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The Modernization Imperative

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Craig P. Orgeron
June 6, 2022

During the course of COVID-19, public sector agencies were tested with intensified expectations and increased demand for their services. These challenges and subsequent fissures in online solutions have transformed expectations for government service delivery. As public sector leaders emerge from the grueling realities of the pandemic, with a set of mandates centered on modernizing systems to reinvent the citizen experience, the substantial work of making pandemic-infused priorities is at hand. What will be curious in the next several years is to track the arc of digital transformation initiatives borne out of the exigency of the pandemic and analyze the ultimate impact of these efforts in terms of busting the inertia of normally slow-moving and change resistant bureaucracies.

Post-pandemic, public sector CIOs overwhelmingly believe it is time to invest significantly in information technology (IT) modernization initiatives to deliver improved digital services to citizens. And while many governments have been slow to make investments in IT transformation, the demand and expectation by citizens to improve digital services has surged as a result of the pandemic. Effectively leveraging IT has become essential to good government, impacting how citizens live, communicate and interact. Constituents expect interactions with government agencies to offer access, personalization and ease of use. However, even with a surplus of urgency generated by the pandemic, governments continue to face barriers in modernizing their technology portfolio and operations to meet these novel expectations. Notwithstanding a widespread desire to modernize public information technology, governments have decades of technical debt and non-strategic investments in disparate technology stacks. Technology sprawl, exacerbated by bad investments, limited human capital and security breaches remain as vestiges of inaction, preventing governments from taking advantage of technology innovations like cloud services to deliver effective constituent services in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Data gathered by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) support, across the spectrum of states, an urgency for both the development of digital services and the desire to modernize enterprise systems that enable robust online solutions. NASCIO survey data found 94 percent of CIOs report an increase in demand for digital services for an improved citizen experience, with targets of opportunity including streamlining services, user centric design, stronger security, more automation and digital identity services. In addition, and of vital importance are the backend, enterprise systems of record which feed web-based front ends enabling robust online and mobile services. In this area, NASCIO survey data found 50 percent of CIOs have accelerated modernization initiatives with a greater focus on online citizen services. The overwhelming demand for citizen services during the pandemic exposed the fragility of aging state systems hosted on technology platforms that were not flexible, adaptable or scalable. And, in addition to grappling with the rapid growth of both remote work options and collaboration platforms, investments in broadband expansion and adoption have become urgent priorities. Broadband services were strained and often non-existent during the pandemic and found to be inadequate in many cases. With nearly 18.5 million Americans lacking even basic access to broadband, NASCIO survey data highlighted that 81 percent of CIOs are now accelerating the implementation of broadband development strategies.

Recently released data from the Internet Association (IA), rendered in the State, Local, Tribal and Territorial Information Technology Advancing Reform Achievements (SITARA) map suggests a unique opportunity for public sector agencies to reconceptualize how they connect with citizens. The SITARA map shows that most states are preparing for cyber threats appropriately, but almost all are only getting started with their IT modernization plans. In a similar vein, research conducted by Digital Adoption shows that in 2018 the global digital transformation market size was valued at $320 billion, and it will grow by 18.1 percent annually, reaching a projected $695 billion in 2025. With the urgency imbued from the pandemic, shifting from traditional to new digitalized models of service delivery allows governments to introduce more technologically advanced systems. The application of the next generation of technology tools and services has opened a new paradigm of digital transformation. This innovative path towards a digital government thus represents an optimal utilization of next-generation technology tools and services to increase citizen satisfaction in service delivery, forge new levels of both institutional engagement and trust, and achieve a high functioning of public agencies becoming more flexible, networked and purpose driven.

In the public sector, much is written about the citizen experience, often characterized by siloes and disparate approaches to service delivery under the umbrella of one government. Increasingly, efforts are focused on the ability to quickly deliver personalized, integrated and optimized citizen engagement and experience across multiple channels via a cloud-centric secure and flexible IT infrastructure. As governments emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a renewed focus on enterprise system modernization, they face IT complexity, security risk and operational efficiency challenges. To combat these challenges three priorities are required to meet technology transformation goals and the imperative to modernize: acceleration of innovation and technology transformation; streamlining operations and delivery of significant cost savings; and improving governance, administration and DevOps capabilities to allow a holistic approach to IT strategy, collaboration and information sharing.

Author: Dr. Orgeron has extensive information technology experience in both the private sector and the federal and state level of the public sector.  Currently, Dr. Orgeron serves as an Executive Government Advisor with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Prior to joining AWS, he served as the CIO for the State of Mississippi, and President of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

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