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Why and how Illinois is racing to become a Smart State

Submitted by kevin ebi on March 2, 2016

In some ways, a city is the obvious place to organize an effort to benefit from smart technologies. Cities are big enough to have clout and small enough to get something done. Yet in other ways, city-scale efforts face challenges. For one thing, both their problems and their solutions typically extend well past city boundaries.

Here's an interesting effort by the State of Illinois to leapfrog into the 21st Century. And to bring their towns and cities along with them. Much to admire (and imitate). — Jesse Berst 

As more cities begin to take steps to become smart cities, Illinois is on its way to becoming the first “smart state.” A report, written by Council Associate Partner IDC, highlights the early steps Illinois is taking — a good blueprint for other states or even cities that are trying to define priorities and get all departments aligned.

Why a Smart State?
To an extent, states are incredibly large cities. The need to better serve the public using fewer resources, the need to reach federally mandated targets, and so on, are the same — just on a larger scale. Those same driving factors are forcing states to get smarter about the way they operate.

But states are also in a special position because they affect how cities operate. A state’s laws, rules and regulatory environment can have a significant impact on how much smarter its cities can become. The idea is that as Illinois goes through this transformation, it will have better insight as to what its cities need — and can support them accordingly.

It can even help bring neighboring cities together, so they can benefit through scale.

Illinois’ approach
The first step is to align the various state agencies. The state is consolidating all of its information technology work into a new Office of Innovation and Technology, led by the state’s current CIO. This move brings more than 80 department CIOs together, eliminating duplicate efforts and getting them working together on a cohesive state strategy. Despite being early in its efforts to morph into a smart state, it’s behind 29 other states in consolidating that IT work.

Its next steps look remarkably similar to what a smart city might be doing. It's bringing in outsiders — academics and private-sector experts — to act as advisors. It's identifying relatively easy projects that deliver significant impact so it can get started with those. It's exploring financing options. And it's looking at appropriate policies and legislation that could speed the development of smart cities throughout the state.

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