Connecting state and local government leaders

Implementing New Technology in State Government Can Create Big Headaches

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Connecting state and local government leaders

“We still have a long way to go . . . for government to be the digital business we need it to be,” Massachusetts Chief Information Officer Bill Oates said at a NASCIO conference session.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — It’s often difficult implementing new technology in a state government. For Eric Ellis, the chief technology officer for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it sometimes makes him want to bash his head into a wall.

“Fortunately, I have a thick skull,” Ellis told a ballroom full of attendees gathered for a National Association of State Chief Information Officers mid-year conference session on Tuesday the challenges of implementing new technologies in state government.

Ellis, who is also the director of the North Carolina Innovation Center, recounted a story about receiving a phone call from a state agency official who wanted to know what kind of computer to purchase for a field team. But the official was only looking at two options through the lens of cost—the “high-end computer” or the “low-end computer.”

Instead of giving a quick recommendation based on incomplete information, Ellis said he did a survey of the 30 members of the field team to better understand their specific IT needs. In the end, Ellis said, he had “30 grateful people” where “the outcome was a seat at the table” for people normally shut out of an IT procurement process.

That, of course, was a good story about the implementation of technology in state government.

Many other experiences can be summed up with the word “painful,” a word that Bill Oates, the chief information officer for the commonwealth of Massachusetts, used to describe new technology implementation.

“The only way to change that is to break down barriers and break down walls,” Oates said. “We still have a long way to go . . . for government to be the digital business we need it to be.”

New technology, of course, isn’t going away. If anything, state governments will be facing bigger decisions about how to implement new technologies, which impacts everything from the procurement process, security, privacy and what’s being done with all the data that’s being collected in the process. Plus, there are questions about the regulations that will either allow these technologies to flourish or stifle their potential.

“These things are going to come faster than we expect,” Oates said.

But as the state technology leaders assembled for the session noted, it’s usually difficult to undertake a large-scale implementation of a new technology when you’re dealing with state procurement rules and processes.

Instead, start out small.

For David Fletcher, the chief technology officer for the state of Utah, that means procuring technology on a pilot basis.

And once something is procured as part of a smaller-case test, Fletcher said: “Do something that will grab the attention and demonstrate that value of these technologies on a larger scale.”

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty.

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