State CIOs look ahead to a collaborative, automated future


A survey of state technology leaders found that the CIO role has evolved from one concerned with building a state’s own tech infrastructure to one focused on acting as a broker of services. The change comes amid increasing automation, use of AI and cybersecurity challenges.

State chief information officers describe the future of their roles not as equipment jockeys but as collaborators, according to a new survey.

Most CIOs—96%—said they expect to serve agencies by setting strategic direction and providing an enterprise vision, according to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ annual State CIO Survey, released at the group’s conference in Minneapolis this week. One respondent was quoted as saying the CIO’s role will be as a “visionary” that promotes digital government services across departments.

The evolution means CIOs expect to spend more time collaborating with agencies, with the centralized IT office acting as a broker of services. The transition is being driven by higher demand for digital services, which the surveyed CIOs ranked as the biggest factor in their changing role. Forty-nine states responded to the NASCIO survey. Only South Carolina did not participate.

It’s a major shift in how the position functions, said Greg Hoffman, deputy CIO for North Dakota. When he started over a decade ago, Hoffman was focused on providing hardware, software, networks and other technological infrastructure. Now, he said, equipment is “just supposed to work.” And CIOs are now expected to partner with service providers and connect them with agencies, rather than build out their own infrastructure.

“Our business partners within our agencies and those trying to get services from government, they just want to go in and do business,” said Michigan CIO Laura Clark during a fireside chat about the future role of the CIO.

Some CIOs see their role evolving to one of mentor, in a bid to help agencies within their state understand why modernization is necessary, how to use new technology and how to help their employees get up to speed. Hawaii CIO Doug Murdock said he wants his office to be the “best educational department in the state.”

Beyond the evolution of their roles, state CIOs also weighed in on the top priorities of their offices. 

Cybersecurity was highlighted as a key concern. Those surveyed said they are leading efforts to develop robust cybersecurity strategies, a requirement to receive federal cyber grants

Almost half of those surveyed said they have also received supplemental state funding for cybersecurity. But Wisconsin CIO Trina Zanow noted during a panel discussion that funding needs to be sustained over several years to have any real impact on cybersecurity challenges.

Rhode Island CIO Brian Tardiff argued on a panel for every state to adopt the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cybersecurity Framework. “I think it's critical to speak the same language across all state governments, especially now that the state IT organization is responsible for the execution of the [state and local grants],” Tardiff said.

And Arkansas Secretary of IT Jonathan Askins called on states to focus less on the threats that are out there—whether they be state-sponsored actors or teenage hackers in their parents’ basement.

“They think they have a culture of information security because they know about all the different threats out there,” Askins said. “But they can’t tell you what their defense postures are.”

Attracting and retaining a workforce remains a big challenge for CIOs, both in cybersecurity and the broader technology sector. Ninety percent of CIOs surveyed said they offer remote or hybrid work arrangements to cybersecurity employees, a dramatic change from the 2022 Deloitte-NASCIO Cybersecurity Study, which found that only 25% of state chief information security officers reported that full remote work was offered in their states.

“We just can’t compete [with the private sector] unless we have more flexibility,” said Washington CIO Bill Kehoe during a panel discussion.

And while some states may be concerned about automation taking away people’s jobs, artificial intelligence and machine learning could help fill some of the most intractable vacancies in state government, according to the survey. Many states have around 20% of all jobs, including IT, unfilled.

But Denis Goulet, New Hampshire’s CIO, cautioned during the fireside chat against fear guiding AI and automation decisions. “There's a lot of fear out there about displacing jobs,” he said. “But … you want somebody at the end of an AI or automated process, you want that human at the end of the day to make sure that we actually know what happened and why it happened.”

More than half of those surveyed said generative AI will be the most impactful emerging technology area in the next three to five years, while another 20% said AI/machine learning more broadly would be most impactful.

Modernizing legacy technology remains a top priority for state CIOs as well, and an increasing number of states are investing in technology modernization funds to help achieve that. CIOs reported receiving supplemental funding in several areas as they try to navigate difficult fiscal climates. One-third said they received funds for a one-off capital investment, and 29% said the money they received went into a technology modernization fund.