Exploring the Future: Insights from the 2024 NACo February CIO Forum

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The 2024 National Association of Counties (NACo) February CIO Forum brought together technology leaders, visionaries, and decision-makers to discuss the latest trends and challenges in the ever-evolving landscape of information technology. Here are some key takeaways from the forum:

1. From Training to Learning: A Paradigm Shift

Traditionally, organizations have focused on training their workforce. However, a thought-provoking concept emerged during the forum: “Try converting from ‘Training’ to ‘Learning’.” The shift from training to learning emphasizes continuous growth, adaptability, and knowledge acquisition. It’s not just about imparting skills; it’s about fostering a culture of curiosity and lifelong learning.

One county shared an innovative approach: TGIFriday as a Learning Day. Supervisors were mandated to allocate 2 hours of learning time each week for their employees. This intentional investment in learning pays dividends by empowering staff and enhancing their skill sets.

As Toni Holmes aptly put it, “The only thing worse than training people and having them leave is not training people and having them stay.” Let’s embrace the learning mindset and propel our organizations forward.

2. Cloud: Beyond Cost Savings

The cloud is no longer just about cost savings; it’s a strategic move that impacts security, reliability, and workforce dynamics. While financial benefits are undeniable, the primary drivers for cloud adoption extend beyond the balance sheet.

Consider these points:

  • Security Enhancement: Cloud providers invest heavily in security infrastructure. By migrating to the cloud, organizations can leverage robust security measures, reducing vulnerabilities and ensuring data protection.
  • Reliability: Cloud services offer high availability, scalability, and disaster recovery capabilities. Downtime becomes a relic of the past, enabling seamless operations.
  • Appealing to the Younger Workforce: Millennials and Gen Z professionals expect modern, flexible work environments. Cloud-based collaboration tools and remote access cater to their preferences.

Here’s a cheeky comment from the room: “Commissioners, put money into IT!” Investing in IT infrastructure, including cloud solutions, is an investment in the future.

3. Generative AI Unleashed

Generative Artificial Intelligence (Generative AI) is a fascinating field. It’s like a digital artist that creates text, images, or other data based on patterns learned from existing content. Imagine that AI can compose poetry, generate realistic artwork, or even write stories—all without human intervention.

  • How It Works: Generative AI models learn from vast amounts of training data. They understand the structure, context, and nuances, allowing them to produce new content that mimics the original.
  • Generative AI Hallucinations: But beware! Sometimes, AI hallucinates. These are incorrect or misleading results generated by models. Factors like insufficient training data, biases, or flawed assumptions can lead to amusing or nonsensical outcomes.
  • Concerns for the Design World: Concerns about human artists’ copyrighted, original designs being used by AI technology have risen in the last few years. Always remember to check that AI is the true original creator of the work you use and give credit where it’s due. When in doubt, a quick image or content search is your best option. AI can’t compare to or replace the human artists of the world (more info on this topic can be found here: https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/artists-fight-back-against-ai-using-their-work/7253853.html).

4. The Deepfake Dilemma

AI Deepfakes is a term that evokes intrigue and concern. These are AI-generated hoaxes—convincing images, audio, or video. Here’s the scoop:

Deepfakes swap faces, voices, and even entire personas. Imagine your favorite actor delivering a speech they never gave or a politician saying something they never uttered, but Deepfakes blur reality. They can spread false information, seemingly endorsed by trusted sources. Detecting deepfakes is a challenge, and their potential impact on public discourse is immense. Again, when in doubt, Google it out.

As local governments embrace the digital age, artificial intelligence (AI) is emerging as a powerful ally in enhancing citizen engagement and improving services. Let’s delve into more insights from the 2024 NACo February CIO Forum:

5. Chatbots: Bridging the Information Gap

Across counties, AI-driven chatbots are becoming go-to tools for seamless communication with constituents. These virtual agents provide quick access to information, answer queries, and guide users through government services. Take, for instance, Montgomery, MD’s virtual agent, affectionately named “Monty.” Monty 2.0 is on the horizon, promising even better interactions.

Language Inclusivity

Wordly, another player in this space, focuses on language inclusivity. It ensures that citizens, regardless of their language or hearing ability, can engage with government services. Cost-effective and straightforward, Wordly works to break down language barriers.

Internal-Facing Software is Safer

Most chatbot use cases are internal-facing, making them a safer choice. They assist staff, streamline processes, and handle routine tasks. Think of them as tireless digital assistants, freeing up human resources for more complex challenges.

6. AI: Beyond Text Generation

While text generation is a common application, AI’s has the potential to be a tool for creating engaging content. Here’s how local governments can harness it:

  • Website Enhancement: Use AI to offer better services on your website. Think multilingual interfaces, personalized recommendations, and intuitive navigation. Put yourself in citizens’ shoes—how would they seek information?
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: Start with publicly available data. AI can analyze trends, predict needs, and optimize resource allocation. But remember, existing data policies still apply. Compliance is key.
  • Policy Reevaluation: Existing policies need an AI lens. Consider implications, biases, and ethical dimensions. AI isn’t just a tool; it’s a paradigm shift.
  • Contract Reviews: AI can streamline contract reviews. It scans documents, identifies risks, and ensures compliance. Efficiency meets accuracy.

7. User Experience (UX): Citizen-Centric Design

Don’t design your website based solely on county departments. Instead, view it through citizens’ eyes. What matters to them? How can you simplify their journey? How can you meet their unique and diverse needs? UX matters—it’s the bridge between government and people.

8. Miscellaneous Nuggets

In this era of innovation, let’s wield AI responsibly, empower our communities, and build a future where technology serves all.

This blog post was created by Microsoft Copilot, with added context and revision by MnCCC staff.

Microsoft Copilot is an AI-powered chat assistant designed to enhance productivity and streamline tasks. Whether you’re working on a project, collaborating with team members, or writing a document, Copilot provides intelligent suggestions, generates insights, and automates repetitive tasks. Here are some ways you can use Copilot:

  1. In Windows 11:
  1. In the Edge Browser:
  • Click the Copilot button on the top right of the Edge browser.
  • Your AI assistant appears on the side of the browser, allowing you to continue browsing without switching windows.
  • Ask Copilot to organize tabs, summarize web pages, or create content like pixelated dragon images.
  • Enable the ability to summarize content from the current web page1.
  1. With Microsoft 365 (Office Apps):
  1. On Your Mobile Phone:
  1. Through Bing.com:

Further Learning Resources:

To explore Copilot further, consider checking out official documentation, tutorials, and training materials provided by Microsoft. These resources can help you unlock its full potential and become more efficient in your day-to-day tasks.