The coronavirus pandemic shuttered government offices, forced agencies to expand telework options via cloud based collaboration tools and has spurred a rise in digital services.
A survey released earlier this month by the National Association of State Technology Directors, whose membership includes state CTOs, reveals that some of the changes instituted as a result of the pandemic may be significant and long-lasting. The survey results, which cover respondents representing 38 states, show that state governments are likely going to be working through the changes for years to come, and will be making technology investments to respond to a new way of operating.
Importantly, 76 percent of respondents expect an increase in telework combined with a reduced number of staffers working in office facilities moving forward, and 19 percent expect a permanent increase in state employees teleworking.
“The pandemic response drove significant change to how government supports constituents,” NASTD Research Committee Chair John Hoffman, who is deputy state CIO and CTO for the Texas Department of Information Resources, said in a statement. “The long-term impacts will be assessed for years and sharing and understanding other states’ efforts and challenges has been very helpful.”
READ MORE: Explore five ways the pandemic is reshaping government technology plans.
How the Pandemic Has Affected State IT
The pandemic spurred numerous changes in how state governments operate, according to the survey. The most impactful technology changes implemented during the pandemic response were the expansion or adoption of remote collaboration tools (30 percent); network, VPN, split-tunneling or bandwidth changes (22 percent); enhancement of digital government platforms (13 percent); and the augmentation of contact or call centers (13 percent).
According to the survey, the need to support remote workers and students has altered states’ broadband strategies, with 58 percent saying that those changes have expedited and will continue to expedite broadband growth in their states.
In terms of the technology products or solutions that helped states accelerate their transitions during the pandemic, 31 percent selected telecom/conferencing solutions. Another 29 percent picked cloud-based solutions, and 28 percent selected VPNs.
The changes in technology also affected the state’s IT workforce, the survey found, with 34 percent saying the changes increased efficiency and productivity through the use of collaboration tools. Another 18 percent say the changes strengthened the workforce, and 5 percent say their workforces were weakened through further retirements.
Looking ahead, survey respondents say their pandemic response will have several impacts on their states’ IT strategic plans. Thirty-five percent say the response will affect technology adoption, 32 percent say it will affect workforce changes and 26 percent say it will lead to changes in policy and governance.
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Where Improvements Need to Be Made for State Government IT
The survey did reveal some areas for improvement in state IT. While 55 percent of respondents report that their data centers performed adequately without adjustments, 29 percent say they were able to accommodate the needs of state agencies with minor adjustments and 16 percent say they needed to shift workloads to cloud solutions.
And while 37 percent say their existing disaster recovery and business continuity plans were sufficient for responding to the pandemic, an almost equal number, 34 percent, say their plans were not sufficient. Another 29 percent say their existing plans did not include a pandemic response component.
One unnamed respondent in the survey said “the pandemic illuminated areas that had insufficient planning and/or capacity to adjust to the operational shifts.” Another said that all agencies were required to have continuity of operations plans, “but the pandemic highlighted the weaknesses in some of the plans.”
The survey highlights the need for state government IT leaders to remain agile to support a changing work environment. “Even when the pandemic subsides, the future state government workforce will incorporate more telework. Online collaborative tools will also be essential for accomplishing state government business,” the survey report notes.