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IT responders keep government at work

State and local government CIOs say their departments are getting strong support from managers as they respond to the challenges of maintaining essential public services and enabling remote work for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey found.

Specifically, 64% of CIOs who responded to the survey released May 6 by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) said their IT department received strong support. Twenty-eight percent said their support levels have been moderate, while 8% said they’ve gotten little to no support.

Many of them had to act fast to get agency employees up and running remotely as shelter-in-place orders rolled out nationwide. Sixty percent of CIOs said at least half their IT staff is teleworking, while 18% said a quarter to half of their staff is working from home and 22% said that less than a quarter of IT staff is teleworking.

Forty-one percent of respondents said that as more employees telework, their departments have seen IT help-desk requests spike, while 37% said the increase has been slight and 22% said it’s remained about the same or decreased.

The most commonly cited problem IT teleworkers have had is ensuring access or support for virtual meetings and videoconferencing, with the top three platforms in use being Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx and Zoom.

Another common problem is connectivity issues, with 34% of respondents saying employees have had trouble. To increase connectivity to meet teleworking demands, 17% of CIOs said they’ve installed new broadband capacity, and 14% said they increased server virtualization. Another approach was adding virtual-private network (VPN) licenses and virtual desktop infrastructure in Microsoft Azure, according to the report.

Unsurprisingly, security is a top concern for IT staff at this time. To beef up protections, 77% of respondents said they require VPN connectivity, 54% said remote workers may use only approved software and 53% said remote workers must have a specific level of virus protection on their devices. For example, a respondent said that two-factor authentication was expedited for those who didn’t have it. Other efforts include not allowing nonessential workers to have VPN access and allowing workers to use only government-supplied devices.

The experience has revealed where departments have room to grow. Forty-eight percent of CIOs said their staff needs more training in network security. Other areas they cited are infrastructure management, cloud security, broadband management and network operations, in order.

Respondents were more evenly split on where their IT department budgets will stand post-pandemic, with 51% saying they expect cuts, while 49% do not.

CompTIA’s Public Technology Institute conducted the survey with 172 CIOs and other IT leaders over a 45-day period.

“Managing new logistical strains and security issues to enable a reliable and safe remote work environment during COVID-19 has shed new light on the critical importance of continuity in IT operations planning for local governments whose functions support essential public safety, healthcare, transportation and utility services,” Alan Shark, executive director of the institute, said in a press release.

Some of the lessons learned that respondents shared include positioning IT as a partner by communicating with other departments and elected leaders, using e-business such as online payments and invoicing, and practicing continuity of operations planning.

“In every crisis there is the opportunity to innovate,” the report states. “Whether it be to identify new work processes or practices, to take advantage of emerging technologies and tools, or to reinforce what we already know and the procedures we have in place: we are now dealing with a new dynamic.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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