The Evolving Role of the Local Government CIO at the Forefront of Digital Transformation

What does the latest digital transformation mean for local governments and for the CIOs who lead their systems and digital solution strategies?
Ben Sebree, CivicPlus | July 3, 2018
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Do you remember when the statement, “there’s an app for that,” was a revelation? The proliferation of mobile devices and the explosion of niche applications marked a period of technology innovation with possibly the most significant impact on society since dial-up modems brought the Internet into nearly every home in America. Today, we are standing at the forefront of the next digital societal transformation. The evolution of mobile devices into the rapidly expanding Internet of Things (IoT) is reshaping how our citizens live, work, and interact with their local government. Today’s digitally-minded citizens want more personalized and integrated interactions in even more meaningful ways. They are no longer satisfied merely to have an app for that. They want interconnectivity and information access from every Internet-enabled device, and that includes access to local government content and resources.

The Evolving Role of the Government CIO in the Era of the IoT

What does the latest digital transformation mean for local governments and for the CIOs who lead their systems and digital solution strategies? It means a revolution and a recasting. Citizens no longer think exclusively of engagement with their local government in terms of one-on-one personal interactions. Instead, they expect device-agnostic capabilities to obtain information and submit requests. It means administrators need better tools to work more efficiently through the use of interconnected software stacks. It means greater security challenges as more transactions become digitized, and it means CIOs need to refocus their efforts on sourcing and implementing sustainable cloud-based solutions to support a smart city strategy, rather than traditional CIO responsibilities such as infrastructure and hardware.

For municipal CIOs, the digital transformation of government marks a paradigm shift in responsibilities and in the very essence of the CIO role itself. While every public sector worker who interacts with citizens—from HR managers to clerks—are being impacted by the digital transformation, it is the CIO who administrative leaders are turning to in order to navigate the unchartered waters of APIs, platform solutions, and multi-channel communications across an expanding universe of devices that range from smartphones to smart refrigerators. This paradigm shift marks a pivotal opportunity for local government CIOs to adapt private sector best practices to trailblaze public sector-specific best practices.

How to Redefine Your Role and Retrain Staff to Support the Digital Transformation of Government

Local government CIOs must proactively enhance their skillset and retrain their support staff before their role is redefined for them. To achieve a successful evolution that will allow you to maintain a relevant leadership role in your administration, consider the following goals:

  1. Proactively establish a digital transformation strategy for your community. Hold open dialogue with citizens and staff to understand what level of digital access and engagement they expect, want, and need. Then, build a multi-year strategic plan to elevate systems and solutions to meet those needs, factoring in staffing, budget, and other compounding considerations.
  2. Seek out educational opportunities. Perhaps you have held your role as CIO in your local government for two decades. At the time you were hired, your primary focus may have been on infrastructure and hardware. If today, you feel the pressure to migrate your critical data to an intangible cloud you do not fully comprehend, take time to seek out the education you need to lead conversion efforts successfully. Evolution requires training and knowledge, and any CIO at any point in his or her career should feel validated in acknowledging the need for better understanding.
  3. Make digital transformation a priority. You will not be afforded the luxury of hitting pause on the daily operations of your local government while you overhaul systems and solutions for better integration and engagement. Leverage your support staff by delegating current operational responsibilities so that you can focus the majority of your efforts on the critical systems and software evolution that must occur.
  4. Focus on integrations. The digital transformation of local government is all about data sharing, personalized moments of engagement, and seamless solution utilization. Today’s most successful local governments need to foster collaboration not just among their people, but among the systems and software that power their administrations. Where siloed systems result in duplicative data entry, password fatigue, unintentional errors, and inefficiencies, integration among solutions enables assured accuracy, expedited service, and time optimization. Focus on adopting a strategy that leverages a central platform as the hub of your software stack, and an API-first content management strategy for the sharing of citizen and civic data.
  5. Accept the role of change manager. Not only will you be expected to lead your local government’s digital transformation, it will be critical that you help all staff in all departments understand the value of new systems and processes and embrace opportunities to learn new skills and modify workflows. For a city clerk who has used the same paper-based processes for thirty years to discover that he or she is now expected to utilize a cloud-based agenda and meeting management solution that integrates with your content management system, retraining may feel overwhelming. The success of your administration’s digital transformation will only be as successful as your weakest link—or your most hesitant department leaders. Accept that your evolved CIO position means becoming an agent of change and a positive force for improvement.

Looking Ahead

The role of the CIO in digital transformation is vital. The CIO of the future—a future predicated on connectivity, integration, and engagement above all else—must be nimble, versatile, and open to expanding his or her role from infrastructure and systems manager to digital revolutionary. Before your community moves ahead without you at the helm, you must embrace your new role as well as the new role of local government in the lives of digitally engaged citizens.

About the Author

Ben Sebree, CivicPlus Director of Platform and Technology

As the Director of Platform and Technology for CivicPlus, Ben is primarily responsible for identifying opportunities for CivicPlus’ integrated portfolio of unified applications to continue to meet the evolving needs of local governments and their citizens using the latest paradigm-shifting technologies. His expertise and passion for innovation enables CivicPlus to remain at the forefront of the digital transformation revolution. Ben has over eleven years of experience in the technology space with seven years focusing on enterprise platforms, integrations, IoT technology, AI, and CaaS. Products he's managed have received multiple industry awards, and today, his innovative processes still have numerous patents pending.

In addition to leading CivicPlus’ integrated solution offering, Ben is responsible for working with third-party partners to build industry-leading system integrations to enable CivicPlus’ solutions to further serve as the foundation for all local governments’ software stack needs. Ben holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Information Systems and Human Resources, and a Master of Business Administration from Kansas State University.