In 2019, NASCIO celebrated its 50th anniversary. When you pause to think about how much changed from 1969 to 2019, it can take your breath away. And yet, the pace of change has only accelerated, and the opportunities to adopt new ways of serving citizens keep growing exponentially.

During my tenure as State CIO in North Carolina, my core responsibility was to lead the charge to enhance government operations and services to citizens. While that role hasn’t fundamentally changed, clearly there has been a shift from CIO as “service provider” to CIO as “broker” to drive the innovation agenda. CIOs can no longer do it all; instead, they need to embrace a new role in driving transformation and innovative change.

As part of its 50-year celebration, NASCIO teamed up with Accenture to study the changing role of the state CIO. We wanted to understand how state CIOs will serve as catalysts and conveners of change; how state IT organizations can build the capacity to innovate; and how the state CIO of the future can best embrace emerging technologies to create the best government outcomes.

In our survey of 35 states and in-depth interviews with 10 state CIOs, all agreed that innovation is much more than a new, shiny technology. Just doing things differently is not always effective innovation. Their view: Effective innovation is achieved by driving a change that adds value to stakeholders while using the latest technology to support the change.

Together, the state CIOs provided rich perspectives on the state of innovation—including the importance of innovation, successes and best practices to date, persistent barriers and five factors critical to moving the meter on innovation.

For example, 83 percent of state CIOs told us they view innovation as an “important” or “very important” part of their day-to-day and leadership responsibilities. Even so, just 14% reported “extensive” innovation activities in their organization. We don’t view this as a CIO shortcoming. Instead, we believe it points to robust opportunities for state CIOs to step up and take the lead for innovation across state government.

When we asked state CIOs about barriers to innovation, they mentioned culture, risk aversion and buy-in. Not surprisingly, technology debt also emerged as a top obstacle. Seventy-one percent of state CIOs indicated that technology debt in legacy systems makes their organizations less responsive to changes in the market. More than half (54 percent) told us that this debt is directly affecting innovation efforts.

State CIOs also helped us identify five key factors for successful innovation – all of which must be underpinned by culture change:

1. Executive support.

Executive support helps empower state CIOs to drive innovation. Only 26 percent reported that innovation is a stated priority for their administration.

2. Governance.

Structured oversight helps ensure states pursue worthwhile innovations. Forty-nine percent of state CIOs reported having such a structure; 31 percent are developing one.

3. Funding.

Just 26 percent of state CIOs said they had funds dedicated to innovation, underscoring the need for collaboration to pay for innovation.

4. Ecosystem.

State CIOs can spur innovative ideas with a broad array of partners. While 63 percent use input from employees, only 14 percent ideate with citizens.

5. New skills.

Nearly half of state CIOs (46 percent) cited skills as a top innovation barrier. Three-quarters struggle to find the right skills to introduce or execute innovation at least some of the time.

I encourage you to review our full findings and analysis and stay in touch about topics related to CIO in the New. You can follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Rick Webb

Former, Chief Information Officer – State of North Carolina

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