Local IT managers develop tools to address technical challenges

The pandemic has heightened the importance of the digital world and set new standards of connectivity for all of us. Almost every industry has had to adapt, and the public sector is no exception.

County governments, which have broad responsibilities for community health, welfare, infrastructure, safety, environmental stewardship and many other key functions, have adapted to new realities, challenges and opportunities. Much of this was accomplished with the expertise and assistance of county IT officials.

County CIOs also developed a series of technology priorities for 2022, including improving cybersecurity, recruitment and retention of CIOs, data governance, broadband, cloud adoption, autonomous innovation and technology support for rural counties.

There are several challenges that resonate across industries and are increasingly important to local governments: cybersecurity, staff recruitment and retention, cyberinsurance, and broadband.

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Counties face staffing issues to secure infrastructure

To address cybersecurity challenges, counties implement and maintain secure infrastructure necessary to protect resident and county data. This includes seeking funding to implement monitoring tools and ongoing phishing testing and training for end users and to host cyber simulation events.

Another challenge for county IT departments is recruiting and retaining technology employees with relevant experience. Counties are looking for solutions that will provide competitive compensation, opportunities for advancement (especially in smaller counties), and the ability to work remotely. To help recruit and retain IT staff, counties have access to robust training programs such as cyber leadership development and quarterly week-long cyber simulations.

Counties also face insurance and broadband issues

Maintaining affordable cyber insurance is one of the most pronounced challenges for counties. Counties are being held to higher safety standards, which is good, but we’re also experiencing a four-fold increase in premiums as well as a decrease in coverage. They had to balance cost and risk in protecting the county’s data assets.

Broadband access has long been a problem for counties and residents. The lack of reliable broadband is a major barrier to socio-economic opportunity, education, health care and improved quality of life. Without high-speed internet access, many rural communities – and even pockets in urban areas – are isolated and left behind.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) continues to provide resources to help expand access to affordable broadband. Three years ago, we were pleased to launch the TestIT app, which allows users to test and report broadband speeds anonymously and in real time. The resulting data is used to better inform federal investments in broadband infrastructure. We have also published a report that outlines ways to bridge the digital divide.

READ MORE: What is the state of the digital divide?

Tech Xchange brings county leaders together to pool knowledge

The NACo County TechXchange Network has become an essential resource as counties transition to a new normal that includes increasing cyber threats and increased demand for connectivity and online tools for residents. This network has spread to more than 530 counties, with 820 people participating.

Tech Xchange members have developed new resources to share their collective knowledge and experiences. These include a remote working toolkit, an assessment of cybersecurity priorities and best practices, and a cyberguide for counties.

As county technology priorities have evolved during the pandemic, we have seen complex challenges turn into opportunities. Many counties have turned to online to provide marriage license services. Other counties have extended library Wi-Fi so that residents without internet at home can access online services in library parking lots. And where county employees didn’t have laptops, county IT staff quickly created “desktop-to-go computers” that were delivered to employees’ homes.

While technology challenges remain, counties are poised to address them with ingenuity and coordination with our state and local partners.

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