State CIOs: From mechanics to conductors
If asked to create a metaphor for their legacy systems, many state CIOs might describe them as a sprawling 1970s sedan. They would laud the car for its solid steel frame but note that its engine isn’t as fuel efficient and its handling isn’t as nimble as newer models. And despite making many updates over the decades, they would have to admit that the old sedan simply can’t match the security and other features of newer models. They might even say that it sometimes seems as though the road itself has transformed, and as the old sedan chugs along, newer, more modern vehicles zip past on the way to new destinations.
On a real-life highway, junking a gas-guzzler might seem the only viable choice. Fortunately, state governments are using a variety of vehicles—including cloud computing, ecosystem partnerships and greater cross-agency collaboration—to adapt and evolve their infrastructures. And while state CIOs have historically served as mechanics responsible for keeping IT engines running, today’s leaders have opportunities to put themselves at the wheel as drivers and conductors of innovation beyond technology systems.
As part of its 50th anniversary, NASCIO joined Accenture to study these opportunities for state CIOs. We surveyed 35 state CIOs and conducted in-depth interviews with 10 state CIOs to explore three key questions:
- What role does the state CIO play as catalyst and convener to drive innovation?
- How do state IT organizations build the capacity to innovate, and where are the best practices that drive this?
- How does the state CIO of the future embrace new and emerging technologies to create the best government outcomes?
Across the board, state CIOs agreed that innovation is much more than a new technology. Indeed, they are aligned in thinking that innovation is achieved by driving a change that adds value to stakeholders while using the latest technology to support those changes.
Destination: Better outcomes
Whatever the form or focus of innovation, the payoff should be better outcomes. Despite that potential—and state CIOs’ alignment on defining innovation—there seems to be a disconnect between its importance and its prevalence in the day-to-day activities of their organizations.
State CIOs have rich opportunities to grow their innovation impact.
Barriers to innovation
State CIOs cited barriers they encounter while working to both keep the lights on and drive innovation. While there are always state-specific nuances, several common themes emerged in the one-to-one interviews:
- Culture. As one state CIO noted, "Leadership of the agencies remains in place; there’s no change out. So the benefit of that is there’s a lot of continuity [and] stability. There’s a lot of great programmatic things that are going on within the agencies. But the bad thing about it is there’s less likelihood of doing change. What I’ve learned here [so far] is there is a culture that is somewhat resistant to change."
- Technology debt. Seventy-one percent of state CIOs indicated that technology debt in legacy systems makes their organizations less responsive to changes in the market, and 54 percent see technology debt directly impacting innovation.
- Risk aversion. State CIOs acknowledged that governments are not designed to welcome risk, but they also offered ways to make it more palatable. As one interviewee said, "We believe in unlimited first-time mistakes. Don’t make the same mistake twice. In some other cultures, they may describe that as ‘fail fast.’ I don’t like the idea of ‘fail fast.’ I think it’s better described as ‘learn fast.’"
- Buy-in. The ability to secure buy-in also emerged as a barrier. One CIO explained how one of the state’s innovative initiatives seemed to have strong momentum. However, "When it got time to do the proof of concept, it feels like people aren’t leaning in as much," he said. "It could be an indication that they don’t see the value in it, or maybe it’s threatening."
How can state CIOs overcome these common barriers and become brokers of innovation and supporters of outcomes? The NASCIO-Accenture research points to the critical role of culture along with five other success factors.
Recommendations for driving innovation
As state CIOs journey along the highway, they must drive at two speeds—keeping legacy systems running while putting innovation in the fast lane. The report identifies six recommendations to help navigate the journey.