Creating a more customer-focused and smart state

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Hardik Bhatt, Secretary Designate, Department of Innovation & Technology and State CIO for Illinois recently joined the board at CIVIQ Smartscapes. Hardik lead Cisco’s global public sector business development for Internet of Everything and Smart+Connected Communities previously. We sat down with Hardik to talk about his experience in leading one of the biggest turnarounds in state and local technology.

Illinois is one of the top five technology spenders among the states, yet in 2014 it ranked in the bottom 25% in efficient delivery of technology services. Why do you think that is, and how are you changing this?

When I joined, I spoke to hundreds of people and what I found was startling: systems dating back to the 1970s, and technology developed in silos by individual agencies that did not treat the state of Illinois as an enterprise or the taxpayer as our customer. Each agency had their own agenda and there was no cohesive common strategy. This reflects a long tradition of state departments working independently on hundreds of separate systems.

We needed to consolidate all of IT into a new department, which is now the Department of Innovation and Technology (DOIT). This brings together 1,700 technologists under the same leadership, with a statewide strategy. It’s taking a private sector approach to the public sector.

Another thing that is helping create change is recognizing the importance of IT. In Illinois, IT is now a cabinet-level position, helping to bring the focus on IT as a key success factor in transforming Illinois into a smart state.

Tell us more about creating a smart state, and what this means.

Being a smart state is about enabling cities (and the state) to make the government work for everyone. Although highly populated cities like Chicago are able to implement these great new technologies, states are responsible for making sure even rural towns and areas of low population have access to state-of-the-art technologies and benefits from them.

A Smart State can connect multiple localized Smart City initiatives to create a Smart Region by transforming its ecosystem and partnership models, enabling more wide-reaching consistency of services such as transportation, safety, education, and health and wellness.

Can you summarize what approach you are taking to transform Illinois?

We are taking a 3 pronged approach

1.      Smart IT - Improving the Business of IT

We now have a stronger business focus, and better partnerships. We have renegotiated IT contracts and halted projects that were not demonstrating ROI or providing customer benefits. Our KPI’s are outcome-based, and we’ve implemented Agile practices. We are running the technology department like a business, instead of an IT shop. We have a cybersecure Illinois, with enhanced focus on information security.

2.      Smart Government - Enhancing Customer Service with Mobile, Analytics

The state of Illinois has increased its mobile presence 500% in the last 12 monhts, to enable easier citizen access to government information and services. In addition to this, our employees also spend an inordinate amount of time on disparate systems trying to connect customer information held in hundreds of apps. Enhanced data analytics is now helping state to take more data-driven decisions.

3. Smart State & Economy - Implementing Smart-State Initiatives

a. – State as a customer: States have responsibilities, challenges, and inefficiencies similar to those of many large cities; they need to become more efficient and "smarter" themselves. They need a vision, a plan, and an execution road map to enact the digital transformation of government. That is what we are creating – not just for the city but for the state.

b. – State as an enabler: Illinois is looking to re-establish itself as a globally competitive state with focus on entrepreneurship to create 21st century jobs and build talent that can fill these jobs.

c. – State as a platform (or demand aggregator): Illinois is using its 2,000 miles of fiber network and statewide procurement authority to create a level-playing field for all government bodies (cities, towns, school and university campuses, etc) to leverage economies of scale for deploying smart city solutions within their jurisdictional area. State recently published a statewide RFP for Smart Streetlighting.

To nurture innovation, we created an IoT center of excellence that examines IoT security implications and other considerations. We also host regular entrepreneur showcases to connect with local universities and businesses. In April last year, we  hosted a first-in-the-nation smart-state event, inviting more than 200 public, private, nonprofit, and academic representatives to start developing a framework to guide Illinois’ adoption of smart technologies.

Stay tuned to learn more about Illinois, the first Smart State in the nation.

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