Former State CIO on Post-Pandemic Work Environment
In the recent webinar “Enterprise-Grade Performance for a Work-From-Anywhere World,” former state Chief Information Officer Carlos Ramos discussed the challenges and opportunities government faces at work as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.
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What will the public sector’s work environment look like post-pandemic? California’s former technology leader shared some realistic ideas on what to expect.
In “Enterprise-Grade Performance for a Work-From-Anywhere World,” a recent webinar from Government Technology magazine*, former state Chief Information Officer Carlos Ramos discussed the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the public sector and offered some sober recommendations on how our work environments should change – and what government’s next steps should be. Among the takeaways:
- Going forward, the public sector’s challenges “are not really going to get much easier,” Ramos said, indicating government will have to manage the transition back from completely remote to “some level of a hybrid workforce” and one with work weeks divided between at-home and online. The “Pandora’s box,” he said, has now been opened, and constituents expect to be served remotely and digitally. The responsibility for public sector will be determining how to manage the transition to a hybrid model – while also grappling with gridlock in leveraging and taking advantage of newly expanded digital capabilities.
“I have to say, from my perspective as a public-sector CIO who is trying to push government to become more digital, it’s been kind of nice to see that now we don’t have a choice, so folks have had to go digital. And so, to me I’m happy that there’s an acceleration,” said Ramos, who was state CIO from 2011 to 2016.
- In terms of early focuses as the pandemic wanes, Ramos on Monday suggested governments look at what has worked well during the past year and what needs improvement, based on what they're hearing from constituents or their workforce. The commercial and private sectors may offer lessons learned, Ramos said, whether on the need to modernize legacy or identifying solutions to ensure workers are connected and productive in their homes. “Most of all, listen to staff and constituents,” he added.
- Keeping workforce remote may enable government to reduce costs and move toward what is next in individual cases – and IT shops have “generally been ahead of the rest of government” and public-sector agencies on remote work. But being totally remote can make it difficult for organizations and their staff “to connect with your line of vision customers within your organization, to understand what are their policy or program priorities, what are their business challenges and what are they trying to do.” Ramos said he thinks “some level of a mix” of a hybrid work environment can enable better customer understanding as well as mentorships, connections within the organization – even, in some cases, higher job satisfaction.
- The California Department of Motor Vehicles, which lacked the ability to accept credit card payments at field offices a little more than two years ago, has made great progress during the pandemic, Ramos said, praising its extensions on vehicle registration and driver’s license renewals for buying the department more time to rethink work processes and activities. He also lauded DMV for helping residents prepare for driver’s license tests and Real ID applications via videos, and “pushing out solutions that enable some of those transactions to happen digitally.” But he offered the example of an unnamed municipality that required on-premises work and wet signatures on business documents during the pandemic as a cautionary tale that resulted in raised employee turnover and a drop in revenue.
“That’s an example of what not to do. You have to embrace the changes that are coming, and you have to adopt the new service model and this new digital government model,” said Ramos, who is now principal consultant with Maestro Consulting.
- Closing the digital divide remains a serious issue and collaboration is essential. The quarantine and its implications have highlighted the serious disadvantages faced by people who either don’t have Internet connectivity at home or who live in remote areas with bad connectivity. The state has a “long, long ways to go,” Ramos said, indicating “(t)here has to be a concentrated effort.”
“I think it’s a partnership of government trying to make its services available to constituents,” he added, “but also commercial providers to make sure there’s infrastructure available.”