CIO Hardik Bhatt has a vision. 

For the veteran IT innovator, it's all about equipping his fellow Chicagoans -- at work, strolling on sidewalks and within government offices -- with useful and innovative technology that helps ease their daily lives.

"We want to be innovative, we want to be customer focused, and we want to be a very effective and efficient IT service provider," Bhatt said.

Throughout his one-year tenure, Bhatt has streamlined Chicago's existing technology infrastructure shaped by his predecessor Chris O'Brien.

First, Bhatt created an IT governance process that evaluates IT projects based on their return on investment -- how they'll benefit citizens and boost worker productivity.

Another of Bhatt's bold initiatives is to migrate the IT systems of the third-largest U.S. city to open source technology by phasing out already-aged Sun Solaris servers and ushering in Red Hat Enterprise Linux software on Intel-based servers. So far, the systems that have moved to open source include the multidepartmental city database, three Transportation Department Windows Oracle database servers and the Law Department's new case management system. Eventually all eligible systems are expected to transfer over.

For the cost-conscious Windy City, the open source strategy is less expensive up front, and cuts maintenance and licensing fees.

"We're looking at these kind of open source tools, which are robust and can be used at all different levels," Bhatt said, adding that with an eye to going green, Chicago is working to consolidate its servers from 134 to 80.

Also, Bhatt looks at solving the city's cashiering problems holistically by developing a citywide accounts receivable application.

For convenience purposes, Bhatt is bringing more permit and payment options online. Just as he pays his cell phone bill at home in his pajamas, Bhatt says he wants to give people access to government services online. Right now, Chicagoans can use credit cards or checks on the Web to pay their electrical and water heating bills.

And as government functions go online, Bhatt has been keen on the idea of opening Internet service to all citizens by outfitting the city with universal wireless broadband service by 2007's end. The city has brought the consulting firm Civitium on board to provide Wi-Fi advisory services, issued a September RFP and received three project proposals by the January deadline. Those proposals are now under consideration, Bhatt said.

Before his work as CIO, Bhatt had more than a decade of IT experience. In 2005, he was deputy IT director and planning for the Traffic Management Authority in the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communication, where he created the city's incident center.

And during his time as CIO of Chicago, Bhatt's initiatives have exuded one consistent theme: "to bring people in line, online."

Jessica Weidling  |  Staff Writer