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Following Critical Audit, New Illinois CIO Talks Improvement

Illinois CIO Ron Guerrier has created five pillars within the Department of Innovation and Technology to be assessed annually, with the goal of assuring that efficiencies and best practices are followed.

An audit released earlier this month of the 1-year-old Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) paints a dire picture for the unification of IT across the state.

This unification was mandated in a 2016 executive order by former Gov. Bruce Rauner. But newly appointed CIO Ron Guerrier says he’s addressed most of the Auditor General’s findings through his modernization efforts, with the remainder set to be remedied as the agency matures.

The report features 30 findings, which were compiled between 2017 and 2018. The audit states DoIT did not report more than $100 million in assets and property, and that it failed to give explanations to the state comptroller’s office for bills related to the state’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System. A better tracking system for assets and property has been implemented to mitigate that finding.

“For two years, and I think it was actually shared in the audit, we didn’t have steering committee meetings for some of our larger projects,” Guerrier told Government Technology. “I can’t speak to the logic as to why people didn’t have steering committee meetings. The environment then was different than the environment now, so I’m not going to besmirch any of the way it was done before; however, if you have a multimillion-dollar project over multiple years, you need to have governance in place that all the stakeholders, from the comptroller to DoIT, we need to be at the table having these very honest, deliberate conversations, and they weren’t happening for a couple of years.”

Guerrier said DoIT has answered all outstanding questions put to his department by the comptroller’s office, and a representative of the comptroller will serve as a key member of the ERP steering committee, which is on schedule for full deployment in 2021 with an approximate $350 million total price tag. The ERP system was also critiqued for being over budget in the comptroller’s report.

The executive order, which the audit found DoIT failed to comply with, called for the immediate unification of 38 IT shops from agencies across the state. DoIT spokeswoman Jennifer Schultz said the governor’s mandate did not account for the transition period needed to bring everyone under one IT umbrella.

“There was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of change management that had to go into this transition,” Schultz said. “Certainly, we tried to overcommunicate to employees to share with them the direction and then also be very transparent about decisions that were made and try to bring them along on the journey that DoIT was going through. Communication has been very important to employees and agencies during this process.”

To expedite unification, Guerrier used an approach he learned during his 27 years in the private IT sector, applying it to the young public agency.

“DoIT was put together to consolidate technology into one agency; however, that also has a preconceived notion that the technology teams at each individual agency will have to pack up their bags and their belongings and move into a centralized office to support the agencies from afar or remotely because we’re essentially consolidating the individuals, the headcount,” he said. “That’s a centralized model, but I am not a supporter of a centralized model, in that regard. What we did is we’re focusing on more of a federated model.”

With a federated model, there will be a core leadership team and staff establishing best practices and guidelines for department CIOs across the state to follow, but the employees will stay at the agency in which they are currently housed, he said.

“There’s no way a centralized DoIT team could meet all the needs of all the agencies given all their disparate, different and unique challenges,” Guerrier said. “What I’m asking the team to do is where there’s commonality, leverage the commonality, but where it’s something very unique to the agency we’ll work as a team to find those unique solutions.”

The federated approach has alleviated a lot of stress among his fellow cabinet members who had previously thought there would be an impending big move, he said.

As part of his modernization of DoIT, Guerrier has instituted five pillars for the agency to abide by: architecture, which includes an inventory of current systems, both legacy and modern, used statewide; service management to ensure the state has standards to maintain an ideal digital hygiene; program management, which has a similar purpose to service management; data and analytics, which will focus on how to best leverage information collected by the state to improve services; and information security to protect Illinois’ computer systems and data.

“Every pillar is going to actually hold themselves accountable to a self-assessment; however, just to make sure it’s not slanted in any way, we’ve reached out to my alma mater, the University of Illinois, and they’re going to leverage their computer sciences group and their professors and they’re going to also score us on the [Capability Maturity Model Integration],” he said.

The audit served as a good checkpoint for the organization, he said, and gave him items to address as soon as he came on board as the state CIO in March. His long-term goals include providing continued support to agencies using the ERP system and playing a supporting role in its deployment. He said he abdicated his position as the chair of the steering committee to the governor’s office so the ERP system would be viewed more as an executive project, rather than an IT endeavor.

“Our ultimate goal by the tail end of this is that we’ll lessen our dependency on the supplier community and we can be self-sustaining and we leverage the suppliers where we need them for scale, but our ultimate goal is this is our DNA and we should run and maintain it ourselves where applicable,” Guerrier said.

He said a full review of systems to determine possible sunset timelines, cloud migration of certain applications and needed upgrades is another benchmark he’d like to meet going forward.

“I don’t want to delegate everything,” Guerrier said of his leadership style. “I want to be in the know and I want to make sure that we vet things, but on the same token I want to make sure [staff] feel empowered to do what they need to do for the betterment of the state. In my estimation, strategies will die if people are not tied into it.”

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.