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Illinois CIO Kirk Lonbom Retires After 38 Years in Public Service

As a police officer, detective, undercover officer, intelligence analyst and information officer of various departments over decades, Lonbom navigated the push toward more data-driven, collaborative government.

For close to four decades in various roles, Kirk Lonbom has traded in information — logging it, digging for it, codifying it, analyzing it, sharing it. Retiring as the state of Illinois’ chief information officer at the end of this month, he’ll leave behind a legacy of interagency communication built to carry on without him.

Long before he was the state’s head of IT, Lonbom, 59, with a degree in criminal justice from Northern Illinois University, launched a career in public service in 1980 as a city police officer. After working in uniform, as a detective and undercover, he joined the Illinois State Police as an intelligence analyst. From there he ascended the chain of command to assistant chief of intelligence, collaborating with technology developers on the state police’s first electronic intelligence system.

Helping to manage and deliver other statewide systems, Lonbom became deputy CIO of the state police; then CIO and chief of technology for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency; then the state’s first full-time chief information security officer in the newly created Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology.

He succeeded Hardik Bhatt in 2017 as Illinois’ CIO and acting secretary of technology.

When he joined the state police in 2002, Lonbom said, his focus was on streamlining everything: investigative case management, criminal history systems, on-the-street officer communications and information-sharing across local and state agencies. Over time, the lack of communication between disparate agencies became harder to justify, and a partnership between the state police and Chicago Police Department started to change their culture into a more collaborative one.

“Prior to our partnership, we sort of operated separately,” he said. “Especially with criminal street gangs and other types of criminals moving around the state, there was a gap in information sharing, so we closed that gap and started sharing information, and it’s been going on ever since.”

Lonbom recalled Sept. 11, 2001 as a turning point for trust between agencies that weren’t previously sharing information. With that cultural shift in process, different agencies started to find common goals, like cybersecurity.

“Long-term, a lot of the challenge has been agencies working in silos across state government. … Some of that was probably by internal design, but it was really ineffective,” he said. “Through that process, the state suffered decades of technology debt and neglect. Systems weren’t getting upgraded, hardware was out of support and we weren’t delivering the services that we really needed to deliver. Since we’ve come together in the Department of Innovation and Technology, that’s really changing.”

Lonbom said when he started as CISO in 2015, cybersecurity was merely reactive, with a small number of dedicated staff. He assembled a team from different agencies to draft a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, and since then, Lonbom estimates they’ve quadrupled the state’s number of cybersecurity personnel and created one of the best state cybersecurity systems in the nation. He said they’ve drastically raised cybersecurity awareness across the state, reduced billions of dollars in risk, established a proactive approach and got state employees to start thinking of security first.

Over the past 15 months as CIO, Lonbom said his flagship project has been phasing in a single, new enterprise resource planning system to replace the hundreds of legacy systems Illinois has been using. By the end of 2018, he expects the new ERP system to be deployed across 80 percent of the state’s agencies.

He’s also optimistic about the state’s hybrid cloud strategy, which is still in development.

Given an overall push toward data-driven government and efficient use of tax dollars, Lonbom advised that one of the best things governments can do is collaborate, and focus on what’s best for the taxpayer. To do that, he advised letting the private industry develop new technologies while investing public resources in project management and service.

“We don’t normally have the budget to take huge risks, to step out in innovation. But through good partnerships with the private sector … we need to focus on data, on things that improve our capabilities and processes,” Lonbom said. “When we invest in our people, we need to invest in personnel that are really the ones who are going to bring the longest-lasting value, such as service managers, good project management, data scientists, enterprise architects. Government doesn’t focus enough on those things, and we don’t reach the success that we could if we invested more … in the folks that could really drive improvement in government.”

Lonbom didn’t have a personal itinerary beyond retirement on Dec. 31, when Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker will be prepping a new administration. But he said he was proud that he and his staff never lost sight of their duty while it was theirs.

“In my entire career, I’ve been in kind of a protect-and-serve mode, and I don’t see that changing much,” he said.

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.
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