Oct 13 2020

NASCIO 2020: State CIOs Respond to Pandemic with Innovations

An annual survey of IT officials identified chatbots as the top automated tool deployed by governments in response to COVID-19.

Over the past seven months, state CIOs have introduced innovations at a rapid pace to meet the challenges of supporting government functions in the face of the pandemic.

"The Agile State CIO: Leading in a Time of Uncertainty" — the latest in an annual survey published by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, Grant Thornton and CompTIA — outlines some of the ways in which CIOs adapted when COVID-19 shuttered state offices in March. Employees began working from their homes to maintain social distancing, and agencies deployed automation and emerging technologies to connect these newly remote locations to each other and the public.

NASCIO released the results of the survey on Tuesday during its NASCIO 2020 annual conference, which was convened online this year to enforce social distancing.

"One of the most significant lessons learned has been that remote work does, in fact, work," the survey report reads. "Prior to the pandemic, only a few states had implemented robust remote work polices and work from home was not widespread. The pandemic has proven that remote work can be successful without negatively impacting the business of state government. Whether or not remote work is here to stay for all who have worked from home in 2020 remains to be seen, but all state CIOs agree that there will be significant and long-lasting changes to government and their workforce."

This new way of doing business also disrupted the daily work of government, opening the door to innovation in response. The Agile State CIO survey asked state CIOs which automation or emerging technology solutions were first introduced in response to COVID-19.

Here are the five top responses:

  1. Chatbots for citizen inquiries, 76%
  2. Mobile apps for contract tracing, 53%
  3. Voicebots to support call centers, 40%
  4. Automated body temp scanners, 24%
  5. Automated fraud detection, 20%

Agencies Deploy Chatbots to Handle Volume of Inquiries

In a NASCIO 2020 panel on Tuesday, Tennessee CIO Stephanie Dedmon said her state "implemented chatbots to move people online and off the phone."

Prior to the pandemic, Tennessee supported small deployments of chatbots, but Dedmon's customer agencies were more willing to expand their horizons and try something new to meet the challenges of providing services after COVID-19 struck.

"Agencies were coming to us," Dedmon told the panel. "They were anxious to get more services online. It expedited some things we wanted to do."

Vermont CIO John Quinn agreed that adding chatbots was the top innovation his state introduced in the pandemic's wake.

"We looked at our role as being able to do the background and research necessary. We would have a list of things agencies could do to solve their problems," Quinn said at NASCIO 2020. "There was an overwhelming amount of people looking for information, and chatbots became one of the most-used things across the agencies."

NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson stressed that innovations like chatbots proved vital in providing citizen services while demonstrating the importance of the state CIO's role.

"It's about enabling state government; it's about transformation. It isn't simply managing infrastructure," Robinson said during the panel.

Check out more coverage from the NASCIO Annual 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 / anyaberkut