The condition of state and local government IT going into 2020 is something of a paradox. According to a report released in October 2019 from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and Accenture, “The Future State CIO: How the Role Will Drive Innovation,” 83 percent of those surveyed said innovation was very important or important in their day-to-day jobs and leadership responsibilities. However, just 14 percent reported they engage in extensive innovation.
State and local government IT leaders are pushing for more innovative technology deployments at their agencies but are often hampered by a lack of support from executives and legislatures, budget constraints, lack of a skilled workforce and not enough time to experiment with new technologies, the report indicates. Only 26 percent of respondents reported their CIO organization had enough funds dedicated to technology innovation.
As the new year dawns, there is no pause in innovation. However, expectations for how much technological change will actually happen should be tempered by reality.
Here are the key trends to watch in 2020.
1. Shared Services, Cloud Will Gain Steam
According to an October 2019 CIO survey by NASCIO, The Responsive State CIO: Connecting to the Customer, which features responses from 48 states and territories and interviews with more than 20 CIOs, 48 percent of states plan to shrink their state-owned data centers over the next three years.
Meanwhile, 65 percent plan to expand their IT shared services model over the next three years. Cloud services are also expected to gain steam, as 92 percent plan to increase services such as Software as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service.
For example, West Virginia CTO Joshua Spence tells StateTech that his state will soon release a request for proposals to outsource the state’s data center.
West Virginia has long faced challenges due to aging technology, Spence says. “I inherited a data center that hasn’t had any major investment in years,” he says.
When the state looked at options, Spence decided investing in Infrastructure as a Service made the most sense. With the new model, the state will benefit from current technology and it can expand services as required. Still, the change necessitates educating the state agencies that are not used to paying for tech services. The transition ushers in a change as state agencies pay for support as an operational expense instead of infrastructure as a capital expense.
2. Ransomware Will Continue to Be a Threat
Ransomware is not decreasing as a cybersecurity threat for state and local governments. In fact, attacks are only growing more sophisticated, as the coordinated attack in Texas in August demonstrated.
In late August, Barracuda Networks identified more than 50 cities and towns that had been attacked. When the 22 Texas towns are added in, the total rises to over 70.
“The team’s recent analysis of hundreds of attacks across a broad set of targets revealed that government organizations are the intended victims of nearly two-thirds of all ransomware attacks,” Barracuda CTO Fleming Shi writes. “Local, county, and state governments have all been targets, including schools, libraries, courts, and other entities.”
A way state and local governments could tackle the issue is through an adaptive security approach, Gartner reports. “An adaptive security approach treats risk, trust and security as a continuous and adaptive process that anticipates and mitigates constantly evolving cyberthreats,” the research firm notes. “It acknowledges there is no perfect protection and security needs to be adaptive, everywhere, all the time.”
Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights (and one of StateTech’s 30 State and Local IT Influencers Worth a Follow in 2019), says that while it can be challenging for state and local governments to implement, “whitelisting solutions can allow specified programs and only approved connections to be run on the company's computers.”
That can go a long way to blocking malware from getting through an agency’s networks or firewalls. He also suggests that agencies continue to boost cybersecurity training.
3. 2020 Election Security Will Be a Key Focus
Both the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterms were the targets of malicious actors who wanted to influence their results. There’s still debate over the amount of influence they had, but there is no doubt that the nation’s election system is a massive target.
Already, seven federal intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security agencies have issued an unprecedented joint statement outlining how the federal government plans to work with states and localities to protect elections in 2020.
In addition to malicious foreign actors, the threats posed to the election system include aging voting equipment, insecure voter databases and bots spreading misinformation on social and public media. States and localities are working to secure their own systems, with advice from enterprises such as the election technology experts at Cisco, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center.
While all state governments work with the Department of Homeland Security on cybersecurity, Lindsey Forson, the cybersecurity program manager at the National Association of Secretaries of State, said the way states team up with federal agencies can vary markedly.
“A lot of states are working with their National Guards, but some states have many more legal constraints than others. Some states’ guards are much more developed in terms of cyber teams than others, so the ability to utilize that resource varies greatly across the states,” Forson said at the Cybersecurity Coalition’s CyberNextDC conference in Washington, D.C., according to Federal News Network.
Expect a range of approaches to election cybersecurity and a great deal of attention put on the issue throughout the year, with efforts ramping up as the primary season ends in the spring.
4. 5G Awareness Will Increase as Coverage Does
U.S. wireless carriers have started to deploy commercial mobile 5G wireless service in cities across the country, though coverage maps indicate that the coverage so far is not widespread, even in cities where the faster technology is deployed. That is especially true for 5G running on high-band millimeter wave wireless spectrum from Verizon and AT&T. T-Mobile has wider 5G coverage, though because it runs on low-band 600 megahertz spectrum, the technology is not that much faster than 4G LTE networks.
It will likely take years for ultrafast, high-band 5G coverage to be extensively deployed. Nonetheless, coverage is expected to increase in 2020. Tech trade group the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers estimates the new networks, when operating at their peak, will deliver data with a delay of less than a millisecond, compared with 4G’s 70-millisecond lag. Peak 5G speeds could reach 20 gigabits per second, versus 1Gbps on 4G.
Such networks will be helpful for smart city deployments, especially because 5G specifications call for a minimum of one million connections per square kilometer, compared to just around 2,000 simultaneous connections on an LTE cell tower.
“There will be a growing awareness of how 5G technologies will impact smart city capabilities, especially in concert with edge computing and edge-based artificial intelligence,” McCarthy says. “The 5G portion could support connectivity of thousands of sensors, and edge computing will allow decisions to be made there at the edge, reducing data transit time.”
In the public safety realm, McCarthy says he expects to see more and more sensors and cameras deployed, with data gathered on multiple public safety fronts. “5G will become important as the number of devices ramps up by orders of magnitude,” he says.
5G is the wave of the future, but election security, ransomware and cloud migrations are certainly more here and now. Stay tuned to StateTech as we cover all of these trends and more next year.