Eliminating Tech Tribalism in Government


Are public sector agencies ready take tech collaboration to the next level? Our survey says government officials want to, but don’t know where to start.

A new survey from Route Fifty and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers shows that the landscape is ripe for greater collaboration across state and local borders in the civic technology space. However, many in state and local government are not aware of the opportunities to do so.

Our new report, “Eliminating Tech Tribalism: Surveying IT Collaboration in State and Local Government,” took the pulse of more than 300 state and local government officials from across the nation, including 65 percent who identify as "elected/appointed officials" or "executive salaried managers."

What the survey found was more than half of the state and local officials believe their organizations are already investing in shared services with other agencies and jurisdictions. Even more see their organizations as receptive to collaborating around shared IT services.  

There is widespread support for big ideas, too. More than 70 percent said they support a common application or portal to search for government services across jurisdictions. Two-thirds support a common broadband backbone for public agencies in their state. Fifty-nine percent support state-provisioned cybersecurity services for all public sector entities in their state.

Illinois CIO Kirk Lonbom told Route Fifty he is "really excited about our momentum in working together with municipal and county IT folks" in his state.

“I can tell you the future of collaboration between the state and locals in Illinois is extremely bright,” Lonbom said. While Lonbom’s agency is still defining and expanding the role of the state as a service provider to local agencies, he has noted particular interest in collaboration around cybersecurity.

“We find ourselves coming together, if you will, very quietly behind the scenes, when it comes to cybersecurity,” he explained. That aligns with our survey results, where it was identified as respondents top IT mission need.

Beyond cybersecurity, Lonbom is seeing increasingly strong interest from localities on a range of issues, including sharing best practices around emerging technologies and “smart” technologies.

Amy Tong, California CIO and director of the California Department of Technology, told Route Fifty the enthusiasm for collaboration on common services reflected in the survey results is in line with the state’s Vision 2020 Technology Strategic Plan for “one digital government.”

“We stress that state and local government all work together to collaborate to deliver the best digital services to citizens,” Tong told Route Fifty.

Despite wide support for collaboration, though, our survey shows that most officials do not know where to begin.

Forty-four percent of state and local officials do not know if their state provides access to IT contracts or services for local government, despite the fact that most states at least provide access to state contract pricing. Many states provide local governments and other public institutions much more, including cybersecurity support and broadband services.

The landscape may not be as simple as just making folks aware, either. State government officials told us they are much more comfortable sharing technology services with other state organizations—and local governments with other localities—by a wide margin. Our respondents also expressed concerns about security, differing policy and regulatory requirements and personal disputes and political conflict holding them back.

Despite those potential barriers, the general support for collaboration generally outweighed the concern. For instance, respondents were more likely to cite benefits of collaboration than barriers; state and local officials are particularly excited about cost efficiencies, sharing of best practices and expertise, and common standards.

The landscape outlined in the survey presents a true opportunity for state CIOs.

State CIOs lead offices that are custom-built to bridge government organizations with shared services. Providing integrated, high-quality technology and services at a reduced price point is the bread-and-butter of the office. They are also hyper-aware of the security threats that exist and have significant experience managing overlapping regulatory and policy lines. Simply put, the state CIO is the logical place to start a cross-jurisdiction collaborative project.

Unfortunately, the office of the state CIO is not top of mind for government officials when they are looking to choose a technology partner. Just one-in-four respondents cited the state CIO as an entity their organization would likely choose as a partner. That is in contrast to one-third who said they would work with a regional organization or utility, and more than half for state and local government agencies and organizations.

This represents a very real opportunity for state CIOs to build a strategic plan to expand awareness of their capabilities in offering shared services throughout the state. By establishing trust and marketing their offices’ offerings, there is a real opportunity to raise all boats when it comes to IT services provided to public sector agencies and citizens alike.

State and local officials regularly say the best thing they can do is to steal great ideas from each other, but they should also be thinking of ways to build those great ideas together. We hope these survey results provide the beginning of a roadmap for government leaders to do just that.

NEXT STORY: FCW Insider: Oct. 22