How Illinois’ CIO has set out to change the state’s IT culture

Commentary: Illinois CIO Hardik Bhatt outlines steps he's taken to change the state’s technology culture as his team morphs into a new department.

Editor’s Note: This post originated from a daily blog that appears on Illinois CIO Hardik Bhatt’s LinkedIn page. Throughout the month of March, StateScoop will post an abridged compilation of Bhatt’s blog each week.

Every year, a certain “madness” sweeps America. It is about excellence, teamwork and celebrating wins. Throughout the month of March, I will share with you our approach to our own type of “March Madness” – the culture-change leading to the significant transformation of the State of Illinois.

We are proud of how technology is becoming an engine for Illinois’ transformation under the leadership of Gov. Bruce Rauner. The journey started last year and is picking up pace.

Governor Rauner understands the power of technology. He is the main reason why I decided to plunge back into public sector – I saw a vision that can turn around my adopted home state of 18 years. 


In my first meeting with him after I started, he told me he knows “technology has the power to fuel Illinois’ transformation.” Before coming to the state, I had been traveling around the globe, working with mayors, governors and prime ministers in my previous [private sector] role related to the Internet of Things and smart cities. Through that experience, I learned it is extremely important to have visionary leadership at the top that understands the value technology brings to government efficiency and economic growth. 

As state chief information officer, I started bringing all agency CIOs – more than 80 of them – together every two months. At the first formal meeting, I invited the governor to share his vision with us. For some CIOs, who had worked with the state for more than 30 years, it was their first experience to see a sitting governor addressing state’s technology leadership. His presence as well as his insights signaled that it is not business as usual.

Now, we regularly bring outside leaders into our meetings to get fresh ideas, best practices and lessons learned. At the same meeting where the governor addressed agency CIOs, we also heard from the CEO of Orbitz – now part of Expedia – Barney Harford. They conduct 5,000 website experiments-a-month to see what the customer wants. Barney’s statements were in perfect alignment with the governor’s vision and insights.

Governor Rauner and I have also attended many meetings with private sector leaders together. He is always extremely engaged, taking notes and asking the right questions. When he addressed a gathering of CIOs of large corporations headquartered in the midwest, he was on point and asked the private sector step up and support our transformation within the state government. 

He gets it. His 100 percent executive support for technology transformation has enabled us to move forward at such a fast pace. While technology is the fuel for transformation, his executive leadership and guidance are essential ingredients for our success so far.

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