May 05 2020

NASCIO Midyear 2020: How Will State Government IT Evolve?

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, state CIOs say they think more of state government will go virtual in the months and years ahead.

State governments have seen their workforces move to remote work environments in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some states may find that such setups will become permanent, even after the pandemic subsides, according to state CIOs. 

During a webcast as part of the virtual NASCIO Midyear 2020 Conference, state CIOs described how they expect their state’s IT operations and government in general to evolve. Some did not expect radical change as users returned to work, but others forecast major shifts in how they operate. 

Maryland CIO Michael Leahy is one who thinks it is likely that there will be a major shift to digital workspaces. “I have said it, and think folks believe I am kidding,” he said. “I am giving serious thought to turning our agency, practically, except for our [Network Operations Center] and [Security Operations Center], into a virtual agency.”

Leahy noted that the CIO’s office and state IT team take up a lot of space in a state-owned building. However, with a coming budget shortfall and the need to make cuts, going virtual could allow other state agencies to move into that space and save the state money, he said. 

NASCIO President and New Hampshire CIO Denis Goulet agreed that, for some states, there may be no turning back to the old way of operating. “The genie is out of the bottle,” he said. “People have found out you can exist while working from home.” 

How State CIOs Expect Their Operations to Change

For Missouri CIO Jeff Wann, the shift to work from home was not a radical move for his team, as most of the state’s IT personnel already worked remotely. The state had virtual desktop infrastructure in place, and quickly shifted from having 2,000 users working remotely to 20,000. Wann also determined how many laptops the state would normally purchase during the year as part of its hardware refresh cycle, then ordered 2,000 and configured those for remote workers.

Missouri has also set up Cisco Systems softphones to help support telework and a significantly expanded virtual call center. Will working from home be a lasting feature in the Show-Me State? 

“You bet,” Wann said. “It’s going to be a sea change for our state government.” 

There had been an aversion to work-from-home policies outside of the IT shop, but that has now “radically changed,” Wann said. 

Leahy added, “The biggest change in this pandemic, as tragic as it is, is that has demonstrated to folks who were fearful about technology how it can actually make their lives easier.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover how state and local agencies can take government meetings online. 

A Pause on IT Projects Amid Tight Budgets

Due to the pandemic, state governments are seeing major shortfalls in sales tax, property tax and other revenue streams. Given that most state constitutions mandate a balanced state budget, CIOs are anticipating cuts to their portion. 

Maryland will likely put some IT projects on hold for a period of time, Leahy said, especially ones that haven’t been started yet, including enhancements to some legacy systems. He hopes the state can continue on digital transformation projects, including the modernization of its cybersecurity systems. 

Wann noted that Missouri’s legislature has put a hold on funding new projects for fiscal year 2021 that are not funded by the federal government. “We expect some budget cuts,” he said, adding that he does not know how sharp they will be or where they will land. 

However, Wann said, the deployment of telework tools has “raised some eyebrows” in a positive manner, indicating that the state may invest in those kinds of solutions moving forward. “There is a silver lining in a very, very dark cloud,” he said. 

Virginia CIO Nelson Moe said that Gov. Ralph Northam has directed agency leaders to be “parsimonious” with their budgets ahead of the legislature convening a biennial budget process this summer for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. He expects to have to “make some hard decisions” on his budget moving forward.

Check out this page for more coverage from the NASCIO Midyear 2020 conference, and follow us on Twitter at @StateTech, or the official conference Twitter account, @NASCIO,  and join the conversation using the hashtag #NASCIO20.

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