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Do we really want smart states instead?

Those of you who've heard me rant in person or in prose know that I hammer the need to build integrated, cross-cutting smart cities. No city, not even the wealthiest, can afford to build piecemeal, single-purpose applications department by department. It is essential that departments share infrastructure and share costs.

The shared approach is not just more cost effective. It's also safer, since it typically leads to more robust cybersecurity. What's more, it also delivers more powerful results. The easier it is to share data between departments, the easier it is to pull out the insights that can transform city government for the better.   

If sharing makes sense within a city, doesn't it make even more sense within a state?

That's why I think the State of Illinois is such an excellent model for states, provinces and regions around the world. Under the leadership of CIO Hardik Bhatt, the state is modernizing its entire IT operation. And they are doing it in a "shared services" manner that will allow Illinois cities to benefit.

When the Council delivered a Readiness Workshop for Illinois this December, the state prioritized nine action steps towards its goal of becoming the smartest state in the country. For instance, the state intends to develop a platform for shared procurement. And to do so in a way that multiple agencies and multiple cities can take advantage.

Does every city, town and village need to build its own, standalone traffic app? Its own air quality solutions? Its own smart grid? Its own e-gov apps, each with a different interface?

Or can states and other regional entities create platforms that any city can tap into? From where I sit, a regional approach may be an even faster path to the livability, workability and sustainability we all want. — Jesse Berst


CHICAGO, IL – The State of Illinois’ Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) recently hosted the Smart State Roadmap Workshop, a two-day workshop to pursue becoming the first ‘Smart State’ in the nation.

“Governor Rauner has charged us to complete a holistic transformation and turn Illinois into a 21st century enterprise,” said Trey Childress, Deputy Governor of Illinois. “Becoming the first smart state in the country is not just about technology; it is about improved processes, governance and above all, improved customer service.”

This workshop had more than 50 participants including Deputy Governor Trey Childress, state agency heads, city officials, businesses, universities, national labs and non-profits. It expanded on the success of the initial Smarter Illinois event held in April 2016 that jumpstarted the state’s technology transformation efforts. The workshop was delivered by the Smart Cities Council, whose partners and advisors have contributed to more than 10,000 smart cities projects internationally.

“Illinois is aggressively reducing the 45 years of technology debt in only 4 years by acting boldly and strongly engaging the private sector and other partners in this effort,” according to the State of Illinois’ Department of Innovation and Technology Secretary Designate Hardik Bhatt. “We have the opportunity to leapfrog from legacy technology to global leadership, by getting a head start in becoming a smarter state.”

A smart state uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance livability, workability and sustainability in its cities, towns, rural areas and state agencies. A Smarter Illinois is ready for the future – harnessing digital transformation in a socially inclusive way that also strengthens business opportunities as well as the state’s brand.

Key goals of the smart state initiative include improving the overall efficiency, effectiveness and accessibility of government services; creating an attractive climate for businesses and entrepreneurs; increasing state GDP; and establishing a leadership position as a smart state – all while keeping enterprise security and privacy at the forefront and preparing our workforce for the future.

Sue Gander, the Director of the National Governors Association’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Division, also participated in the workshop. “Illinois’ smart state initiative is unique in that it involves collaboration among state agencies, cities, universities and industry partners,” said Gander. “The Illinois team set a strong example for other states to follow.”

During the workshop, several key action areas were prioritized with accompanying goals, assigned leadership roles and designated project partners, including the following:

  • Applying sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) to buildings and streetlights
  • Enhancing mobile citizen engagement and delivery of government services
  • Developing a procurement platform to obtain better pricing through volume discounts and streamline city and state purchasing
  • Generating more benefits from the existing portfolio of state assets
  • Creating a more business-friendly state supported by a digital portal
  • Applying smart cities standards
  • Reviewing policy and regulations to remove barriers to implementing smart technologies
  • Establishing a Smart Illinois brand