Top IT and cyber leads for the states of Alaska and North Carolina said they are prioritizing digital government services – in line with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) top concern for 2024.

For the first time ever in NASCIO surveys, cybersecurity tied with digital government services for the top priority spot for SLGs. However, the state CIOs said that data and legacy IT systems remain a challenge to accomplishing the larger goals of shifting to more digital services.

“We have a lot of back-end critical systems that are still not at the place where they need to be so we can effectively leverage digital engagement with those systems,” said Jim Weaver, North Carolina CIO and NASCIO president. “We have a lot of work to do.”

During MeriTalk’s newest episode of State Tech Vision, Weaver said that North Carolina is focusing on “the front door” and creating a common access platform where all residents can come through to engage local government services.

“But we’re probably somewhere between – on a scale of 10 – about three or four on our journey right now,” he added.

Bill Smith, the CIO for the state of Alaska, said that expectations from citizens for a digital government are “sky high.”

“It’s through the pandemic starting to spur a lot of initiatives for people being able to be reached at home or where they’re at,” Smith said. “We’ve seen a lot of advances on the private sector side, and so I think that’s causing a lot of expectations with our citizens, and rightfully so, for us to keep pace.”

Smith said, “The good news is we’ve got a lot of tools today that we haven’t had previously” such as AI technologies and specifically large language models for generative AI-driven services.

“We’ve got all the tools in place to really make a difference and to reach citizens where they’re at,” he said. “In Alaska, for a long time, we’ve had a single sign-on capability for our citizens to come to one place – we call it myAlaska – and to sign in, establish who they are, and then receive services.”

“We’ve been able to really advance some of the capabilities on that and we’re looking to take it even further,” Smith added, “We’re going to be moving forward with several projects.”

James Ward, senior vice president of public sector at PayIt, said that a primary barrier for state and local governments to implement digital government services is data.

“Digital modernization or transformation in a lot of cases – if you take it down to its least common denominator, which is just people’s access to things online in the government – some of the biggest barriers have been the way that the data is accessed,” Ward said. “A lot of times that access to the data at work to be able to make something happen is all built on whatever the database is of the agency that you’re working with, and that has natural limitations. You expound those limitations when you go from state government to the counties and cities.”

But Ward said SLGs are starting to break some of these data barriers down with the advancement and integration of technology capabilities like the cloud.

“[They’re] able to get around some of those challenges where in the past, again, that accessibility was built off of a portal that was designed for a specific database or CRM system within an agency so then the resident is going to each individual website and trying to complete activities, and those things have started to change,” he said.

Watch the whole episode of MeriTalk’s State Tech Vision, where state CIOs discuss the perks of generative AI, workforce gaps, and more.

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