In brief

In brief

  • Accenture and NASCIO surveyed and interviewed state CIOs to understand their role as catalysts and conveners who drive innovation.
  • The study explored how state IT organizations build the capacity to innovate and which best practices help in doing so.
  • We also examined how state CIOs embrace new and emerging technologies to create the best government outcomes.
  • Our report illuminates compelling opportunities, persistent obstacles, strategies for accelerating innovation and inspiring real-world case studies.

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.

The Future State CIO

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and Accenture recently partnered on research to study opportunities aimed at State CIOs. See more.

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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.

Innovation gap

State CIOs have rich opportunities to grow their innovation impact.


Most state CIOs consider innovation an important or very important part of their job.


Comparatively few state CIOs reported extensive innovation activities within their organization.

"Innovation to me is not about going out there and getting the latest and greatest technology and slapping it in … It’s about driving change from a business processing perspective and then technology can help make that change occur."


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."

Accelerating innovation

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.

The NASCIO-Accenture study pointed to the need for a delicate balance when making "space"—literally and figuratively—for innovation.

Executive support

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


Structured oversight helps ensure states pursue worthwhile innovations. 49% of state CIOs reported having such a structure. 31% are developing one.


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


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

New skills

46% cited skills as a top innovation barrier. 75% struggle to find the right skills to introduce or execute innovation at least some of the time.

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The skills a state CIO needs most are no longer technology skills.

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.

Stay focused on the destination

For state CIOs, the goal is better outcomes that support better lives: healthier children and families, stronger economies, more vibrant communities.

Straddle the line of "disciplined experimentation"

Get clear about the rules of the innovation road—including how decisions are made and how the state CIO’s office interacts with other agencies.

Shift the culture

Culture can be the greatest barrier or biggest accelerator of innovation. State CIOs can model calculated risk-taking to fuel an innovative culture.

Give yourself license to grow

As the role shifts, state CIOs will need new skills in marketing, communication and collaboration, among others. Conduct an honest assessment.

Invite more parties on the innovation ride

Even as state employees remain a rich source of innovative thinking, consider how other partners, including citizens, could spur new ideas.

Get creative to pay the tolls

Chargeback system or lack of funds creating barriers to execution? Consider collaborating to ensure continued momentum on the innovation journey.

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Rick Webb

Former, Chief Information Officer – State of North Carolina

Jenny Brodie

Senior Manager – Health & Public Service, Research

Doug Robinson

Executive Director – National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO)

Eric Sweden, MSIH MBA CGCIO™

Program Director – Enterprise Architecture & Governance, National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO)


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The challenging work of being a CIO in the New

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