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Overheard at the CIO Academy: Pain Points and Opportunity

State and local government and the private sector came together in Sacramento earlier this week for two days of networking and problem-solving. The event highlighted trends and opportunities.

Of the tens of thousands of conversations had over the two-day California Public Sector CIO Academy* in Sacramento, common themes surfaced offering a glimpse at potential opportunities for vendors looking for a door to stick their foot in.

“Do your homework, know the mission” was one of the more repeated mantras from public-sector IT officials at the event — ranging from Government Operations Agency (GovOps) Undersecretary Miriam Barcellona Ingenito to several agency-level IT chiefs. But the private sector also had its share of advice for IT leaders.

The Whats and Whys: The resounding message from agency CIOs across multiple panel discussions was a need for vendors to bring solutions to existing problems — not solutions for brand-new ones. Representatives from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), the Employment Development Department (EDD), and others echoed this call. CAL FIRE’s deputy director of technology, Scott Gregory, said his agency sees plenty of innovative solutions pitched by the private sector, but many fail to address real-world operational concerns. His agency’s existing approach makes it very effective at firefighting and prevention work, he said, meaning that any technology they adopt needs to fit into or significantly improve the current framework.

Opening the Talent Pipeline: Talent management also surfaced as a significant friction point for state agency representatives. Attrition and retirement — and the loss of institutional knowledge that comes with them — were significant areas of concern voiced by officials from the California State Lottery and EDD. The need to retain institutional knowledge, create succession plans, document duties, and identify and assess future leaders are very real concerns for agency leaders. The slow pace of hiring qualified candidates at the state level, coupled with the challenges of transferring knowledge, make this an area ripe for innovation, officials said.

Streamline State Procurements: It should come as a shock to no one, but state-level IT procurements take a lot of time. The possibility of knocking the process down — by weeks or even months — was raised privately as an area for needed improvement by one control agency staffer. The vendors we spoke with agreed that contracting with the state is often confusing for new entrants and leaves something to be desired where speed and agility are concerned.

Adopt Early, Iterate Often: While the public sector had a veritable laundry list of dos and don’ts for potential suitors, vendors also came armed with advice worth heeding. The adoption of new technologies, like AI, was one area industry urged a proactive — even aggressive — approach. Accenture’s Graeme Finley compared AI to the invention and rapid adoption of the steam engine, cautioning that while no one could have predicted exactly where the technology would lead, early adopters were able to reap the benefits of lower cost and advanced innovation. Agencies should consider the cost of doing nothing, cautioned UiPath’s Jennifer Ott. The consensus among vendors on the topic seemed to be that it’s better to adopt and iterate than wait for costs to skyrocket in a red hot market.

*The California Public Sector CIO Academy is hosted by Government Technology, Industry Insider — California's sister publication.
Eyragon is the Managing Editor for Industry Insider — California. He previously served as the Daily News Editor for Government Technology. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.