Back to School or Not? Options Abound

By Charles Castelly, SLED Analyst

With the expected return of students back to school in the fall, most counties are trying to figure out the best way to facilitate a safe and orderly process.

School systems are facing many challenges right now — the first being how to keep social distancing. Secondly, they will need to manage remote learning environments — and find a way to pay for new technologies that are required to support them.

Lots of decisions still need to be made and school systems are using all available resources to resolve outstanding issues — and they are reaching out to parents for their input.

For example, Fairfax County, Virginia has given parents two options. A virtual learning option would involve students logging into a virtual classroom for interactive instruction four days a week. The second option would require students returning to school three days a week and spending two days a week at home learning virtually.

Whatever the decision, virtual or hybrid classroom, there will need to be technology enhancements to successfully adapt to the new reality. Other school systems will likely face similar challenges.

Cybersecurity will be a crucial piece. With students and teachers accessing information from multiple devices, endpoint protection is vital. Students will need to be able to access the school’s network virtually or in the classroom without putting their data at risk.

Cloud applications are another crucial piece of the puzzle. With many school systems transitioning to the cloud over the past couple of years, classroom management and learning applications have become great tools for students and teachers alike. With the potential of a fully virtual or a hybrid experience, being able to access resources from wherever students are located will be vital to success.

As school systems work through what the best course of action will be for the fall, the safety of students and teachers will continue to be the top priority. Vendors will need to partner with school systems to understand their specific needs to find best the solutions for them. There will need to be a true collaborative effort between all parties to make the remote learning experience successful.

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Cybersecurity Spending Continues in State Government

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

By now, most of us are aware of the budgetary restrictions many states will be under due to reduced revenue collections. Arkansas will experience cuts of about $250 million in the next fiscal year. Utah could see budget cuts up to 10%, while Vermont may see budget cuts of up to 25%. This will most likely restrict the number of new projects, but one area many state CIOs expressed continued support for is cybersecurity.

During recent round table discussions hosted by NASCIO, budgets and budget cuts were top of mind for CIOs as they shared top priorities for the coming fiscal year. Many stated that they were continuing with their initiatives as best they could, balancing funding with requirements. Initiatives include projects like service digitization, automation, customer relationship management, and in many cases, improving cybersecurity frameworks.

Some states are planning to leverage funding they receive through the CARES Act for technology, while others are trying to find alternative ways to finance new and ongoing initiatives alike. Despite budget cuts, there is one area continuing to receive CIO attention — cybersecurity. Here’s a snapshot of what’s happening across the country:  Read more of this post

AI Is on the Upswing in State Government

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

When it comes to artificial intelligence, most states are just beginning to uncover its potential.

As I discussed in a recent webinar, AI usage thus far has been mostly experimental. Recent survey data from the Center for Digital Government demonstrates that nearly a third of those surveyed about their current deployment of AI are doing so through proof-of-concept projects.

While widespread use of AI is not taking place, the good news is that the share of states NOT using AI is only 12% — meaning there are far more states open to using AI than not. This is a wide-open field with few standards or common threads from project to project and provides an opportunity for AI vendors to approach state and local governments with their technology. Read more of this post

Remote Work Is Here to Stay in SLED

By Charles Castelly, Analyst

This year’s NASCIO’s mid-year was full of insightful information on how states are adjusting to the new environment and how they plan to move forward during the upcoming fiscal year. One of the topics discussed was the transition to remote work and how each of their states are managing the change.

As part of this transition, CIO’s explained how they handled the immediate demand for more laptops and VPN capacity. Beyond the nuts and bolts of working remote, many CIOs also addressed their future workforce plans once restrictions are lifted. Here are some examples of what Maryland, Georgia and Missouri are doing, which may lead to other states following suit:

Maryland — Creating a Virtual Agency

Michael Leahy, Maryland’s Secretary of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, stated that remote work is likely going to be a major component of his staffing strategy going forward. Leahy said that he has given serious thought about having his staff work remotely full time, creating a “virtual agency.” A virtual agency would enable his department to save on real estate and help ease the pressure from expected budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. Read more of this post

Cyber Insurance Is Not an IT Strategy

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

Ransomware attacks on our state and local governments’ IT infrastructure are increasing at an alarming rate and our customers are looking at cyber insurance to mitigate risk. But cyber insurance shouldn’t be confused with a sound cybersecurity strategy that guards against attacks in the first place.

