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State CIOs face tighter budgets next year

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic forced to state IT offices to make rapid and abrupt changes – expanding remote work and collaboration options for employees, improving digital services to citizens and propping up legacy systems. For next year’s must-do list, states will have significantly less money to work with.

“All states are facing lower than projected revenues, which is putting significant downward pressure on state IT budgets,” with the severity varying by state, Denis Goulet, president of the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO), told the Wall Street Journal. After months of investing in laptops for employees, remote access infrastructure, call-center upgrades and other resources to help citizens and staff weather the pandemic and resulting unemployment, states are facing tighter budgets due to lower income, sales and corporate taxes.

According to Moody’s Analytics, states could see a $434 billion revenue shortfall from 2020 through 2022, the Journal reported.

Still, priorities among state CIOs remain relatively stable, according to NASCIO’s Dec. 9 State CIO Top 10 Priorities for 2021 list -- even as nearly every area was impacted by the spread of the virus. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of cybersecurity, digital government services and broadband access, among other topics,” Goulet said.

Cybersecurity remains at the top of state CIO priorities as it has for several years, and there’s no sign of change in the future.  As one CIO featured in the NASCIO’s October 2020 State CIO Survey commented: “When you have tens of thousands of people suddenly working from home or the local coffee shop, the vulnerabilities are too numerous to think of.”

CIOs’ second priority is enhancing digital government by improving and digitizing citizen experience, accessibility, identity management and the use of digital assistants. Whereas many CIOs had been waiting for an opportunity to roll out chatbots, the pandemic gave them excellent business case because of the surging number of online transactions.  “This shutdown and work at home … provides an opportunity to re-engineer the delivery of IT systems in the state in a model that is better, more secure and more cost efficient,” a CIO said. “The pandemic has created an environment that is allowing us to re-invent so much of what we do to bring us to the modern standards.”

With the pandemic and unemployment putting pressure on legacy systems, cloud services was third on CIOs’ 2021 priority list, though many are already deploying the technology. Forty-one percent of the  respondents to the 2020 survey said their state has a cloud-first strategy for new applications, and another 17% are instituting infrastructure as a service. The top five services targeted for cloud migration were email, disaster recovery, office productivity applications, ERP systems and security services/monitoring.

“It remains to be seen how we will look back on 2020 and assess the long-term impact to state information technology and the role of the state CIO,” the report concluded. “However, it seems certain that this year will be remembered as a demonstration of the continued ability of the state CIO community to lead through uncertainty, and as a reminder of the critical role CIOs play in the provision of essential services and the continuity of government.”

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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