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How state CIOs can keep IT healthy during pandemic

To help states ensure adequate  IT services during the pandemic outbreak, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers has posted COVID-19 planning and response guidance.

Unlike many disasters that damage infrastructure, a pandemic primarily affects the workforce and requires managing potentially high employee absenteeism. Most states’ IT organizations already run lean and are not equipped to deal with high employee absenteeism coupled with potentially greater demand for services as government employees move to remote work.

However, pandemics also build gradually, giving CIOs time to prioritize business functions and essential services based on their level of importance and allowable downtime to limit disruption to agency operations.

To help manage the IT impacts of the pandemic, NASCIO advises CIOs to:

Plan for diminished quality of service and possible interruptions. While remote work has become relatively mainstream, wider use of bandwidth-intensive applications such as video conferencing may cause latency or connection problems for users. Cloud-based services will be able to help meet demand, but users may experience issues as competition for the same cloud resources grows.

Prepare for limited or no access to facilities.  If a data center or operations center becomes contaminated or is in a quarantine zone, CIOs should move work to their disaster recovery site and prepare to conduct business off-premises. They may also be able to work with state health officials to ensure access to health and safety systems in quarantined facilities by sealing off certain areas or allowing access for only critical personnel.

Promote enterprise platforms and cloud services. With most states already consolidating IT infrastructure in the cloud, pushing harder on software-as-a-service options may not be difficult. Other agencies may have excess capability to support data and applications.

Shutdown non-essential services.  To free up resources for other critical services, CIOs should identify and prioritize critical business applications based on their level of importance and acceptable downtime. Helpdesk staff, for example, may be overwhelmed with workers needing assistance with remote technologies. Consider deploying cloud-based helpdesk applications, chat services or bots where feasible and consult with vendor partners to help meet demand.

Take advantage of VoIP telecommunications. With cloud-based voice over internet protocol systems, state governments have more options for software-based telephone services.  

Leverage existing technology platforms and services. GIS platforms, data visualization tools and website content management systems will help states provide easily accessible and intuitive information on the virus’ spread and impact.

Ensure VPNs and remote-access systems are ready. Laptops being used for remote work should have properly configured firewalls along with multifactor authentication, intrusion prevention and anti-malware software installed. States should also enhance their system monitoring capabilities to ensure they receive early detection and alerts.

Work with vendor partners. CIOs should prepare for contractors and suppliers who likewise faced with absenteeism and more service requests.

“State CIOs, as much as possible, should not focus on the geo-political aspects of a pandemic incident, but instead focus on ‘how does this directly affect my IT enterprise operations,’” the guidance states. They should take “immediate steps to keep the state’s essential IT business functions operating.”

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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