Why the C in CIO Stands for Change

It’s a well-known fact that technology has dramatically revamped the way organizations accomplish business objectives. Organizations are now faster, more productive and more efficient, thanks to new technologies. However, less attention has been given to the way these new technologies have altered the roles of people who are responsible for keeping up with the rapid pace of change. Information technology (IT) leaders of today are tasked with more than just managing a municipality’s technology systems – they are responsible for guiding organizations through complete digital transformations.

Many IT departments are expanding their municipality’s digital footprint across nearly every government function, from finance to public safety, in an effort to streamline operations. However, as resources remain limited and citizen expectations rise, both large and small IT departments are expected to redefine what it means to be an IT leader.

The dawn of the new government CIO

Over the course of the last decade, the role of chief information officer (CIO) within a municipality has changed, and it shows no sign of slowing down. In a 2018 Gartner study, approximately 95 percent of CIOs across a variety of industries expect their roles to continue to change due to digitalization. No longer are CIOs in charge of just managing the IT structure and technology systems used by a municipality; they are responsible for total IT transformation, including modernizing infrastructure, pushing smart city initiatives, maintaining cybersecurity, fostering innovation and more.

CIOs also play a major role in the selection of new technology systems for their municipality. This often entails upgrading from homegrown systems or transitioning from much older legacy systems, both of which require serious time and effort.  CIOs and IT leaders are responsible for making sure the new technology systems remain flexible to meet the unique needs of their municipality.

Leaders of change

In addition to selecting new systems and leading technology planning overall, CIOs are responsible for changing the culture of technology within government as well. The public sector traditionally has been slower to adapt to changes in the marketplace than the private sector. This is due to many reasons that are beyond the control of the CIO, including budgetary and contractual obligations. However, according to a study from McKinsey, the biggest barriers of entry for digital transformation are not budgetary, but rather behavioral and cultural factors.

As a result, IT leaders now are expected to lead cultural change and guide digital transformation within a municipality. Their responsibilities are multifold: obtain employee buy-in, encourage personnel to embrace new technology systems and communicate the benefits to personnel, all to ensure the transformation delivers the most value from the investment.  

Women browsing technology

What does the future hold?

The only constant the future holds for CIOs is that technology will continue to change the way things are done within government. More recently, COVID-19 has created an extraordinary opportunity for local governments to re-evaluate technology goals. With a majority of daily, government work responsibilities having shifted to online, there will be a much sharper focus on how technology can improve workflows on a much larger scale. In the coming months and years following COVID-19, government CIOs likely will look to make smarter investments into modernizing technology systems that can quickly scale to the increased and evolving needs and expectations of its users and constituents.