3 Central Roles Played by a 'Smart State' (Industry Perspective)

The "smart" concept doesn't just apply to cities; Illinois is proving that it can become the nation's first smart state.

by Ruthbea Yesner-Clarke / April 5, 2016

The smart city concept encompasses some broad common elements — elements that can be applied beyond the city — such as sustainable economic development, data-driven decision-making, innovative thinking, and use of emerging technologies and new partnerships. And Illinois is working to incorporate these elements, as well as common technology components such as connected devices, the Internet of Things, analytics, cloud and mobility, making it well on its way to becoming the first smart state.

IDC recently sat down with the Smarter Illinois team, an initiative led by CIO Hardik Bhatt and supported by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Bhatt has a vision to create the first smart state, which is described on the Smarter Illinois website. The central themes to the smart state include the triple role the state can play:

1. Transforming state government

States have responsibilities, challenges and inefficiencies similar to those of many large cities; they need to become more efficient and "smarter" themselves.

2. Supporting the development of smart cities

States play a major role in supporting the creation of smart cities in their jurisdiction through policies and funding.

3. Creating smart and connected regional clusters

States can connect smart cities within their jurisdiction to create smart and connected regional clusters of economic development.

So how does the smart state differ from the smart city?

Part of the difference rests on the sphere of influence that different government entities have. Cities are focused on their metropolitan area where most of the geography is urban, whereas states must factor in not only influence over multiple cities and towns, but also urban, suburban and rural community needs, and think more broadly about urban corridors.

Not surprisingly, the actual use cases — smart grid; water and waste; intelligent traffic systems; smart emergency response; connected public safety officers; and smart, green buildings are very similar. In these ways, cities and states can learn and support each other as they pilot and scale these newer systems, helping each other to reduce implementation risks. However, the pure scale of coordination around efforts in states as compared to cities can be quite different. In Illinois, for instance, Bhatt must coordinate with 86 agency CIOs to implement a coordinated smart state agenda.

Because of the sheer scale, the process by which Bhatt and his team are tackling this transformation is worth watching over time. At the end of January, the state announced a plan for consolidating its IT department into a new agency, the Office of Innovation and Technology, led by Bhatt.

As noted in recent coverage of the initiative, Illinois is the 30th state to consolidate its IT department and have an IT-focused agency. As Bhatt points out, this will not only reduce duplicate spending, it also will bring together the 86 department CIOs and foster the ability to think strategically at the state level.

The fact that this approach is similar to that of smart cities isn't a coincidence.

Under the leadership of Chief Strategy Officer for Enterprise IT Marian Cook, the state has developed a successful process to execute its vision for a Smarter Illinois and fulfill the aforementioned three central roles.

This process involved conducting a baseline survey for "smart" initiatives across state departments, which showed a lack of clear understanding for what these initiatives are, especially around the Internet of Things; creating an agency CIO working group that will evolve into an enterprise Center of Excellence; and pairing that working group with an external advisory board of global experts.

Each of these steps was no small feat, but each provided Bhatt and his team with valuable information, as well as the state with a template it can use to continue to foster innovative new plans. In the end, the state of Illinois plans to move forward by:

  • Inviting private/academic/financial sector partners as advisers;
  • Studying further the economic value of the smart state;
  • Building an executable strategy;
  • Identifying high-value, low-effort projects to get off the ground;
  • Identifying high-value, high-effort projects for potential private financing options; and
  • Drafting appropriate forward-looking policies/legislation to enable Internet of Things/smart state businesses to thrive in Illinois.

Illinois is a state to watch and learn from as it undergoes a very large-scale transformation — and it's a transformation that applies to other states, cities and counties.

Ruthbea Yesner-Clarke is research director of Smart Cities Strategies for IDC Government Insights.

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