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Looking Three Steps Ahead: Illinois Takes on Emerging Tech

Private-sector veteran Ron Guerrier is not only Illinois CIO, but also its head of innovation, meaning his charge is to maintain existing systems while also looking out for what new tech will add value to the state.

A former private-sector tech chief — he previously served as CIO for pharmaceutical benefit manager Express Scripts — Ron Guerrier took up the tech helm in Illinois this spring with a pragmatic mindset. 

“First and foremost, my job is to ensure that we meet all the technology needs of my agency peers as well as the residents of the great state of Illinois. That is what I have done in the past: keep the trains running and make sure everything is operational so that people can do their jobs,” he said. 

But Guerrier wears another hat here: He’s not only CIO but also secretary of Innovation and Technology. “Things are evolving quickly when it comes to technology and I have to make sure we are looking three steps over the horizon,” he said. 

Whatever he finds lurking over that horizon will have to pass a simple litmus test in order to make it onto his to-do list: Any new innovation will have to be practical and useful. “We have to focus on things that add value,” he said. “Innovation has to meet that criterion.” 

In the realm of innovation, he is, of course, eyeing AI, not as an end in itself but rather as a tech enabler. “We want to use the AI to leverage existing investments,” he said. “Let’s use AI to make the current technology work better, until we are able to secure funding for new technologies. Mainframes are not going away. Let’s invest in the technologies and make them smarter.” 

He also wants to put a human face on technology, literally. One of his immediate goals is to create avatars, animated embodiments of the different end users his department serves. “I am trying to humanize technology as much as we can,” he said. “When you can visualize that person calling at 2 a.m. with a problem, see them as a real person, it gives a sense of urgency and a sense of connectedness.” 

This story is part of a series profiling new state and local government CIOs.

Lauren Kinkade is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.