CIOs for U.S. States Share Ideas on Innovation, Changing ITBy Todd R. Weiss
PHILADELPHIA—Changing roles for CIOs are not just occurring in private and public companies, but also for CIOs who build and run technology systems for the U.S.' 50 states and its territories. These CEOS are finding that their jobs increasingly involve collaboration with other states and agencies and also incorporate new requirements for bolder leadership and improved innovation.
Those were among the key messages heard Oct. 14 by some 200 attendees at the 2013 Annual Conference of NASCIO, the National Association of State CIOs, held this week at Philadelphia's downtown Marriott Hotel.
"You can't have innovation if you can't build core services," said Bill Oates, CIO for the city of Boston. He spoke during a panel discussion about the challenges CIOs face when trying to establish new strategies while also maintaining existing services. "It allows us to start thinking about innovation in a more sustainable way."
To help generate new thinking, Oates said his office created an "innovation team" charged with envisioning new ideas in technology and processes that could quickly be implemented into visible and measurable results for end users. "We needed to establish some quick wins and a belief [among users] that not every IT project would take a year," he said.
One result was the creation of a smartphone app, in 2009, that allowed residents to report potholes, trash concerns and a raft of urban problems to city officials. This led to quicker reporting of problems compared to the existing, old-technology 24/7 call center that didn't always lead to the transmission of messages to needed departments, according to Oates. The city's smartphone app takes the reported data and quickly routes it to the proper city agencies to handle, making for a more efficient reporting process and happier consumers, he said.
The app also had another major effect. "We found that the constituencies using it had never called the phone lines before, because they previously saw that as complaining," Oates said. Instead, users began seeing their input as helping city officials by reporting problems they observed while they were walking or traveling through the city, he said.
"Internally, the light bulbs went off in the minds of the mayor and others," Oates said. Consequently, this resulted in the city undertaking more projects using similar innovative approaches. "In government, it took a little while to get here, but I think there is an incredible amount of innovation going on," he said.
Additional kinds of innovation are also occurring more frequently, according to other attendees at the NASCIO conference. One trend is that states are increasingly collaborating with other states and federal agencies to work on mutual projects, a trend that hasn't been seen much before, said James R. Smith, CIO for the state of Maine, in a conversation with eWEEK. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor is working with states to share information and apps, he said, while Maine has also been working closely with Mississippi and Rhode Island on core systems used for unemployment compensation programs. That project is a year from being deployed, but it marks true progress in collaboration and keeps agencies from starting from scratch when similar applications have already been created, said Smith.
"People are coming in with the right idea that we're all doing the same things," he said. "Those attitudes are coming right along."