As Bill Gates once said, “Technology is just a tool.” Without a skilled workman, even the most advanced tools would just be pieces of hardware and software serving no purpose or function. But in the hands of a master craftsman, these tools can be turned into well-oiled machines to serve the whims and fancies of an organisation.

In the age of digital transformation, the mantle of the master craftsman is taken up by the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Unlike their private sector counterparts, CIOs working within government and their respective agencies face higher regulatory barriers as well as potential state-sponsored attacks. Often working with legacy systems, some public sector CIOs are working with 30+ year old infrastructure not designed to handle the high volume of present-day digital applications. However, under the leadership of innovative CIOs, the public sector is blazing new trails on the digital front and finding ways to use these technologies to create value for both citizens and public servants.

As tech continues to advance and digital transformation rushes forward in full force, the role of the CIO continues to evolve with it. CIOs not only need to fully understand new technologies, as well as their benefits and impacts, but also be able to effectively advocate for the allocation of taxpayer funds for these new initiatives. Handling highly sensitive and personal information of their citizens, government agencies must abide by the highest security guidelines and processes to ensure malicious actors cannot gain access.

The CIO’s role holds immense potential today. As digital technologies get integrated into every facet of an organisation, CIOs have the opportunity to leverage technology to help the public sector solve age-old, nagging challenges that have plagued them for years.

Streamlining procurement

Lengthy procurement efforts have provided years of headaches for CIOs seeking to integrate modern technologies and workflows in government, despite their numerous benefits.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), for instance, can automate and expedite otherwise manual and menial tasks. Meanwhile, chatbots have helped public servants better communicate with and serve their citizens.

A growing acceptance of the cloud and the shift towards cloud adoption, however, may light the path forward. As governments around the world embrace the cloud, public sector CIOs now have the option of cloud-based service offerings for a quick and affordable way to upgrade their computing environments. Through innovate solutions such as the SolarWinds® Hybrid Cloud Observability Platform, government IT departments can have end-to-end visibility across all tech environments, automate key processes, and ensure important tasks are prioritized.

As opposed to paying high costs upfront for major software upgrades, CIOs can instead encourage government agencies to use their organisational budget on a subscription-based model. At the same time, CIOs can streamline software purchasing and license inventory so all teams share computing resources and support requirements, avoiding unnecessary duplications and inefficiencies.

Out with the old

The public sector is well-known for being slower in the uptake of emerging technologies. Stricter privacy regulations and cumbersome procurement efforts mean government agencies often cling on to legacy systems as opposed to readily upgrading their technologies.

However, maintaining legacy systems commits scarce IT dollars that could be directed toward new technologies. These legacy systems can pose numerous risks to governments, the most salient of which is the gaps it leaves in cybersecurity. Cyber threats like ransomware thrive in legacy systems, as many of these systems cannot be readily updated and patched with the latest security measures.

Legacy systems also pose a hiring challenge, as the skills needed to maintain these systems will become increasingly rare in the job market. A survey by renowned accounting firm PwC found that 59 per cent of millennials factor in whether an employer provides state-of-the-art technology when considering a job.

Besides hiring, using legacy systems create problems for talent retention as well. Tech marketplace G2 discovered more than half of employees have become unhappy at work due to the software tools they’re using. Furthermore, about one-quarter have considered leaving their jobs as a result of this, and more than one-in-eight have left a job over mismatched software.

To address this challenge, CIOs can embrace the slowness at which governments move. They can adopt the mantra of updating the lowest-hanging fruit first, then moving on to more complex applications and systems. The key is to implement a phased plan for upgrading and prioritizing cybersecurity upgrades first. For example, SolarWinds Access Rights Manager application audits individuals accessing documents across the entire IT infrastructure, a key line of defence against insider threats. The benefits of a phased plan will multiply as upgrades progress, from hiring to security to new capabilities – all of which will lead to enhanced efficiencies.

Hiring talents

A shortage of IT talent was rated the most significant barrier to emerging technology adoption, more so than higher costs or security concerns, according to a Gartner survey.

Recruiting in IT is already a difficult task, but public sector CIOs face additional obstacles when compared to their public sector counterparts. Oftentimes, the public sector is unable to match the compensation offered to prospective employees in the private industry.

To attract and retain IT talent, CIOs need to get creative. One way they can do so is through apprenticeship programs for fresh graduates, as suggested by the Director for AI Innovation at AI Singapore, Laurence Liew. This way, government agencies can ensure a steady stream of talent, even if their staff eventually moves over to join the private sector.

In AI Singapore, such a model has helped the agency successfully grow from just four team members in 2017 to over 40-strong today.

Concurrently, CIOs also need to modernise their business environment to retain existing talents and attract new ones. This way, government agencies become a place for IT talents to work in and gain experience in emerging technologies such as data analytics and machine learning.

Serving citizens well

Former CIO of Estonia, Siim Sikkut, previously told GovInsider: “Government as a bureaucracy should disappear into the background with seamless and proactive services…helped by digital means and tools.”

Some countries are already proving the capabilities of digital tools in helping to make citizen services more efficient and convenient. In Singapore, tax filing can be as easy as logging into a web portal, verifying that the information is correct, and pressing ‘submit’. On the other side of the world, South African citizens can easily apply for government assistance through WhatsApp.

Citizens are no longer satisfied with needing to stand in line for hours to contact a government official. Instead, they expect seamless and personalised citizen services with twenty-four seven access, a feat only possible with digitalisation. And government CIOs are at the forefront of driving this change.

Today, the role of the government CIOs is no longer just about technology. They face unique challenges when it comes to culture, investments, hiring, and managing citizen expectations. Knowing how and where to dedicate resources, funding, and talent is central to successfully meeting all these demands. But while the challenges are many, so are the possibilities.

Find out more about how SolarWinds can support the work of CIOs at GovWare 2022, happening from 18-20 October at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Singapore! Catch Sascha Giese and the rest of the SolarWinds team at Booth E18 in the Exhibition Hall. 

Sascha Giese is a Head Geek of SolarWinds, with more than a decade of technical IT experience. He holds numerous technical certifications, including being a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, and Network Performance Monitor and Server & Application Monitor SolarWinds Certified Professional® (SCP).