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Hurdling Tech Barriers with State and Local Innovation

State and local government employees across the country have found themselves in the midst of a technological crisis: outdated infrastructures, higher citizen expectations and IT hiring challenges are just a few of the concerns being raised.

But some innovative leaders have begun to conquer these issues and pave the way toward modernized governments. This was the topic of GovLoop’s 5th annual State and Local Government Leaders Virtual Summit.

“When I joined the state three years ago, one of the first problems I was presented with was managing 80+ agencies that had been merged but not incorporated,” said Ed Toner, Chief Information Officer, State of Nebraska, speaking to obstacles encountered in state government during the summit’s keynote presentation.

“[There was] very little cooperation,” said Toner. “We had to go to a centralized model in order to effectively serve our customers. We wanted to integrate the different agency goals and objectives to make sure we were on the same page, eliminating those silos and redundancies.”

In IT, silos refer to systems or applications that are isolated from other systems. In a recent GovLoop featured contributor article, Toner indicated that this idea can also apply to organizations as a whole.

“It was a given that the silos had to go away,” said Toner. “We had to create a whole new structure, we did that in 18 months. The teams now must work together, they must form a collaborative environment. The collaborative thinking in our case means stop defending the way it used to be and start embracing the new way.”

Since making that transition, Toner says that Nebraska’s state government is capable of delivering better service at a much lower cost. Additionally, local and state government have been able to work together in Nebraska, facilitating better interaction with citizens.

Ted Ross, CIO, City of Los Angeles, also noted the importance of engaging citizens with local government and making it easy for the two parties to interact.

“Whether you’re a city of 4 million or 100,000, the age of the town hall is long gone. You’d have to fill the staples center 191 times to get all of LA to have a face-to-face conversation,” said Ross. He added that over 77 percent of Americans own smartphones, making the case for digital citizenship as a tool to meet citizen expectations.

“Government sites aren’t known for great traffic or being great sites,” said Ross. “If there are pages that citizens aren’t interacting with, start adjusting and innovating on it.”

The city of Los Angeles recently began using a service request mobile app, which Ross says now covers one-third of the 1.6 million city requests coming in each year.

Methods like this and others, such as chatbots, informed Ross of how much of his constituency is an around-the-clock constituency. He added that the use of these applications has transformed the way people access information, the quality of information has improved and the cost of providing information has been reduced.

Ross and Toner also addressed some of the challenges that exist in hiring, particularly as 50 percent of the government IT workforce is eligible to retire.

Ross spoke to the emphasis on internships and student workers as a way to build the workforce from the ground up. Toner added that Nebraska has begun to work with community colleges to develop a curriculum that will fit in with government IT careers.

“We took IT recruitment into our own hands,” said Ross. “We’re building a younger workforce.”

As state and local governments continue to face down challenges in technology and IT, innovative leaders continue to find ways to keep pushing forward. Embracing cohesive government IT models, modernizing technology for citizens and embracing new approaches to hiring are just a few examples of these innovations.

Ross encouraged innovation, seeing the results first-hand with the changes that have been made in Los Angeles.

“It’s surprising what programmers will do when they have a little time to tinker.”

This recap is just one of our articles from the 2018 State and Local Summit. Be sure to read all our coverage here and sign up for our next virtual summit!

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