Oct 02 2019

Why State CIOs Are Renewing a Focus on Customer Relationship Management

A fresh operating model championed by NASCIO emphasizes transparency in costs and communications.

In the state CIO’s office, customer relationship management has been a longtime focus. In fact, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers wrote about it way back in 2006. Reading that paper today, not a lot of the advice or challenges have changed. What has changed is the CIO operating model, which brings an even greater focus on CRM.

For the first time ever, CRM was included among NASCIO’s State CIO Top 10 Policy and Technology Priorities for 2019. Coming in at No. 7 on the list, CRM includes building customer agency confidence; trust and collaboration; internal customer service strategies; and service-level agreements.

As more states have moved in the past decade toward enterprise IT consolidation (No. 3 on the 2019 list), a host of challenges have emerged in the relationship between agencies, which once managed their own IT, and the CIO’s office, which now handles IT for them. Agencies face frustrations due to a loss of control. It’s understandable that people who have been making their own IT decisions for years would resist ceding those decisions to someone else. After all, while the CIO’s office understands IT, agency employees are the ones who truly understand needs on the ground. This can often lead to a disconnect. 

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out what to expect at the NASCIO 2019 Annual Conference. 

Why It's Important to Keep Costs Transparent

Acquisition and funding obstacles also can create frustration. It can be difficult to get the attention of a CIO’s office that has to serve so many agencies, and it can be difficult to get necessary funding from the legislature or budget office. In addition, acquisition timelines often don’t synchronize with the quickly changing nature of technology.

Agencies that start receiving bills from the CIO’s office for the first time might not feel as though they are getting a good deal when it’s unclear what they are paying for. Perhaps those agencies once had their own staff handling IT — so the perception was that the labor was free. Or perhaps they feel like they are paying more than they used to — but they are paying for a more secure and advanced product. Or maybe part of that rate includes electricity and cooling for the state-of-the-art data center they are now using. It can create tension when people aren’t counting costs the same way. 

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover how Tennessee CIO Stephanie Dedmon has tackled her first year in office. 

Avoid Communication Breakdowns Between CIO's Office and Agencies 

Sometimes, a lack of communication or an agency’s culture can impede a good understanding between the CIO’s office and its customers. Communication breaks down if everyone simply corresponds over email, or management does not handle complaints in a proper way, or IT staff doesn’t feel engaged. Conversely, if an agency treats the CIO’s office in a manner that implies, “We are the customer, do what we say,” then there can be no sense of partnership. The communication needs to go both ways, and holding plenty of face-to-face meetings will go far in improving relationships.

These challenges have inspired many CIOs to hire chief customer officers (30 percent of states have done so, according to the NASCIO 2019 CIO Survey), assign staff to agencies and create ways to receive better feedback. NASCIO has also focused on this issue more in 2019, publishing a new guide for CIOs to improve agency relationships. With a fresh focus on CRM, CIOs and agency heads can look forward to productive relationships in the years ahead.

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