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Digital Acceleration Puts CIOs in the Driver’s Seat

November 30, 2021 - 5 min read

A few weeks ago, we were pleased to be able to meet up with state CIOs in person at the 2021 National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) Annual Conference. This was the first annual in-person gathering with our brethren in quite some time, which was well-attended and a great opportunity to touch base, share best practices, and discuss strategies for 2022 and beyond. Our interactions and discussions at the event confirmed the themes and takeaways of NASCIO’s State of the CIO Report, released in coordination with the event. 

Key findings from the report confirmed that there is no going back to pre-pandemic workplace models and that the visibility for the role of the CIO has been raised to a new level of appreciation as organizations have become more digitally dependent. Here are some insights and thoughts we have on what’s next for state CIOs.

The citizen is the destination 

Traditionally, many CIOs saw state agencies as their customers. Today, that focus has shifted to citizen-first as the number one priority across the offices of state government. Solutions and services need to be designed to make it as easy and convenient as possible for citizens to conduct and access their state business needs online from any device. Being able to provide this not only leads to a better citizen experience but can take pressure off agency staff and operations. When simple, routine transactions can be automated, creating more time to focus on more complex, strategic, and meaningful work and issues. 

While the ideal future state to provide citizens self-service, one stop shopping through a click of their phone or mouse, there are still barriers to meeting these demands. Data sharing across agencies remains a problem, not just because of siloed or legacy systems, but because of policy and privacy concerns. Ideally, states could set up a one-stop shop for all renewals – in one portal renew your driver’s license, fishing license, and pay taxes all at once – but states are not set up to act like a single entity in this way. However, with this shared focus on citizen service or a whole-of-state approach, we could see changes happening that enable these types of collaborative service offerings. 

Time for a tune-up or a new car? 

In meeting citizen expectations, states are increasingly turning to low code solutions to quickly get applications out into the field. While low code was cited as the most impactful technology, overtaking AI, in the NASCIO research, it is important to remember that low code is simply replacing one system with another. 

Before modernizing a system or process, it’s important to step back and look at the process flow and how it’s working from a citizen user perspective and for the state employees that serve them. Do you still need that system? Or is there a better way to get that process completed given all of the digital assets an organization now may have available? The pandemic put rapid tactical plans in place to keep things running and forced the adoption of digital plans. Now is the time to look back and shift to strategic thinking. Now that we have new tools and new ways of working, what best practices are out there, and is there a better way to deliver services? 

Are employees driving to you or away from you?

The “great resignation” is not only occurring in the private sector. It is hitting state and local government organizations just as hard. Like the private sector, state and local agencies have to look for new ways to attract and retain talent. Flexible, work from home arrangements for roles that have proven productive need to be made more permanent to meet the new expectations of the workforce. Remote work can also increase the recruiting pool, allowing state agencies located in metropolitan areas to recruit from more rural areas and allowing states to offer more competitive salary offerings.

Building digital seat belts 

Offering remote work options, however, brings to light increased security challenges as the number of people accessing your network from the outside grows. Zscaler is well-positioned to meet the challenges of securing a remote workforce. Zero Trust was all the buzz at NASCIO as states look for cost effective ways to provide access to the expanded set of digital applications among a distributed workforce. Moving security from the data center into the cloud reduces the expense related to maintaining physical security assets. It also makes it easier to maintain and to roll it out to users as needed. Security has to be easy to use for people to comply and not hinder their day to day.

Beyond security, Zero Trust can help agencies modernize how they manage their IT. In implementing it, there is a huge element of asset management and identification of legacy technology that is incredibly valuable in any organization. 

Contracting speed limits strictly enforced

Contracting rules and processes were relaxed during COVID response to help agencies get the technologies and services they needed to quickly adapt to remote work and move citizen-facing services online. According to NASCIO’s report, CIO’s feel that these procurement changes were not likely to stay in place post-pandemic, and this is probably a good thing. States are stewards of taxpayer money and as such need a stringent review of any purchase to ensure funds are being used fairly and effectively. As we move back to “old normal” in contracting, there are a couple safe shortcuts states can use to speed procurements for planned purchases. This includes using GSA contract vehicles and (for cloud technology) the newly launched StateRAMP program

It was great to be back in the room and in person with so many innovative and engaged state CIOs as they begin charting their journey forward in a post-pandemic world. Here at Zscaler, we’re excited to help make that path both more secure and simplified for end users and administrators. 

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