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Key Ways State CIOs Can Drive Modernization

11-Jan-2024 01:14:00 / by Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith



As state governments prioritize digital transformation, State CIOs are taking on the role of ambassador for the modernization of the state’s infrastructure and applications. The task of managing broad digital transformation change with an array of stakeholders is daunting. Some have sufficient budgets and wherewithal, whereas other agencies, boards or commissions are completely dependent upon central IT. The opportunity to save money, increase security and enable agility is vast. This role must be handled with care and foresight, allowing state agencies to maintain business autonomy while embracing the vision and possibilities of a cloud-based infrastructure and culture of operations.

But the big question for state CIOs is HOW? How can State CIOs better facilitate this modernization—saving states time and money and helping agencies to better serve citizens? And what actions can agencies undertake to prepare for modernization? 

The State CIO as Change Agent   

In panel discussions, podcasts, and events throughout the year, state CIOs have been very transparent in sharing their IT vision for their state, top priorities, and challenges. While their priorities were frequently aligned, there was a common theme among them: Be a broker of technology and help agencies understand their options in modernizing their systems, help the business become more agile through a platform strategy, and select & standardize on a few key platforms.

When the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) recently released their 2022 survey of State CIOs, it shone a light on these major priorities. Over half of respondents said their main responsibility was to “drive innovation or modernization programs,”1 and in their application modernization report, NASCIO states that 48% of state respondents said that the majority of their applications are in need of modernization.2 Since modernization is a continual journey and requires people to adjust, it’s clear that State CIOs need to be at the forefront of promoting and easing the process for agencies while promoting frameworks, platforms, business relationship management and data-driven decision-making.  

State agencies may feel overwhelmed and thus resistant to change. Additionally, they may be hesitant to reveal the extent to which a lack of efficient data management and inability to collaborate across agencies has hindered their effectiveness in accomplishing the priorities for their agency. Thus, state CIOs can fill a unique role as a relationship builder—engendering trust from agencies that the CIO is on their side and is a resource for positive change. In this way, the CIO can strategically align the different data, resources, and priorities across state entities that demonstrate to their customers their commitment.    

As State CIOs focus first on people, then processes, and finally technology, they’ll be able to build trust and create excitement among agencies toward the art of the possible, overcoming hesitancies and barriers to change that may exist. An effective people-first approach is through relationship building and relationship management. CIOs can adopt the strategy of Business Relationship Management, which NASCIO defines as “a disciplined approach to proactively managing effective working relationships with internal staff, departments, agencies, suppliers and partners.”3 As a resource for digital solutions that create an economy of scale and ease of collaboration between agencies, state CIOs add value to agencies.  

How State CIOs Can Drive Modernization  


Business Relationship Management   

Business Relationship Management (BRM) is central to the role of a state CIO because they can draw from, represent, and liaise between the various units that play a role in the state’s digital modernization process. Providing agencies with a knowledgeable resource and trusted advisor can facilitate an agency’s readiness and preparedness for change. The mission of the BRM team is to act as a steward for the agency—listening to their priorities and mission, then introducing resources that will enable the agency to accomplish those goals.  The use of frameworks can educate agencies, central IT and all stakeholders involved.  


State CIOs can help agencies prepare for modernization by providing resources or inventorying the various systems, applications, and processes currently in place, and assessing risk across agency technology stacks. With the wider lens that state CIOs bring to the table, they can spot areas for alignment and shared resources that agencies by themselves would find difficult to spot. Surveying of staff and stakeholders are important during this time to support a proper communication plan.  


Another way State CIOs can drive modernization is by encouraging strategic planning and project portfolio management within budget cycles. The CIO can collect and disseminate data to facilitate planning and decision-making and create a resource for agencies in assessing risk, ROI, and analyzing costs. Working to instill a culture of planning, governance and project portfolio management across state entities is a pragmatic approach to modernization that not only benefits stakeholders on both sides of the service counter but also positions the state to take full advantage of the evolving technology landscape, such as eliminating paper all the way to leveraging AI for improved productivity.  

Big Picture Approach   

State CIOs can help agencies recognize the need for digital transformation and migration to a cloud-based platform. When agencies are focused on their own needs and pain points, they may not see the bigger picture. Through various means, State CIOs can champion best-in-breed technology solutions, eliminating duplicate spend and shadow IT solutions that prevent access to quality data and create security vulnerabilities. State CIOs can help agencies recognize the benefits of centralized modernization that will future-proof agencies and create resiliency and agility on the state level.   

Application modernization can result in outstanding business outcomes with a focus on a few table stakes: A well-defined and scalable architecture, an agile delivery approach and, finally, a persona-based approach that focuses on citizen experience and user-centered design. In today’s market, agencies have several platforms available to innovate with, including but not limited to Salesforce (SFDC), SFDC Public Sector Foundations, MuleSoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure among others. Other systems such as document management, ERPs, accounting, and HR systems may be integrated to enable best-in-breed across technology use cases.  

