State and local government leaders find themselves in an unusual position in 2017.  While there are clear indicators of economic recovery, their budgets remain flat.  Governors and state legislatures are looking to their Chief Information Officers to use IT to bring about financial efficiencies while continuing to deliver mission-critical services to citizens.  We sat down with Chip George, Senior Director State and Local Government and Education at NetApp, to find out more about how state CIOs are championing this effort and tips he has for those faced with similar challenges.

Where’s the Funding?

George shared with us that state and local governments have been hard hit by the uneven nature of the economic recovery.  “Simply put, because state and local programs are funded by tax revenues, budgets will remain tight until there’s wage growth,” he said.  In the absence of more funding governors are turning to their CIOs to help manage costs while still delivering services in the same efficient and timely manner.  “It’s the age-old do more with less challenge that anyone who’s worked with, or in, public sector IT is very familiar with, “ George noted.  Because it’s not a new phenomenon state CIOs are well versed in looking at ways to leverage technology to drive consolidation and it’s time for them to look at how to make small investments in new tools to drive efficient performance from existing infrastructure.

Data Security Remains the Greatest Challenge

Last month the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) released their list of top policy and technology priorities for 2017. It was no surprise to Chip when he saw that information security threats topped the list.  “We are in discussions constantly about how data center infrastructure can best be set up to defend against cyber attacks on the information stored in both local data centers and in the cloud” he said at the outset of our interview.  “Ransomware – which is quickly becoming one of the most common cyber attacks – is an enormous issue for state CIOs,” George said.   He continued, “having your data held for ransom is a very serious issue and States are looking for two ways to fight back:  first, they need a recovery process that includes many, point-in-time backup copies that are easy to use; and, second, they need tools to specifically locate when and how the breech occurred or it will simply happen again.”

Beyond the Cloud – Consolidation and Optimization

By now most state and local governments have moved at least some applications and operations to the cloud, or replaced some infrastructure with a cloud-based service.   But as Chip George shared “cloud is only one option available when trying to solve the problem of more efficiently delivering IT services across a State-level enterprise.”  With state legislators and governors from Maryland to Nebraska mandating IT consolidation, looking at how to optimize data centers is the first agenda item for many state and local CIOs.  While some services can be moved to a public cloud, many more are staying on premises in a local or “private cloud” deployment, and for those George shared that “CIOs should look to their storage media to evaluate opportunities for optimization.”  In particular, George recommends looking at all-flash arrays because of their compactness, performance, and efficiency.  “Moving to all-flash arrays dramatically reduces the data center footprint, even before their advanced storage efficiencies are taken into account,” he quipped.  “In the end,” he said, “no IT leader wants to be in a position where they’ve consolidated on old technology, which is akin to kicking the can down the road.  It’s better to make strategic investments in foundational technologies, like flash, even with tight budgets to ensure that consolidation and optimization efforts make a sustained impact on the bottom line.”

But Back(up) to the Cloud

While there’s been a high-level of discussion over the last few years about how best to use public cloud within state and local government, George said 2017 will be the time to refine the approach on how the cloud is actually put to work.   With the new NASPO contract vehicle, it will be easier than ever for state and local governments to buy a government-ready cloud service.  George commented that “CIOs need to identify which data needs to be a in a private cloud, which data can reside in a public cloud, and which data needs to be in a traditional data center.  Most CIO’s are finding that they will have data in all three and they need to have strategies and tools to manage the movement of apps and data in this hybrid cloud environment.”  By doing this data management triage CIOs can optimize the use of physical data centers with potentially large CAPEX savings in real estate costs and OPEX savings on power and cooling, in particular.

One area where George noted that there were still opportunities to leverage the cloud for additional efficiencies is in backing up data.  “Using the cloud for backup introduces numerous opportunities for cost savings – from streamlining operations, to providing better and more immediate protection against ransomware attacks, to eliminating tape backups with all their risks, hassles, and expenses,” he said.

One Last Piece of Advice? 

Chip George’s last piece of advice to state and local government CIOs is to “know your priorities, create a clear vision across the entire organization, and be able to share that vision.”

And, on that note, let’s get to work defining that vision!  Interested to hear how other CIOs are approaching these challenges and creating their vision?  You can find insights here from the CIOs of Nebraska, Minnesota, and Maryland.