Georgia State Capitol Building

Oct 12 2023

NASCIO 2023: State Agency Conversations About Cloud Now Center on People

Officials from Vermont and Georgia agree that optimization for citizen services and employee training top the list of priorities.

Many state governments generally are in a second phase of optimization for cloud computing, observed Dmitry Kagansky, CTO and deputy executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority, during the annual meeting of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

In his state, “there are a couple of agencies that started recently, and not having any technical debt, they were able to take advantage of cloud pretty quickly and do more cloud-native things,” Kagansky said Tuesday during a NASCIO 2023 panel in Minneapolis. “Our Georgia Data Analytics Center started right in the cloud. They never knew anything otherwise. The traditional agencies with servers, virtual machines and all of that, they are in the second phase of optimization.”

When state agencies began adopting cloud over the past 10 years, it was all about embracing technology that could help them accomplish more. Optimization today requires understanding the needs of citizens, he added.

“Optimization isn’t just for cost; it’s taking the constituent views. How can we make these apps more resilient and better and more available? And more responsive,” Kagansky said.

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Government Officials Re-Enforce Cloud Security Requirements

Kagansky made his observations in response to a recent report from NASCIO and Accenture, Cloud Part II: Changing the Cloud Conversation, the second report in a series on cloud computing in state government. The report includes a survey of state technology officials, which asked them questions such as how many cloud service providers are in their state. The mean answer was 22 providers.

That answer surprised Kagansky.

“I was surprised because Georgia has over 80 providers just for Software as a Service. We have 88 SaaS providers. That’s a lot of providers, and when you start talking about security, you’ve got to know where your data is and who is handling it,” he said.

For 74 percent of NASCIO-Accenture survey respondents, security is the most important benefit of cloud computing. 

Speaking to that point on the NASCIO 2023 panel, Vermont CIO Denise Reilly-Hughes noted that cloud service providers are contractually required to adhere to security specifics when doing business with the state. 

“We need that baseline security environment and disclosure as to where our data is. It must sit within the United States,” she said.

Reilly-Hughes said she admired a security certification program established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It requires service providers to be recertified over time, as changes occur constantly. Vermont wants to establish its own version of the cybersecurity certification for vendors, Reilly-Hughes said.

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Skills Shortage Stymies Wider Cloud Adoption for Agencies

Cloud Part II: Changing the Cloud Conversation found that 53 percent of state CIOs cite workforce skills shortages and a lack of staff as obstacles to adopting more cloud services.

Kagansky said his state eventually met its training challenges thanks to assistance from the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG).

“They took provider materials, and they are turning them into college classes. We were able to start offering those classes to our state employees. It’s been pretty well received,” he said. 

At the start of widespread cloud adoption, Kagansky said, his solution was “less than ideal.” He collected a bunch of cloud training resources and emailed them to state employees. 

“We got a lot of feedback. Some people were OK with that, and a lot of people weren’t. They wanted instructor-led learning. They wanted some hand-holding. They wanted specifics,” he said.

The formal TCSG curriculum resolved the issue for Georgia. In Vermont, state employees still receive “grassroots training,” Reilly-Hughes said. “It’s an ongoing conversation.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: Upskilling may open the door to more cloud migration opportunities. 

Cloud Adoption Models Lead the Way for AI Adoption Models

Reilly-Hughes and Kagansky agreed that the cloud adoption models for state governments have paved the way for adoption models for generative artificial intelligence.

“We’re dabbling a little bit. The cloud journey has opened the door wider for leveraging AI up front,” Reilly-Hughes said. “It’s going to be a game changer.”

The state has big concerns around “guardrails, guidelines and governance,” she said. “As a community, we need to make sure they align. Cloud is giving us the opportunity to be there, but we have to be smart about it.”

Kagansky added, “A lot of the guardrails for cloud could be applicable for gen AI. But realistically, for government, gen AI has to be limited.”

“We have a responsibility to disclose everything we are doing,” he added. “You cannot have a robot making opaque decisions for you. It has to be a human.”

Kagansky expressed concern about the unauthorized use of generative AI as a tool by state government employees turning to shadow IT

“The scariest thing about gen AI is how accessible it is. People could start using it now,” he said. “To me, gen AI is probably the quintessential shadow IT that we must be vigilant about. We cannot have it be a decision-maker. We cannot have it use our data where we aren’t aware of it. It’s on us to ensure end users are educated and constrained.”

Keep this page bookmarked for our coverage of the NASCIO 2023 Annual conference. Follow us on X, formerly known asTwitter, at @StateTech and the official conference Twitter account, @NASCIO. Join the conversation using the hashtag #NASCIO23.

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