Vendor Engagement  

State CIOs can make vendor engagement a priority that enables best-in-breed solutions, best practice architecture and competition for state government’s dollars. By partnering with the vendor community, State CIOs can leverage the information, knowledge, and resources of the vendor community as a way to share information, demonstrate capabilities and increase awareness of how cloud technology is healthy and valuable for the state. This approach can provide a lasting impact for years to come as workforces become further engaged in their jobs and upskilled on new technology. 

Key Actions Agencies Can Take to Prepare for Modernization   

The various state and local departments and government entities within each state will need to embrace the CIO’s vision for modernization. To that end, there are many actions that can be taken at the agency level to prepare for and accommodate change that will pave the way for a healthy and value-driven approach to digital transformation.  

Identify Waste & Technical Debt   

Agencies should look closely at their current processes and projects. If possible, a Lean Six Sigma analysis can be made to identify where waste can be eliminated, and which process efficiencies can be made.  Similarly, identify what systems have the most technical debt or can be reduced that have a cost that offsets the cloud investment.  

Build Relationships with the State CIOs Office  

Agencies can benefit from the resources, information, and guidance that central administration can provide. Agencies can work with an assigned business relationship manager and discuss current business problems, and approaches to solving them through various solutions as well as help in preparing requirements and acquiring knowledge of where to start their investment. Agencies can also benefit from understanding the ‘art of the possible’ that cloud technologies can provide.  

Assess Current Data and Requirements   

Agencies should establish what their needs are and document business requirements. Additionally, a thorough inventory of the current condition and quality of their data should be made, along with a projection of what improvements are necessary. This assessment should extend to all current systems and technologies in use within the agency.   

Encourage Staff to Be Open to Change   

Rather than approaching modernization with suspicion, agencies can help staff embrace the possibilities and realistic improvements that can be expected from moving to cloud technology, sharing knowledge and resources, and deploying solutions. Show staff the art of the possible and be sure to seek to understand their jobs first before throwing technology at them. Ensuring a project keeps staff at the forefront will lead to a higher rate of success and provide value quickly. For example, a strategic enterprise technology agency set out to collaborate with 120 agencies, boards, and commissions across the state.

The state CIO desired a way to engage with agencies through business relationship management while coupling strategic planning, budgeting and IT project portfolio management.5 Through the implementation of a strategic planning and project intake and governance function, a customer relationship management methodology, and a good CRM tool, the state is now able to aggregate data across the 120 entities and provide economies of investment scale, best practices guidance and agility to the state’s overall modernization.6 Additionally, the data produced through this framework enables central IT and agencies to make better decisions.    

The Art of the Possible   

With a great need for modernization across state agencies, boards and commissions, and a very real trend of investment to streamline operations, state CIOs can step in as brokers of ideas and solutions for state agencies as they prepare for modernization. By building relationships, planning, assessing, and creating a shared vision with agencies on how they can improve, states can produce more value for citizens, staff and constituents.   

State CIOs have the vision, and the zoomed-out view that allows for a holistic approach to digital transformation across agencies while still meeting their individual or unique needs. Agencies can prepare by doing inventory and assessing current systems, applications, and data, and motivate staff to embrace the possibilities of change. In these ways, state CIOs can fulfill their essential role as the engine behind digital innovation and modernization for their state.   



1. “The People Imperative: 2022 State CIO Survey,” NASCIO and Grant Thornton, October 12, 2022, p. 12. 

2. “Application Modernization is an Imperative for State Governments,” NASCIO and VMware, October 5, 2022, p. 14.,a%20playbook%20for%20moving%20forward%20with%20application%20modernization. 

3. “Application Modernization is an Imperative for State Governments,” NASCIO and VMware, October 5, 2022, p. 9.,a%20playbook%20for%20moving%20forward%20with%20application%20modernization. 

4. “Client Impact Story: Renovating Digital Experiences,” MST Solutions, 

5. “Structured IT Means Serious Business”, NASCIO 2020  

6. “Client Impact Story: The State of Arizona Specializes in the Business of IT”   


Topics: Public Sector, cio, cloud modernization

Ryan Smith

Written by Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith is the Practice Lead for the public sector at MST. Through this role and with a core focus on customer success, Ryan develops project delivery strategy and best practices for public sector clients to guide Salesforce implementations and deliver a cost-effective transformation. Ryan believes the key ingredient to a successful transformation is to uncover the measurable pain points and focus on those that directly impact customers, constituents and employees. Through this concentration, organizations have the best chance at increasing customer and employee satisfaction while reducing operational and technology costs. He also attests to the implementation of cloud computing platforms as a key capability that enables business transformation. Ryan has a decade plus experience leading teams across the private and public sector where he led transformation projects in higher education. While at public and private 4-year and doctoral universities he was devoted to leading programs that resulted in massive cost savings, increased student retention and new university accreditations. Ryan’s career has been shaped by his passion for delivering technology in the pursuit of exciting, customer-centric business outcomes while using lean and six sigma methodologies to reduce waste and enhance quality.

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