Sep 22 2020

Tech-Fluent Leaders Can Make the Case for Technology Investments

The most effective officials are those who can explain to stakeholders how IT supports government goals.

The COVID-19 pandemic heralded great unemployment across the country earlier this year. In hard-hit Washington state, a record number of financially stricken citizens sought unemployment benefits, overwhelming public agencies.

In looking at state public services, which were stymied by a lack of IT support, The Seattle Times recently found a beacon of hope in Suzi LeVine, the state’s Employment Security Department commissioner. A former Microsoft executive, LeVine possesses the aptitude and, specifically, the “exceptional tech fluency” to match resources against the challenges, the newspaper says. She knows how to solve the problem and how to speak to it.

Deloitte defines tech fluency as “the ability to broadly understand and confidently discuss IT concepts.” The firm regularly examines the idea that corporate CIOs should not only possess tech fluency but also learn the language of business. These combined capabilities result in more comprehensive and convincing technology leadership. Greater tech fluency lends itself to increased persuasiveness. 

Similarly, public sector IT leaders may become stronger advocates for leveraging technologies to provide public services. The result is tech-fluent leaders like Suzi LeVine in Washington.

Boost Effectiveness by Working with Others

“CIOs are 1.5 times more likely to report having a strong or very strong relationship with other business functions when they customize their tech fluency efforts,” notes Deloitte Insights in a corporate CIO survey. For states and local governments, “other business functions” include public agencies headed by elected or appointed leaders who have a stake in fulfilling citizen services. The ultimate line-of-business leader is a governor or a mayor in these cases.

When an IT official first enters public service, they may command basic tech fluency through an understanding of enterprise technology systems and how tech can help government succeed (which is to say, provide the best service to the most people). 

Gather Support for Tech Investments 

As IT officials grow professionally, they may develop greater specificity in tech fluency in their individual roles. 

As Deloitte observes, this greater fluency involves “a detailed working knowledge of how technology capabilities and their adjacencies can drive new revenue and open fresh opportunities in the near term.”

Effective IT officials may argue for automation in public service as a means to enhance state or municipal revenues as well. Tech leaders who can clearly make the case for such investments possess an advanced tech fluency. Politicians and other executives who understand the advantages of technological upgrades may be more likely to support funding for them.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Partner and innovate to expand the government IT talent pool. 

Apply IT Solutions to Address Actual Problems

Ultimately, highly tech-fluent public officials can foresee opportunities for innovative solutions that may change how government conducts business.

Jon Mazella, Director of State and Local Government, CDW•G
Greater tech fluency lends itself to increased persuasiveness.”

Jon Mazella Director of State and Local Government, CDW•G

Earlier this year, for example, state CIOs shared their pandemic experiences at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ midyear event, and many made great strides in providing citizen services with automation tools. Georgia CIO Calvin Rhodes was one of the leaders who quickly saw the effectiveness of chatbots in handling inquiries regarding unemployment assistance, and he moved to apply that capability to other areas.

Understanding how the technology could provide a public service, Rhodes was able to apply it to the problem.

Continue to Enhance Tech Fluency

Tech fluency is a journey, not a destination. Achieving tech fluency is desirable, but it is a skill set that becomes stale if not refreshed. Deloitte recommends embracing tech fluency training programs, which have proliferated online. This training focuses on making mission leaders knowledgeable about technologies that support their programs. When they do so, they learn what’s possible.

In Washington state, a modern computer system mostly caught up with a huge backlog in unemployment claims over the summer. Tech fluency went a long way in preparing for the future.

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