Jul 17 2023

National Association of Counties Details Top Priorities Ahead of Annual Gathering

Local officials highlight tech concerns prior to the NACo Annual Conference and Exposition, running July 21 to 24.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about the NACo 2023 Annual Conference in Austin, Texas, on July 21-24.

In early 2020, the National Association of Counties created its Tech Xchange, a network designed to bring together county IT leaders and staff to engage in idea sharing, problem-solving and discussions around technology. This network has grown to over 1,000 IT professionals and provides NACo with feedback and input for national discussions and representation.

The network, along with the NACo County Technology Advisory Council and IT Standing Committee, also assists in the development of annual technology priorities.

The NACo 2023 Technology Priorities are readily available and can educate elected officials as well as other stakeholders who have an interest in supporting local government.

Here are NACo’s current top 10 technology priorities.

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Ten Technology Priorities for State and Local Agencies

Cybersecurity. This issue remains a top concern for county technology leaders. To that end, NACo worked with Accenture to produce a resiliency report. The study informing the report included focus group meetings, individual county IT leader interviews and a survey.

In the report, 40 percent of counties have seen an increase in the number of attempted, unsuccessful breaches against their networks over the prior year. Areas of concern include budget as well as retaining cyber insurance. The publication recommends conducting assessments, developing a strategy focused on the workforce and taking advantage of partnerships.

IT Talent Recruitment and Retention. Workforce shortages challenge all agencies, not just cybersecurity agencies. While competitive salaries are an issue, county IT is finding some success by focusing on benefits such as long-term employment. NACo provides several career development opportunities for county IT leadership including the High-Performance Leadership Academy.

Data Governance. With the ever-growing volume of county electronic documents and records, data governance is becoming an even greater challenge. You can only protect what you are aware of. And with increased security requirements from auditors and cyber insurance providers, counties must ensure they have a data asset inventory and the proper security controls. To assist in this area, NACo provides access to a members-only portal that contains templates for policies, job descriptions and toolkits, including asset inventory templates.

LEARN MORE: How agencies can mitigate threats created by AI enhancements.

Broadband. Broadband connectivity remains a top priority for counties with unserved and underserved residents. New federal resources have supercharged the broadband infrastructure deployment landscape, and county IT leaders are increasingly tasked with ensuring the strategic deployment of high-speed internet for every county resident in need.

County IT leaders can help strategize for deployment projects through innovative geospatial information mapping and  sharing data with the state broadband office, by fostering a local focus for ensuring internet service providers are offering accessible and affordable internet services, and by serving as an educator and leader for promoting adoption to the network.

Counties can facilitate education on digital skills for residents in need and provide resources to encourage participation in the benefits and services of the internet.

Cloud Adoption. Sixty-three percent of counties utilize a mix of cloud and on-premises infrastructure to host their applications and technology operations.

Due to staff shortages as well as improved security through the cloud, counties will push even more functions to the cloud. NACo will assist counties in providing guidance in areas such as contract language for cloud service providers. This includes a TechBrief on contract language, which is available to NACo Tech Xchange members.

Rural and Small County Technology. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 72 percent of all counties in the United States are considered rural, and about 76 percent have populations of 50,000 or fewer. It is difficult for many counties in this category to keep pace with the growing need for sufficient cyber protection, let alone move toward the modernization of systems and provide more digital services for residents. NACo is facilitating several pilots with corporate partners that are focused on bringing no-code/low-code solutions and security services to this county segment.

Autonomous Innovation. Autonomous innovation is growing by leaps and bounds. Counties are working to improve posture when it comes to the use of autonomous equipment, including drones, self-driving equipment (tractors, lawnmowers) and robotics. To facilitate discussions, NACo focuses at least one segment of the in-person CIO Forums that occur at NACo conferences.

The July 2023 forum will include presentations and demonstrations of autonomous options and relevant use cases for counties in areas such as facilities and geospatial information systems.

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IT Modernization and Digital Transformation. Modernizing legacy systems is not easy, whether that means upgrading phone systems, eliminating legacy systems, mobilizing workforce, modernizing systems in business areas (such as human services) or utilizing artificial intelligence. However, it is necessary, especially considering that legacy systems cannot avoid some security vulnerabilities and that much of the knowledgeable workforce that maintained those systems has retired.

NACo’s efforts here focus on awareness of options and services available to assist counties. NACo technology corporate partners play a significant role in this area and may provide no cost or low-cost assistance; for example, recently completing a no-code/low-code pilot with more than 10 counties.

IT Strategy and Roadmaps. In a new priority for 2023, county IT leaders asked for education on IT strategy alternatives. To that end, NACo has started a series of TechKnow webinars. These monthly one-hour sessions are led by county CIOs or IT directors and focus on sharing tips, techniques and lessons learned. A recent webinar covered the importance of conducting an IT assessment and developing a roadmap for improvement.

Collaboration. Collaboration is extremely critical in local government. NACo promotes partnerships at the national level with organizations such as the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center for security programming and services. The association has focused on state and county partnerships to maximize the use of federal, state and local cybersecurity grant program funds becoming available to counties. Working relationships with national organizations such as the National Association of State Chief Information Officers are critical in strengthening intergovernmental partnerships.

Throughout the remainder of 2023, NACo will prioritize other partnerships that will benefit counties’ cybersecurity, shared IT services and workforce resources.

DISCOVER: How agencies are using cloud-based analytics for smart solutions.

Emerging amid these top 10 are two areas of intense focus: TikTok and generative AI. Earlier this year, NACo surveyed the county IT landscape and provided insight on how counties were responding to TikTok developments. Due to the volume of state and county bans being applied to TikTok, tracking this situation will be an emerging priority. However, the spotlight has now turned to the emergence of generative AI.

Truly, this is an innovation that has taken the world by storm and is already demonstrating huge benefits for counties. As one county IT leader stated, “It gets you 70 percent of the way there, and you fill in the last 30 percent. It is a productivity multiplier.”

While possessing a wealth of benefits, there are also risks and challenges that will need to be addressed as generative AI continues to evolve. NACo has issued a TechBrief on ChatGPT to its Tech Xchange members, and the association also provided additional thought leadership on the topic. We will evaluate the changing landscape and engage with county IT leaders to determine how best to proceed in providing additional resources and representation for counties.

There is a tremendous amount of work taking place to support counties in technological growth and strategic development. NACo provides resources, education and guidance through the NACo Tech Xchange as well as to all NACo members during the year.

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