The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) today released its ninth annual state CIO survey. Since the survey comes just ahead of an election cycle that will likely cause significant turnover among states’ most senior technology officials, NASCIO–in partnership with Grant Thornton and CompTIA–approached the survey in a new way. NASCIO explained that it used this year’s survey as a “means for the current cadre of state CIOs to offer advice to a new generation of technology leaders that may soon be taking office.”

In the survey, state CIOs anonymously shared their thoughts on critical success factors for CIOs, legacy modernization funding and procurement, and digital transformation and emerging technologies.

Critical Success Factors

The report stresses that today’s CIO cannot be solely focused on IT, rather they need to build bridges and relationships across government. Silos are out, and collaboration is in.

When asked, CIOs consistently ranked communication, relationship-building, and strategic thinking as the most critical leadership traits for a successful CIO,” the report explained. “In contrast, technology expertise came in at number nine.”

NASCIO and its partners asked CIOs what advice they would share with new incoming CIOs. Current CIOs stressed the importance of understanding the budget process and building a good working relationship with the budget office. Once that relationship is in place, CIOs need to focus on “nurturing enterprise thinking that is focused on generating value for the business” to “set the foundation for success.”

Legacy Modernization Funding and Procurement

As with their Federal counterparts, state CIOs are increasingly managing legacy modernization projects. Large-scale modernization projects bring the state’s funding, procurement, and contracting models under scrutiny since they can have such a dramatic impact on the success of the project. With their role in modernization projects in mind, NASCIO asked CIOs to characterize their state’s use of “innovative funding, procurement, and contracting models.”

“In particular, legacy modernization projects are increasingly structured around modular or incremental deployment of functionality, versus a large monolithic Design Development and Implementation (DD&I) phase,” the report said. “Almost two-thirds of states are already using such approaches, with another quarter either planning or considering their use.”

States are turning to the modular approach because the Federal government is pushing for incremental funding for modernization projects for programs that use Federal funding, such as Medicaid.

CIOs were also asked if their states were adopting similar modular procurement and contracting for legacy modernization projects.

“Modular procurement and contracting is also quite widespread, although not yet as widely used as modular funding,” according to the report. “However, in addition to the 48 percent currently employing the practice, 40 percent are either planning or considering it, so it could soon become as commonplace.”

For states that had already made the move to modular contracting, CIOs stressed that “education of stakeholders (including the legislature) was critical, and that the additional complexity of procurements and contracting can push a system integrator role on to the state even if the state is not prepared to take on such a role.”

Digital Transformation and Emerging Technologies

In the report, NASCIO argues that digital transformation is no longer just states offering their services online. Rather, states are aspiring to “have seamless citizen transactions, increase engagements, provide mobile services, establish common online identities, and enable crowdsourcing and digital assistants to help navigate services.”

To achieve such lofty goals, states need to focus on collaboration and bringing together multiple state agencies to achieve a common goal. While states understand that many stakeholders need to be involved, there remains some concern over who should drive these large-scale projects.

“While the survey respondents were evenly split on the question of the state CIO being responsible for executing a digital strategy for the state, they were overwhelmingly in agreement that the state CIO should take a leadership role in digital efforts,” the report found.

When it comes to what emerging technologies will be the most impactful for states in the next 3 to 5 years, more than half of CIOs (57 percent) said artificial intelligence (AI). This is up significantly from last year’s survey, where only 29 percent said AI. Conversely, the Internet of Things slipped down the rankings, with only 27 percent selecting it–down from 43 percent last year.

“Collectively, the 2018 cohort of state CIOs represent over 150 years of experience in serving as their state’s most senior technology leader,” the report concluded “It is likely that next year’s class of CIOs will include a substantial percentage of new entrants. These new CIOs will benefit both from the foundation created by the predecessors as well as the advice and wisdom that more experienced state CIOs can provide.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs