Financial Flexibility and Data Protection: Keys to Success for State and Local IT

Unbudgeted expenses, declining tax revenue, business closures, and high unemployment are just a few of the challenges state and local governments have faced since the start of 2020.

The agencies shed nearly 1.2 million jobs between March and July 2020, and it is predicted that state and local income tax revenues will decline 7.5 percent in 2021 and 7.7 percent in 2022. Budget pressures are top of mind for leaders at the state and local level, even as the Treasury Department begins distributing $350 billion in aid.

Citizens’ needs have continued to evolve, with residents expecting a higher caliber of government offerings, including technology services. State and local governments are looking for solutions that deliver these services while continuing operations as cost-effectively as possible.

The Challenge of Delivering Innovation on a Budget

Many state and local governments have cut back spending on infrastructure and other technology programs as they continue to balance budgets and deliver citizen services.

According to recent research from MeriTalk, 80 percent of state and local IT and program managers say their organizations are struggling to balance revenue constraints with the need to invest in innovation.

Further, 84 percent of state and local organizations are making tradeoffs to help bridge funding gaps, including shifting budgetary resources away from operations and maintenance (37 percent), increasing reliance on pandemic-related funding (31 percent), and delaying modernization efforts in order to enable remote work (29 percent).

The Ever-Present Ransomware Threat

While state and local governments need solutions that optimize on both cost and innovation, IT leaders should not minimize the importance of technology solutions with data protection built in.

Ransomware attacks have been on the rise across government agencies. Often, organizations rely on decades-old data centers and storage systems that were deployed before the rise of ransomware, making it difficult or impossible for agencies to recover and use recovered data.

The Benefits of Flexible Technology Platforms

For state and local government agencies, “as a service” solutions offer flexibility and agility while maintaining costs, helping agencies scale up or down without massive disruption to install. These models allow governments to leverage only the digital infrastructure they need at a given time, minimizing the financial burden of unused infrastructure.

With limited budgets, state and local governments can benefit from infrastructure that works with the financial resources they have today, yet remain innovative and agile for the future. State and local agencies must look for solutions that optimize technology’s speed, security, access and reliability.

Leaders must continue to invest in solutions that will propel modernization and advance agency missions for citizens, seeking out IT solutions with flexibility now and beyond.

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How to Best Use Federal Funds for State and Local Modernization Efforts

State and local governments started to breathe a little easier in March when President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law. The law includes $350 billion in total funding for state, local and tribal governments, which have been battered by revenue losses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Governments can use the funding for a variety of purposes, including responding to or mitigating the pandemic or its negative economic impacts; providing government services to the extent of the locality’s reduction in revenue; and making necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure. Importantly, the funds can also be used over the next three years.

The temptation for many state and local governments might be to simply use the funds to plug budget gaps. While that will surely occur in many places across the country, the funding influx also presents an opportunity for state and local governments to modernize their IT infrastructure and government service delivery.

The pandemic exposed the fragility and cumbersomeness of certain legacy government applications, most notably unemployment insurance systems. However, it also highlighted the need for government agencies to transition a wide range of applications and services to mobile- and web-friendly apps that citizens can access remotely without having to schlep down to a government office.

To build on this moment and continue to deliver innovative services, agencies should invest in their cloud infrastructure, modern application development, and make sure their services are mobile-friendly and have elegant user experiences.

State and local governments have a unique opportunity right now to not just get back to where they were pre-pandemic but to build out the modern digital infrastructure that will support 21st-century government services. Citizens have grown to expect government to meet them where they are and when they want, and agencies should be working to meet those expectations.

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Report: City Websites Have Improved – But Need to Do Better

City websites have made some improvements in the past five years, but still have a lot of room for improvement — especially when it comes to loading times and accessibility.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from OpenCities, a municipal website builder with a large presence in Australia and a growing foothold in the U.S. The report took a look at the websites of more than 700 U.S. cities.

The results were a mixed bag for cities. According to the companies’ analysis, most city websites are doing well at adopting best practices in design, such as prominently displaying a search box on the homepage and prioritizing the placement of common tasks a resident might be looking for — things such as paying a ticket or finding waste pickup schedules.

In other areas, cities can do better. Website accessibility — for example, the ability of text to be resized and the positioning of navigation elements — was poor on 46 percent of the sites examined. Load times and response times were even worse; nearly all the sites examined were classified as “poor” or “fail” in the report.

The study is a follow-up on a 2016 report, so some of the metrics presented can be used to show what’s changed in the last five years — although methodological differences between the two mean that most of the metrics can’t be compared directly. That report examined more than 3,000 municipal websites but only included jurisdictions with more than 10,000 residents.

On the three metrics that could be directly compared between 2016 and 2021, cities improved in all of them. The most dramatic improvement was in the prioritization of top tasks on websites, a design trend that has become more standard in recent years.

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The future of work, office and technology in local government – Dr. Alan Shark

The concept of work and the office has forever changed and so too has the role of information technology (IT). Empirical research demonstrates that those in government—especially those in IT—miss the human socialization that the workforce always provided. As many IT directors tried, Teams, WebEx, and Zoom became worthy substitutes—but had their drawbacks and limitations.

After a stressful and unpredictable year or so, local government is now assessing the impact of the pandemic on its workers and citizens. A few but certain predictions can be made.

  1. Hybrid is here to stay. While it appears many more workers used to working from home have come to enjoy the freedoms it brings, it must be recognized many also long for the office and the clearer separation of work and home. A hybrid approach, working at an office two to three days per week and the rest of the week from home, appears to be gaining attention
  2. Open office concept is dead. The once favored “open concept” office has quickly fallen out of favor with the fear of germ spread and too many distractions.
  3. Virtual has its limits. It is not uncommon to hear people say they were “Zoomed out,” referring to endless and often longer than needed virtual meetings. The experience has left many folks frustrated in regard to getting things done.
  4. Focus on collaboration and shared space. According to expert space planners, offices are being reconfigured to be more conducive to collaboration, meetings and planning sessions, with traditional office space used for individuals who come to work on a scheduled or space-available basis.
  5. Broadband is an essential utility. The lack of affordable and available broadband exposed a more public digital gap among certain portions of the population. Many have concluded that in today’s environment, broadband has become an essential means of communication with citizens and as importantly a critical means of conducting government business
  6. Digital services expand. The slow ramp-up of digital services to citizens went into high gear during the pandemic. Digital services have proven not only to be a huge convenience—they save a ton of money in the long run too.
  7. Remote work force support improved. The IT department had to learn how to solve problems with applications, connectivity, and security, all performed remotely.
  8. IT promotes professional skills as importantly as technical skills. IT staff has to focus on professional (soft) skills as never before, including customer service, emotional intelligence, and communication—both written and oral. Ongoing training needs to address these new requirements.
  9. The workday is remeasured by hours worked, not-9 to-5; more flexibility in when and how one works. There needs to be a recognition that work should be measured by productivity and not simply traditional office hours.
  10. Repetitive process automation (RPA), robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) gain traction. RPA has gained a foothold in government using chatbots for example as a means of augmenting the customer-facing workforce. RPA holds the promise of eliminating jobs that require repetitive motion that can be easily performed by a combination of robotics, machine learning and AI. Early success in the use of chatbots strongly suggests they are here to stay and will grow in importance to the government enterprise.
  11. Goodbye desktop computers. Given the need for greater mobility as well as flexibility, the desktop is being decommissioned when possible, in favor of mobile-only devices.
  12. Work life balance is re-imagined. There is a growing recognition that public employees must be given time and options that allow them greater flexibility in workload expectations and the timeframe when work is expected to be completed. Work-life balance becomes an operational goal.
  13. Managers re-evaluate how true productivity is measured. With a pivot towards greater workday flexibility, new ways need to be found that can better measure performance and productivity.
  14. The stigma of telework is forever changed for the better. The pandemic proved beyond a doubt the viability of telework at all levels of government.
  15. Recognition that continuous learning, professional certifications are a must. While much was learned during the pandemic, the need for continuous self-improvement became forever evident. Professional certifications and specialized short courses will be the new norm.


Summarized from American City & County

Review: Zoom Offers Plenty for Office Productivity

One of the major trends state and local agencies can expect to see continuing after the pandemic is a focus on Zoom as a mechanism to drive operational efficiencies. Zoom is one of the main companies that facilitates virtual face-to-face interactions among teammates regardless of location or tech savviness.

While state governments predominantly leverage Zoom Meetings to allow collaboration in real time, the platform is also capable of Zoom Video Webinars, Zoom Rooms, and Zoom Phone, features that can further facilitate an agency’s ability to keep its workforce connected and safe.

After the pandemic, these solutions can play a pivotal role in minimizing and eliminating the expenses of frequent travel while also providing a positive work environment for employees seeking flexible conditions.

Zoom Has Become a Fundamental Collaboration Tool
Zoom is a simple and intuitive app that powers the video-enabled interface and provides easy and simple access into conference rooms and other workspaces that are fundamental to collaboration among state and local officials and employees.

Additionally, since so many users have by now leveraged Zoom, it has become a foregone conclusion that it will still be around to facilitate remote work after the pandemic. And with features such as Zoom Meetings and Zoom Chat, agencies benefit from easy-start meetings for small teams with up to 1,000 users on screen.

Agencies Boost Productivity Remotely or On-Premises with Zoom
According to Zoom, departments leveraging the platform experience an 85 percent increase in video usage, and employees feel more connected when using the platform. The integrated file sharing and the 10-year archive it offers agencies are invaluable tools for improving citizen services long after these difficult times come to an end.

Zoom Offers Top Security Features for Government Consideration
The National Security Agency provides a detailed list of factors for agencies to consider when examining the IT security of a platform like Zoom.

  • Is end-to-end encryption available, and does this use strong, well-known, testable encryption standards?
  • Can users see and control who connects to collaboration sessions?
  • Do users have the ability to securely delete data from the service and its repositories as needed?
  • Has the service and/or app been reviewed or certified for use by a security focused nationally recognized or government body?For Zoom, the answer to all of those questions is yes.

    Powerful controls also let presenters and officials monitor access to meetings and easily give trusted participants access to content. This access control lets presenters keep unauthorized viewers away from sensitive content and potential meeting disruptors at bay.


Summarized from StateTech

Government IT Must Strike a Balance Between Security, Access

Public-sector IT officials are often under the dueling pressure of protecting privacy and creating smooth pathways for the public to engage with the many services offered by government.

These goals have led to the development of single sign-on for workers and users of government systems and other mechanisms to make government processes more user-friendly.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated government’s move toward more nimble and flexible online postures. At the outset of the pandemic, trends that were already on the move – like single sign-on or multifactor authentication – were fast-tracked as government transitioned to work-from-home arrangements, while the public’s interaction with government also moved to an almost exclusively digital exchange.

The big picture is protecting the security of data with new levels of access. All tech strategies to achieve advancements like single sign-on need to keep this goal in mind. The best advice is to determine what data needs to be protected, specifically the data that people want to steal.


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Smart Cities Can Succeed After the Pandemic

Over the past year, with the impacts of the pandemic and the economic fallout taking center stage, ongoing operations and ultimately recovery, has shifted to targeted programming, offering solutions on energy, mobility, infrastructure, and other core smart city priorities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every facet of government operations, particularly city budgets. As a result, governments have reconsidered their smart city initiatives, with global numbers for smart city projects dropping enormously in the past year.

Smart Cities Must Choose Goals Carefully in Today’s Environment
Smart energy projects are a clear example of core initiatives that smart city technology can successfully scale. These types of projects are an easy sell because of the concerted push cities have made to achieve sustainability goals. With the United States rejoining the Paris Agreement there is a stronger imperative at all levels of government to meet broad-based climate goals and smart energy projects bringing short-term payoffs on investment compared with other smart city projects. For success, partnerships are critical, with the right partners helping to make informed decisions.

Officials Should Talk to the Community About Smart City Projects
Community input is another critical component to driving positive outcomes with public feedback on large-scale city solutions. Making the community’s voice heard from the very beginning is crucial for cities to successfully implement smart cities programs, ensuring that they are not simply assuming the needs of their residents but instead are providing solutions to problems residents actually face.

Smart City Officials Must Carefully Plan for the Future
To successfully implement smart city policies, cities should focus specifically on the outcomes they want to achieve, and partner not only with the private sector but with universities and nonprofit organizations to leverage expanded opportunities. Cities should have a clear vision of the future and then find solutions that help to achieve that vision.

This as a critical time to reimagine what it means to integrate technology and data into governance and governing. This means thinking about things like digital inclusion and how the use of smart technologies impacts marginalized residents. It is an opportune time to center some of the big systemic problems that have been thrust to the forefront during the confluence of the pandemic, its economic fallout, and civil rights movement in the technology conversation.

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Future Threats – While cyber protections are improving, criminals are always finding new ways to hack

Thanks to educational initiatives and technological advances, businesses, governments, and individuals enjoy more protection than ever against cyberthreats, but at the same time, criminals are equally diligent about breaching defenses.

Low-cost social engineering threats like mass email blasts with virus-laden hyperlinks or other malicious baggage can easily be aimed at 500 or more targets at a time, allowing criminals to get a good return on investment. Data mining attacks on credit card companies now focus on not just identity theft but also the opportunity to resell personal information to other companies.

Another issue deals with the industrial control systems that automate the manufacturing sector and run much of our critical infrastructure. These systems are connected with internet-facing networks providing enormous advantages in terms of efficiency, productivity, and reliability, but at the same time, exposes a vulnerable ecosystem to cyber threats.

The advance of Internet-of-Things (IOT) – the interconnection of computing devices embedded in everyday objects – also opens more opportunities for hackers and other cybercriminals.

The biggest problem in the fight against cybercrime is enforcement with many of the bad actors overseas.

Businesses and governments need to have a plan in place before a breach. Cybersecurity tips should be implemented including training employees in best practices and taking steps to secure and track personally identifiable information and other sensitive data. Additionally, it is important to investigate third-party vendors and other partners for their security protocols.

Summarized from NJBIZ

What Government Gets Wrong About Technology

There was a time when American governments were drivers of technological change, sponsoring the space age and making the early investments that led to the creation of the Internet.

Today, governments largely leave research and development to big companies and startups in Silicon Valley and elsewhere — private firms that aren’t necessarily incentivized to think about how their innovations can lead to ill effects for democracy and communities.

Historically, government tends to be reactive, with lawmakers seeking to address problems after they’ve already occurred. That makes it a bad fit for dealing with something rapidly changing and increasingly all pervasive as technology.

Even as technologies such as facial recognition and artificial intelligence are increasingly embedded in everything we do and interact with, there’s no one, inside of government or out, in charge of thinking about where it’s all headed.

AI may become like electricity, affecting every industry, but we have no serious dialogue about how we might want its still-developing effects to play out.

The lack of digital policymaking at the federal level has opened up a policy space for states and localities to step in. New laws are being passed and bills are being considered that touch on everything from privacy and facial recognition bans to bitcoin and autonomous vehicle regulation.

Governments are still playing catch-up when it comes to using tech. Many lawmakers lack basic understanding of how technology works, let alone how it’s changing.

When Lawmakers Don’t Get Technology
Lack of technological literacy not only makes it easier to fall for a company’s line, but also leads lawmakers to make demands that simply can’t be fulfilled.

The Public Sector Lags Behind
The sense that government is slow and unresponsive has only been exacerbated by technology. The standard now for customer service on the Internet is seamless, instantaneous and efficient. It’s fair to say that governments, on the whole, don’t offer that level of experience.

In government people are often stuck using old computers or running programs using languages that are the software equivalent of speaking Latin. Procurement for technology is still handled in many agencies as though the needs aren’t any different than buying office chairs.

Ignorance Has Been Bliss
It’s clear that policymakers are starting to think more skeptically about technology, given rising public concern about data breaches and how both private companies and governments are using their information.

In order to have effective regulations regarding IT, it’s essential not only to understand technology better, but to have a firm sense of desired outcomes. As a society, it’s critical that we ask what we want out of tech and where we want it to go.

Despite the growing “techlash,” it’s important that as lawmakers seek to address problems with technology, they keep their eyes on both its benefits and their own first principles.


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For Small County Governments, Tackling Cybersecurity Basics Can Go a Long Way

To a small county with limited resources, it may sound intimidating to overhaul and adopt new cybersecurity standards. But if officials begin by taking small steps to improve their government’s overall cyberhygiene – such as using secure passwords and training employees on cyber threats – they may be surprised how quickly they fall in line with industry best practices.

Cybersecurity experts have suggested how local governments could apply the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) cybersecurity framework to their networks.

The NIST framework was designed as a voluntary guide for businesses, organizations and governments to help promote the protection of critical infrastructure and manage cybersecurity-related risks.

Ensuring that government information technology officials have a working relationship with those overseeing the budget can be critical to ensuring cybersecurity efforts receive sufficient funding.

When stakeholders met at a recent NIST legislative conference to discuss potential development of minimum security standards about one-third of the governments represented didn’t have a person on staff who was responsible for information technology security. Concern was also expressed about the time and resources that would be needed to develop and meet the new requirements.

It is recommended that any efforts to implement new security standards be closely tied to budget discussions so that there is money to pay for initiatives.


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