What’s changed for state CIOs during the pandemic

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ latest report shows the differences the COVID-19 pandemic made to the state IT workforce.

NASCIO collected data from state CIOs in February and March of 2020 and in again in January and February 2021. The resulting report, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A Resilient and Adaptable State IT Workforce,” found that most workforce priorities were consistent in each of the two surveys – with some notable exceptions.

Last year, only three CIOs mentioned remote work, but in the 2021 survey most CIOs said they “think expanded telework is around for the long haul and they will need to make it as easy as possible for the state workforce,” the report said. CIOs have realized that enabling remote work increases retention, employee engagement and enlarges the talent pool. They also cited the importance in focusing on completing work rather than on attendance and working harder at communication. “We may be a technology agency, but we’re still powered by humans,” one CIO said. “And while we can automate systems and processes, we cannot automate a healthy, resilient workplace culture.” 

Artificial intelligence became a workforce priority for state CIOs in 2021. Before the pandemic hit, CIOs said they hadn’t found the right use case for robotic process automation, machine learning or chatbots. Now, however, over three quarters of states are using AI via chatbots. NASCIO urged CIOs to “strongly consider automation … to improve staff morale and plan for the future of state IT work.”

Priorities surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion also rose to the top in 2021, while only one CIO listed it as a priority in 2020. According to the report, CIOs said that “culture was more important than ever” and that they were pursuing goals of “workplace flexibility, culture management and creating a connected culture.”

Other lessons from the most recent survey included the importance of securing remote workers and equipment and expanding broadband access, now and for the future state workforce. CIOs said that a centralized IT staff helped them be more flexible and adaptable during the pandemic, but that legacy systems presented many challenges.

“It is true that COVID-19 has upended almost everything in our lives and brought about immeasurable loss in our country and around the world,” the report said. “If there is good that can come of this in a post-pandemic world, perhaps a more flexible state government work environment is one of them.”

Read the full report, released March 30, here.

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