The Road to Modern Governance

The Road to Modern Governance

David J. Elges, Chief Information Officer (CIO), City of Boston

David J. Elges, Chief Information Officer (CIO), City of Boston

The year 2021 is rightfully dubbed as 'the year of the CIO.' Post-pandemic, the U.S. government at all levels is undergoing rapid digital transformation to deliver government services and programs more efficiently, transparently, and cost-effectively. The City of Boston is a prime example of the phenomena. 

Headed by David J. Elges, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the City of Boston, the city has risen above the public vs. private, state vs. city debates and implements a holistic approach of using modern technology to help ease their residents' lives. David J. Elges brings 20 years of information technology experience from the public and private sectors to the CIO's role, where he oversees the City's Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT). David J. Elges recently served as CIO for the District of Columbia. In this role, he established the overall technology strategy and architecture to ensure that it was aligned with the District's growth and evolving needs.

Effects of the pandemic in the government space

Focusing on the public sector, most government employees from the federal government to the local government have stepped up to the challenge. The early part of the year leading into the pandemic involved quickly getting all the workforce to go remote, regardless of where each of us were on that journey of remote working. It involved providing the tools, training, technology, and access to decentralize a centralized workforce. It is a massive undertaking when the IT department was not only supporting the organization but also the IT department itself. So, it was a challenging time for us as a team.

We saw non-stop cyber threats and cyber-attacks throughout this pandemic across both the public and private sectors. Risk management efforts were another major challenge as our whole workforce was now remote. Many cloud providers saw opportunities during the pandemic as a lot of cloud strategies had new increased speeds to avoid bottlenecks. They provided a cloud migration strategy to the newly constituted decentralized workforce.

Given the pandemic's economic impact on all of our cities, the CARES act funding and stimulus funding have provided us with real opportunities to rapidly adapt to modern technologies and eliminate redundancies and operational costs. Those initiatives have also incentivized us to develop resilience, disaster recovery, and preparedness for any further threats to our society.

Executive Leadership and Networking

During any sustained crisis, a well-planned long-term strategy is a key to achieving success. Take, for example, a three-legged stool, which represents the framework of our approach. One of the legs comprises operational continuity, which is our top priority. Residents must be able to use our online services, and it needs to be active, continuously. 

Lending support to citizens is the second leg of the stool. We must be aware that people look to the government during these difficult times. Supporting people on the frontlines of the crisis, such as hospital staff, police, EMS, Fire and civil administrators, is critical. Other significant issues include maintaining social distancing norms and building temporary hospitals such at Boston Hope to service COVID-19 patients.

The third leg of the stool is looking for new opportunities to support, secure and respond to our environment. We focus on transforming the security practice, cloud roadmap, data management, and citizens' data privacy. It is also important to double down on creating better experiences for our constituents. 

There is only one CIO, but your staff varies in size and role. Supporting your team, focusing on talent development, and pipelining talent for future CIO roles elevates and empowers them to achieve truly great things for the organization.

In the public sector, there are a handful of CIOs across the U.S. So, networking plays a significant part in determining the success or failure of CIO initiatives. Nurture and develop those relationships with other CIOs in a variety of different areas. It's very enlightening to get a fresh perspective or gain that deep insight into what does or doesn't work in the real world. 

Post COVID-19 future

I think digital transformation is the future. Channel agnostic customer experiences, and rethinking our business process design will allow our residents to avail of any service online from the comfort of their home, their computer, or their mobile phone.

A few years back, as a private-sector CIO, I always felt that the public sector and their technology roadmap were always a step behind the current market trends. But now, I have indeed seen that gap close. Whether at the state, local or federal level, there are only a handful of CIOs across the U.S. Our game plan relies heavily on coordination and cooperation with one another. We host several speaking venues and seminars, where we talk about best CIO practices and share information.

As I look forward in, say, two to three years, it's fascinating to see things that will happen in the public sector as it relates to the future of work, and from a technological perspective, both the response to the crisis and its consequences require a reevaluation of the smart city models in order to connect them to the new priorities.

The pandemic has also highlighted the need for much more robust and sophisticated statistical and data analysis mechanisms. Data governance will be a priority to ensure the public value of data and the democratic control of personal information. 

Going back to COVID-19, the pandemic impacted major industries such as airlines, restaurants, and hotels, etc., and now, all eyes are on the government. Whether its stimulus checks or CARES act funds, COVID tracking, or Vaccination distribution, our local government is the bridge between the people and the state benefits. We are leveraging digital technology to ensure that we distribute those benefits throughout the city in an equitable manner. 

Although in an accelerated and conjunctural way, teleworking, online education as well as telemedicine have become the norm. This has revealed the existence of a large digital divide with regard to both the opportunities to access communication technologies and the skills to use them which will need to be addressed as a priority to close the vulnerability gaps.

The pandemic has shown that disinformation and so-called fake news is also a threat to public health in Boston and across the country. The growing power of social media in the conditioning of public opinion and political discourse in form and content exemplifies the gap between the political tempo and the current trends of digital communication. This will be one of our largest challenges post COVID as we establish “the new normal”.

It would be essential to understand the implication of the technologies we are putting in place at this stage. For example, speaking about the public domain, people in Boston like to see city hall workers working from city hall. And there is just an expectation of our local government that your job is at city hall. As people start coming back to offices, we have to figure out new technologies to ensure their safety and adjustment in the new environment. It is important to note that this change is more of a culture change than a technology change. But it is clear that technology is the answer to our ever-changing culture.

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