May 07 2020

NASCIO Midyear 2020: State CIOs See Efficiencies and Savings in Mass Telework

IT agencies expand their talent pools and reduce budgets in the new environment.

State IT agencies will undoubtedly continue to take advantage of opportunities offered by telework in the future after a massive shift to most employees working from home due to emergency lockdowns, officials agreed over two days of a virtual meeting of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

Unable to meet in person due to social distancing requirements, state CIOs gathered virtually for NASCIO’s Midyear Conference on May 4 and 5, observing throughout the assembly that the shift to telework could continue to provide states with flexibilities and budget savings.

“I heard someone today ask jokingly, ‘Who drives innovation? The CIO, the CEO or COVID-19?’” Meredith Ward, NASCIO director of policy and research, tells StateTech via email. “While many states were already embracing telework (Virginia is a great example), it’s no secret that many other states hadn’t embraced the telework culture. Regardless of where they were pre-COVID, every state, company and entity in the world has been thrust into the world of telework and working safely from home. 

“The lesson here, I think, is that states have adapted tremendously to this change by not only keeping the CIO’s office running but, in essence, IT is keeping states running. I’ve enjoyed this week and before hearing from our CIOs and CISOs about how they are ‘making it work’ (to steal Tim Gunn’s thunder) and making IT work well in the face of this global pandemic. Do I think expanded telework is here to stay in state government? Absolutely. I have heard many comments on the cost savings of consolidating buildings and implementing shared desk space, and many employees report a higher job satisfaction and work-life balance. Now, for extroverts like me, I’ll probably always go into an office at least a few days a week!”

States Expand Talent Pool Beyond Local Recruits

In an exclusive conversation with StateTech, Georgia CIO Calvin Rhodes says his state will look at the possibilities of hiring qualified IT talent from outside of the Atlanta area, something the agency likely would not have previously considered.

“There’s lots of great benefits to that. Just being able to attract a worker that lives in a rural part of the state, that the ability to come and work for our agency could be a huge benefit for somebody that’s got the skill set that we’re looking for, and maybe they don’t have as many opportunities in some local industry,” Rhodes says. “Because Atlanta, in the technology space, prior to this happening, was at near full employment. And then you look at some of our cybersecurity fields where we had a negative employment rate here in Georgia. So, I think some of that can benefit us.”

On May 5, Rhodes participated in a NASCIO panel on the future of agency operations, where he said tough commutes in Atlanta may have discouraged strong hires in the past. Utah CIO Michael Hussey, who moderated the panel, said his state also was expanding its hire of “virtual workers.” 

“We’re starting to hire folks beyond a two-hour commute in the state, and it’s really paid a lot of dividends and opened up that recruitment pool,” Hussey said.

READ MORE: Find out how state CIOs think their operations will evolve. 

In the Face of Budget Strains, Virtual Offices Could Save Money

During his panel, Rhodes said budget concerns also may drive continued telework.

“My team of people is working fine remotely; why do I have anything other than my headquarters for administration? Why don’t I look at getting rid of these other locations?” he said.

Pivoting to a cloud environment enables organizations to support workers in disparate locations, and reducing physical infrastructure as a result may bring budget savings, Rhodes said.

Hussey said his agency may seek budget savings of up to 10 percent through telework efficiencies in the coming year.

On a May 4 panel, Massachusetts CIO Curtis Wood said the rapid shift of his entire workforce as the emergency hit in March set the stage for sustained efficiencies.

“This gives us tremendous opportunity,” Wood said. “I’ve retooled my conversations to talk about availability, accessibility, resiliency and scalability versus where it actually sits in the state data center. It’s really about access to the system to make sure it’s available during a crisis. We have really flipped this around from an IT perspective to think about continuity of government services, which is really what we are all talking about.”

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.

Getty Images/ RichVintage

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