While business entities and government may have different goals, they often face similar challenges. A panel of corporate leadership addressed those overlapping areas at the opening day of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Midyear Conference on May 25, sharing how their environments have shifted over the past year, how they’ve responded and are moving forward.

New Hampshire CIO and NASCIO President, Denis Goulet, opened the conference and welcomed almost 700 registered guests to the virtual gathering – the third NASCIO conference in a row in the virtual medium (and hopefully the last as the fall conference in Seattle is planned for in-person attendance).

Goulet announced that among the virtual attendees were representatives from 49 states and two territories, including with 45 state CIOs. Those figures aren’t far off from those seen in the traditional pre-pandemic conference, especially in terms of state CIO attendance, and it will be interesting to see if the post-pandemic world will continue to attract large, in-person conferences.

“So much has changed since we were together in October for the annual conference,” Goulet said. “We’re still gathering online, the nation is in a new phase filled with hope and forward motion. The pandemic response has been complex and requires innovation and perseverance from nearly every industry.”

He recognized the critical private sector support in these efforts, and how industry’s rapid response demonstrated a true partnership. “I’m proud of this community. And all that was accomplished this past year on behalf of the citizens of all of our states.”

In line with this private sector emphasis, Goulet introduced Virginia CIO Nelson Moe who moderated the first session, Private Sector Perspectives, with panelists Jim Richberg, CISO at Fortinet, Jason Salzetti, SLED sector leader at Deloitte, and Pranab Sinha, senior VP and CIO at Genesys.

Nelson opened the session with several roundtable questions for each panelist, beginning with, “What is the future of your workforce and what issues do you see there?”

Deloitte’s Salzetti responded that this is the question everyone is asking, and said, “At Deloitte we do a lot of polling, internally, with our staff. We have over 120,000 people in in the U.S. and in India and so we have pretty good samples there.” The vast majority of Deloitte’s workforce was already virtual or remote, working in client facilities or Deloitte facilities purpose built for serving remote satellite workers. “So, we had a leg up when the pandemic hit because we’re used to having everybody outside the office now,” he said.

However, conditions moving forward is where the primary questions lie. As Salzetti said, “We’re trying to figure out what’s that right balance of remote work, working on site, and planning on some return to workplace, with a lot more flexibility than what we saw in the past.”

Genesys’ Sinha chimed in enthusiastically about the workforce issue. “This is really front and center for most CIOs. If you really look back here, you know in March 2020, we went from 60 remote offices to 5,000 remote offices. Everybody started working from home.” This raised challenging issues including employee engagement and collaboration. “The new normal or the next normal, whatever we want to call it, is quite different. How the work is done in the workplace of the future is quite different from pre-COVID days.”

The other piece Sinha predicts is how the entire model for employee collaboration will change.

“There are no more hallway conversations and the brainstorming sessions and the white boarding that used to be there,” he said. “That is all changing. And what is happening now is the collaboration technologies of the past are not going to be sufficient for the future.”

Sinha asked, “How do you keep the employee engaged? How do we address that ‘zoom fatigue’ with people working non-stop? But I think our companies are resilient and we will get through this, and in this new normal and next normal. Companies are going to be in a very, very productive in this new mode.”

Nelson’s second question dealt with the challenges and opportunities for continued digitalization, optimization, and automation. Richberg, the CISO from Fortinet, answered from naturally a security standpoint. “I think going forward, we’re going to see increasing convergence of networking and security. We may have ‘hoteling’ instead of dedicated desks.” He believes that all this is accelerating migration to the cloud. And that means it will be necessary to establish secure access and use of data regardless of the location of the data.

Richberg stated, “That really means IT and security are going to have to be partnering, doing AI and machine learning which have been used for a decade now in cybersecurity, and have started to reach critical mass across that field.” He also believes that this will transform the ability to secure the enterprise. “So, I’m actually optimistic in the sense of saying that continued digitization and automation of AI coupled with something like the increasing power of AI and ML is going to be a game changer.”

One of the last questions was perhaps the most intriguing, especially coming from the private sector’s perspective, and that is the evolving role of the CIO.

Sinha said, “I joke with my colleagues, they say, as a CIO, if you’re just in the business of running IT, that’s the wrong way, the whole role of the CIO has evolved significantly over the last several years.” He said he used to just focus on the back-end, general operations; however, he’s not just managing the information assets anymore, but leading the entire digital transformation for the enterprise.

“That’s where the value starts to come together,” he said. “Today’s modern CIO and the evolving role of CIO, CIOs are not just chief information officers, they are chief integration officers responsible for integrating all phases of business processes through systems across the enterprise,” he added. “They are the chief innovation officer who has an eye on what’s upcoming, how we bring technology to the enterprise at the right time and in the right place,” he said.

And as Nelson noted, not a lot different than the evolving CIO role in government.

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.