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Illinois' IT Modernizations Result in Increased Knowledge, Better Outcomes

Since announcing a new organizational structure and approach to Illinois state IT earlier this year, several department heads are noting big changes in technology.

In January, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the formation of a new office, the Department of Innovation and Technology, that would modernize technology in the state. And on March 30, Rauner and several department directors explained how system modernization is improving one of the nation’s most outdated collection of state systems.

“As we’ve talked with you in the past, Illinois has been woeful — we’ve been way behind, decades behind in the use of technology to provide higher quality services, more efficient services for the people of Illinois,” Rauner said. “…We’re one of the highest spending states on IT, but one of the worst states on digital services delivered. We’ve got to change that. We’ve got to invest our money wisely and provide much more digital services, higher quality services.”

In the Center for Digital Government's* 2014 Digital State’s Survey, Illinois received a grade of C+. The state’s improved efforts in transparency and efficiency through open data efforts and shared services were noted, but the its technology being years behind dozens of other states played a large role in the lower grade.

The state is already making progress, Rauner said, and to prove it he brought out Bryan Schneider, director of the Illinois Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, who explained how a shift away from paper is helping to better serve the more than 1.1 million working professionals in the state he is charged with licensing and supporting.

“In February of this year, our department began a departure from a technology experience for our stakeholders that was eerily reminiscent of the early 1980s,” Schneider said. “We made a series of simple but impactful changes in how we do business, implementing a process that allows us to communicate electronically with the professionals licensed and regulated by our divisions of professional regulation and real estate."

The state now communicates with its professionals exclusively through electronic means concerning the license renewal process, he said. "These moves toward a paperless licensing process will save the state millions of dollars in avoided postage, paper and printing costs alone in the coming years.”

Since the change, the state has processed more than 140,000 renewals and new license applications, he said, and the state looks forward to updating its entire licensing process to a paperless one.

John Baldwin, director of the Department of the Illinois Department of Corrections, also spoke, sharing how his department’s adoption of an inmate management platform is keeping the state safer by tracking prison program analytics and monitoring the unique needs and challenges associated with each inmate.

“On Dec. 14, 2015, the Illinois Department of Corrections rolled out Offender360 and in one large step we went from 1970 mainframe technology to the cloud,” Baldwin said. “We are excited about our future. It will allow us to shift from an output-based system, which only counted numbers and didn't give you outcomes. Our new system, Offender360, will allow us to measure outcomes. … Staff will have more knowledge, more information to make better choices, which will result in better outcomes."

Baldwin recalled several failures in years past to adopt such a system before the current state CIO and Director of the Department of Innovation and Technology, Hardik Bhatt, managed to succeed with this implementation.

“If an agency wants to buy a paperclip today, they have to go through four systems,” Bhatt said. “Three of those systems require manual entry in each of those systems, one after the other, and the fourth system requires the third system to be converting that data into a tape and running that tape into another agency. Can somebody check if we are in 2016 or 1986? I mean, that’s the operational transformation that we are already working on deploying in enterprise resource planning.”

Bhatt explained the state’s technological transformation requires changes in the its deeply rooted culture, operations, customer service and organizational structure.

“Over the next three months, we will complete the new organization structure, the new leadership structure, the new governance structure, how the IT gets done," Bhatt said, "because eventually what we want to do is make Illinois the most competitive state not just in the country, but around the globe.”

*The Center for Digital Government is a sister organization to Government Technology; both are owned by parent company e.Republic Inc.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.