Here’s what you need to know about cyber insurance and how you can work with customers to develop cyber strategies that will serve them for the long term. Read more of this post

State & Local Governments Focus on Continuity of Operations

Rachel Eckert

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

Fiscal environments at the state and local government level are very different today than they were even a few weeks ago. Budgets presented earlier this year are now being adjusted, as many governments face an upcoming revenue shortfall.

Taxes that would have been collected on our trips to the movies, restaurants and shopping malls are now not flowing into government treasuries. Fairfax County, Virginia, for example, is predicting significantly less revenue due to drops in sales tax collections, hotel occupancy taxes, car taxes, business taxes and more. With less revenue, they will have to delay some or all new programs, including additional funding for school technology purchases, police body cameras and affordable housing.

The impact is felt beyond Fairfax County. Seattle, Washington is predicting a revenue shortfall of $110 million. The State of New York comptroller has estimated that the current crisis could cost the state $7 billion in lost revenues for their fiscal year 2021, which started April 1.

State and local governments will still need to acquire IT though. As they navigate the current fiscal environment they will only be able to think about what’s most essential for their continued operations. Here’s how you can help support their critical needs: Read more of this post

Improving Citizen Experience Is Driving State & Local CIOs

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

CIOs are looking to engage citizens in the way they would like to be engaged – be that through the traditional in-person experience, on the phone, online, through social media or even using AI and chatbots. This was one of the major themes this year that came out of the recent Beyond the Beltway conference (besides the ever-present cybersecurity of course). Both state and local CIOs listed improving the citizen experience as one of their top priorities.

Speakers agreed that no matter the engagement method, the process should be seamless to the citizen, almost like a “one-stop” shop for everything a citizen might need from the government. Read more of this post

Collaboration and Innovation Top of Mind at NASCIO Conference

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

The overwhelming theme at this year’s NASCIO conference centered on the idea of innovation. Throughout the event, state CIOs shared their innovative approaches to managing IT and the business of government.

One of the innovative approaches was increasing collaboration with local governments. Collaboration between state and local government isn’t necessarily new, but today it means much more and goes way beyond funding and MOUs.

Shared Goals

One innovative approach state and local governments are taking to collaboration involves a shared goal. For example, in the wake of the many recent high-profile ransomware attacks, state CIOs shared that they’d received an increase in support requests from their local governments. Read more of this post

IT Modernization Means Collaboration for New Jersey CTO

By Rachel Eckert, SLED Manager

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear from New Jersey’s Chief Technology Officer, Chris Rein, while listening in on a Corporate Leadership Council meeting hosted by NASCIO. Rein took over the job of CTO 16 months ago following the election of a new governor.

One of Rein’s biggest challenges will be updating and modernizing many of the outdated legacy systems. They “have some very old and spotty technology infrastructure,” with the oldest systems being nearly 50 years old, Rein explained during the call. Saying you need to replace these legacy systems is one thing but actually being able to fund a replacement system is whole different animal. Rein has been working with the state’s treasurer to develop a strategy to modernize these systems and speed up the RFP process as well. Read more of this post

Fed and SLED IT Managers Are Buying Into AI

Tom O'Keefe

By Tom O’Keefe, Consultant

According to a recent study, 90% of public sector IT managers have observed a noticeable shift in the adoption of AI at their organizations over the last two years. The research report, “AI Is Out There: Early Adoption in Fed & SLED Agencies, ” explores government agencies’ interest in AI and seeks to understand current usage of AI technology in the public sector.

The study highlights IT managers’ and public sector leaders’ interest in gaining an edge by becoming early adopters of AI technology. Of surveyed respondents, 77% view AI as an asset to their organization’s ability to deliver on its mission, while 85% agree AI will be a game changer in how their agency thinks about and processes data. Some agencies have started to initiate AI pilot programs with 14% already reporting benefits from the technology. Currently, 61% of respondents report the use of at least one foundational AI technology such as voice assistants, high performance computing, and virtual customer assistance or chatbots. Read more of this post

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