aware of the threat and are constantly updating policies and procedures. That’s what happening in the state of New Hampshire, according to Goulet, commissioner for the Department of Information Technology. The state currently is in the process of updating state guidelines to meet the latest federal National Institute of Standards and Technology standards.
6. Technology Is Committed to Connecting, Not Dividing
The most successful CIOs and CTOs are consistently looking for ways to reimagine citizens’ engagement with government. That means juggling the needs of many different stakeholders, from bureaucrats to elected officials to the citizens themselves. While a centralized approach to managing technology is often useful in government, a top-down implementation can result in chaos, confusion and even resentment.
A groundbreaking technology that collects data to improve government processes might work well in one locale, while it might flop mightily in another because of different values around privacy concerns.
Government can be mindful of this by maintaining constant, open communication with citizens. Colorado puts a heavy emphasis on citizen and stakeholder input, with great success. “We want to hear from our customers, so we ensure that they have many avenues to access us,” Nallapati says. “There’s no reason to be restrictive.”
Government is embracing new technology that’s driving innovation and enhanced connections with citizens, making it easier for them to stay informed and access vital services. The places that will emerge strongest are those with CIO and CTO leaders who see the trends, implement bold new strategies and aggressively deploy the latest in cloud technology across their organizations. By unleashing technology and the troves of data that come with it, they can radically transform the government-citizen relationship.