Technology leaders from state governments and industry converged in Nashville this week for the 50th annual National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) conference to discuss the most pressing concerns and best solutions for government IT, including data use to mitigate resource losses, preparation not prediction, and a shift to customer-centric services.

NASCIO also announced several changes to its executive board: North Carolina CIO Eric Boyette was formally elevated to NASCIO President for the 2019-2020 year and Tennessee CIO Stephanie Dedmon and Idaho CIO Greg Zickau were introduced as new directors. Boyette stepped into the position with saying that “The information technology landscape has changed, and we, as chief information officers, must be innovative and forward-thinking — especially with cybersecurity.”

The conference began with Esri Government Strategist Pat Cummens emphasizing the importance of “sophisticated analytics work” for transportation, strategic planning, disaster preparedness and response, and other fields so that the data can be used to fuel better policy decisions.

The idea was exemplified by Lt. Jason Piotrowski from the New Jersey State Police Department, as he discussed how data is helping New Jersey to better understand the opioid epidemic and develop a plan to manage it. Piotrowski emphasized the inter-agency collaboration between the state police and various health and human service organizations to collect data and share it for analysis so that the state can do “targeted intervention” once the data reveals which populations are most at risk.

Former Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who now helps public entities deliver technology projects more successfully through 18F, also focused on data, emphasizing designs that are human-centered, processes that are adaptive and can be broken into smaller pieces, and the importance of “viewing software as an operating expense, not a one-and-done-capital expense,” all qualities that help best prepare for whatever changes the future may bring.

Texas’ CIO and CISO discussed how their state maintains this “preparation-not-prediction mentality,” and has been doing so for two years. The state already had a plan in place when it was hit with a ransomware attack in August 2019. The plan had connected the Department of Information Resources and the State Security Operations Center, originally set to handle natural disasters, which proved to be vital in their defenses. This connection is what “set Texas’ experience apart from other, more damaging, cyberincidents” because the state was able to elevate the event, which affected 23 government organizations, to an emergency level quickly enough that the threat was shut-down within a week.

Our colleagues at Government Technology spoke with several state CIOs and found that Texas was not the only one thinking about its cyberhygiene. After a recent state audit that found that “more than half of respondents” failed to implement cybersecurity protocols, Mississippi’s CIO is trying to implement good cyberpractices while Maine is thinking about good preventive cyberhygiene, understanding that any government, no matter how small, could be a potential target of cyberattack.

Other states were thinking about what safe practices look like as their reliance on the cloud and apps increase. Both Arkansas and North Dakota CIOs discussed being “cloud smart,” determining what is safe to upload to the cloud and what is best to maintain in the building. Tennessee’s CIO discussed her state’s citizen-facing app that will provide a single point of entry to an array of state services. She hopes that having many agencies’ services available through a single platform will be easier for citizens to navigate and encourage them to utilize the services more frequently.

The citizen focus of Tennessee’s app was also featured in the marquee release, “Connecting to the Customer,” a 2019 survey by NASCIO and its partners. The survey focused on a customer-oriented approach to government IT, with “customer” encompassing everything from citizens to internal customers of state agencies. Vermont already implements this customer-oriented approach through Power BI Dashboards to show the customer exactly which IT services they are paying for. The survey also revealed a focus on growth of performance management efforts, with 75 percent of respondents saying that “they have someone in the IT organization responsible for managing relationship with customer agencies,” usually being the governor or cabinet members.

This summary is based on original reporting by Noelle Knell, Lauren Harrison and Patrick Groves from Government Technology.