Aug 31 2021

5 Lessons State and Local IT Leaders Learned During the Pandemic

From public health to street paving and payrolls, IT Influencers say that investments in technology before and during the pandemic are yielding tangible benefits.

The coronavirus pandemic has spurred digital transformation in state and local government on a large scale, as agencies, by necessity, moved applications to the cloud and deployed new digital services to combat the pandemic and serve citizens’ needs. 

Some of these innovations and upgrades were done on the fly. Others took advantage of investments made before the pandemic struck that turned out to be providential. 

We surveyed some of the IT leaders who appear on our 2021 State and Local Government IT Influencer List to get a sense of the lessons they have learned and the insights they have gained on technology and citizen service delivery as the pandemic has continued to unfold. Many spoke of projects that have impacted the nuts and bolts of government or quality of life for citizens. The technology may be on the cutting edge in some cases but the impacts are down to earth and real.

1. Colorado Invests in Public Health Infrastructure 

The pandemic has presented numerous challenges for state and local government leaders, but also opportunities to innovate to combat the virus and enhance public health. 

“For most governments, investing in public health infrastructure upgrades has begun, and we are doing that here in Colorado as well,” says Kelly Taylor, director of the Colorado Digital Service

“Contact tracing, exposure notifications, health data interoperability, the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources data format, APIs and developer portals and so much more are in motion and will be continuously improved as we look out on the roadmap,” he says.

Indeed, CDS created a COVID-19 exposure notification tool in concert with U.S. Digital Response, and to date has had 1 million sign-ups, according to CDS. The agency also enabled a COVID-19 contact-tracing training system called Dr. Justina

2. Philadelphia Uses AI to Gain Efficiencies for Street Improvements 

Emily Yates, the smart city director for Philadelphia, says the pandemic has allowed the SmartCityPHL program to “really look at the ways tech and data can help improve efficiencies within government as well as improve quality of life for all of Philadelphia’s residents.” 

The program has been able to pilot many different technologies during the pandemic. However, one use case that made a lasting impact, according to Yates, has been the deployment of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to analyze streets and map various assets, like manhole locations, pavement markings and street signs. 

“Not only did automating this process allow the city to capture 1,200 miles of paving in just under three months but it also created additional staff capacity and allowed the Streets department to develop a five-year paving plan that aligns with capital budgeting,” she says. “The city is looking to scale up this partnership and expand the technology to support analysis of the condition of sidewalks throughout the city.”

RELATED: Explore the technology and approaches needed to quickly enable digital government.

3. North Carolina Enables More Informed COVID-19 Response 

North Carolina Chief Data Officer John Correllus notes that his team has committed to delivering more than 35 data programs and projects, with none more critical than a project with the North Carolina Health Information Exchange Authority, which oversees and administers the state-designated health information exchange, NC HealthConnex

NC HealthConnex was established six years ago, but Correllus says it “has proved invaluable during the pandemic in delivering clinical intelligence, improving point of care, streamlining workflows through data integrations and supporting our more than 60,000 providers, who contribute records to the exchange.” 

In the midst of the pandemic, he says, NC HealthConnex has offered connectivity to the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Management System and patient matching across sources to enhance vaccine data. The exchange receives COVID-19 vaccine administration data from points of care such as hospitals and health systems, retail and community pharmacies, county health departments, and other entities that are administering the vaccine. 

NC HealthConnex also offers notification features and updates that give subscribers access to COVID-19 lab result alerts, according to Correllus, allowing them to react to positive cases in a timelier manner. 

“The NC HIEA has accomplished an incredible amount through the dedication of the staff, the amazing leaders over the NC HIEA and through great vendor partners that share the same common goals of improving health outcomes for North Carolinians,” Correllus says.

READ MORE: How have government agencies embraced digital services during the pandemic?

4. Iowa Invests in New ERP System for the Long Haul 

In 2020, Iowa kicked off the launch of Iowa WorkSmart, which the state’s Department of Administrative Services describes as “an innovative cloud-based initiative to modernize the State of Iowa’s forecasting, budgeting, and strategic planning processes.”

A new enterprise resource planning system will “enable better, faster decision-making based on data-driven analytics” and will be “designed for collaboration and the capability to produce budgets and reports quickly and easily.”

The first phase, which is nearing completion, deals with human resources, payroll and expenses. The other two phases are scheduled to be completed by July 2022 and involve forecasting, budgeting, strategic planning, finance and purchasing.

Iowa CIO Annette Dunn says that WorkSmart “will have a lasting impact on the continuity of state government” for the Hawkeye State. 

The state has “shifted away from three legacy systems that are aging at a point that the cost to maintain them outweighs the benefits, not to mention de facto security issues from outdated software systems,” she says. “The investment is a huge undertaking, but one that is a long-term investment that will benefit the state for the next generation. We also are implementing this with all three branches of government, which has never been done before.”

EXPLORE: What are the benefits of a single digital identity for government services?

5. Texas’s Pre-Pandemic IT Investments Pay Off for Citizens 

Texas CIO Amanda Crawford notes that prior to the onset of the pandemic, the state’s Department of Information Resources began integrating secure public cloud services into its suite of shared technology services, “allowing agencies access to tools that are quickly scalable at a lower cost than traditional servers or mainframes.” 

DIR had also been working on “a broad transformation of texas.gov, the state’s official website, to allow more services to be delivered to Texans through a single portal,” Crawford says. Additionally, DIR has been working on a native mobile app, expected to launch this fall, which will provide “a single touchpoint for Texans to interact with state government and access government services in the same manner that they have become accustomed to interacting with the private sector.” 

“These investments proved invaluable during the pandemic as government had to pivot in how it delivered services to Texans,” Crawford says.

Getty Images/ Drazen Zigic