Illinois: Making Government Work

It isn’t just big companies that have IT complexity issues or that need to undergo digital transformation in order to serve their customers better and fuel innovation.

Four years ago, the nationwide Digital States Survey in the U.S. ranked the state of Illinois in the bottom quartile. The Prairie State was paying the price for almost 45 years of technological neglect.

“We had systems aging all the way back into the mid 70s,” says Kirk Lonbom, Illinois’ CIO. “We had over 400 systems that were doing HR and payroll functions, we had systems that couldn’t be supported, that couldn’t be secured.”


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The problems facing Illinois had been compounded by the way the state’s IT systems had evolved. Over the years, government technology platforms became increasingly sophisticated, but they had also became more disconnected.

It was time for action. In late 2015, the state of Illinois unveiled a plan to become the first Smarter State. Under the leadership of Governor Bruce Rauner, Illinois officials launched a four-year plan, dubbed the Illinois Smarter State initiative, to improve the state’s IT performance.

Detailed in the white paper Introducing the Smart State: Illinois Leads the Way, published by IDC in collaboration with the state’s Innovation and Technology department in February 2016, the plan has three core priorities:

  • Smart IT: Improving the business of IT by merging 38 silos into one, running IT like a business and building enterprise cybersecurity
  • Digital Government: Enhancing the business of the state by improving customer services, creating data-driven value, building enterprise efficiency, and enabling innovation
  • Creating a Smarter State: Expanding the use of Smart Cities solutions, guidelines, and principles to build the first Smarter State

Within that framework, the initiative has three main goals: to foster economic development and attract innovative companies to Illinois; to improve state government efficiency and effectiveness; and to help local governments stay competitive, supporting the development of smart cities and connect them into a smart region.

Kevin O’Toole, Illinois’ Smart State and ERP program director, says the initiative represents a holistic effort to transform Illinois into a 21st century enterprise, leapfrogging from legacy technology to global leadership in less than four years. “We want to start to provide more value back to our citizens,” he says.

Illinois turned to SAP to provide the technology to make this happen.

“We are using SAP HANA as the backbone for that initiative,” explains O’Toole. “That will provide our citizens and our employees with the ability to get transparent data, be more effective, more efficient and drive continuous value for everybody here at the state.”

Using SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud gives the state a scalable architecture, capable of meeting aggressive timelines in a cost-effective manner. It provides organizations with the chance to discard inefficient legacy systems, and think in new ways about how to revamp operational and business models.

The Initiative has already delivered some early results. For example, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority rebuilt a long stretch of Interstate 90 connecting O’Hare International Airport with Elgin Township. Enough power and fiber are laid out for decades of technology improvement. Sensors in the roadway and displays above it have prepared the roadway for automated vehicles. Tollway maintenance trucks have also been equipped to capture data off the roadway, and this data is shared with the Federal Highway Administration.

Illinois has also drastically improved its ability to interact with citizens using their mobile devices. As a result, mobile interactions with customers have increased from a meager three percent of interactions to over 30 percent. With 23 agencies on the enterprise data-sharing agreement, customer data is available to understand the needs of the customer and provide better services.

Meanwhile, Illinois continues to look ahead and prepare for disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and self-driving vehicles. For example, the Illinois Blockchain Initiative has convened six departments and one county to design the supporting policies, guidelines, standards, technical code, and use cases that are key for safe and effective blockchain implementation.

But the state also recognizes that technology is only one-third of the solution in becoming a Smarter State. Regulations can make or break the effort, so it has used design thinking concepts to streamline its business platform and is building a statewide public procurement platform for Smarter State/City solutions with a master contracts framework.

Reflecting the changing nature of work it is also pursuing a variety of methods to create a smarter and more future-ready workforce. Illinois partnered with the private sector — GE, Rockwell Automation, Cisco — and academia — MIT Sloan School of Management, Pearson — to design curricula for analytics, cybersecurity, and IoT to build a next-generation workforce. A Smarter State partnership between the Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT) and the University of Illinois will continue to leverage the skills of, and build skills for, the next-generation workforce.

Illinois also hopes its digital transformation can provide a model for other states to follow in order to provide better and more cost-effective services to citizens and improve their lives. Working through the National Governors Association (NGA), in collaboration with other states, Illinois aspires to develop a replicable Smarter State model.

But Kirk Lonbom emphasizes that it is important not to get hung up on names: “It doesn’t really matter if you call it a smart state, a smart community, or digital transformation. Call it anything you want,  but essentially our goal is to bring technology, people, and leadership together to really improve the life of our citizens.

“We are literally changing the paradigm from government lagging behind to government leading,” he says.