Rauner's new innovation/technology department in place, on the job

Rauner's new innovation/technology department in place, on the job

When Gov. Bruce Rauner first came into office, he said, his team saw the state's technology systems were "grossly neglected" and set off on a mission to fix them.

In 2016, he signed an executive order creating the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology. Late last month, that department became a full-fledged agency of the state.

With the agency in place, municipal officials say they feel like they have more backing behind them.

Sanford Hess, director of information technology for the city of Urbana, explained that information services function more efficiently through a large centralized and integrated system, from municipal government all the way up to the federal government.

"It's worth noting that the state has very decentralized IT offices," he said. "But they've done a good job in pulling that together. IT is one of those things that you can have real efficiencies in with scale. So it makes sense to gather those services in one big place."

However, Hess said, he already had benefited from the state's previous centralization and modernization of the services public offices often provide.

For one, the state offers a wide range of applications — now more centralized than ever — that range from accounting and payroll to file transfers and an employee timekeeping system. Instead of having to go through a third party, local governments can now use often cheaper state services, he said.

"Employees at multiple agencies relied on manual, paper processes for much of their work. That was extremely inefficient," Rauner said in a July 20 statement. "We created DoIT, put a team of experts in place and developed a comprehensive approach to modernize our technology. Now, I'm proud to say we are among the nation's leaders when it comes to using smart technology and making sure our citizens' personal information is secure."

Since its creation, the department has encrypted more than 5.8 billion records and moved half of the state's financials to a common system. Rauner's team says that has already resulted "in savings and cost-avoidance of over $20 million," and his team have also set up a 24/7 monitoring system to identify cyber risks and threats.

DoIT also now administers the Illinois Century network, a state-operated high-speed internet network serving schools, libraries, museums, governments and others, which has been open since 1999.

Hess said the Illinois Century Network is an example of the state's purchasing power. The state has leverage that a municipal government doesn't when it buys software and hardware, so it can offer more efficient services, more cheaply and to more clients.

But he said he'd still like to see more from the state government in terms of help. For instance, Hess said, cybersecurity is one of the IT issues all municipalities face but find too expensive to address.

"It doesn't make sense for every municipal government to have a very expensive cybersecurity expert when you can centralize it," Hess said, adding the cybersecurity measures the city has at its disposal now are limited, like individual training on what to look out for and reliance on information from federal and private groups.

Mark Toalson, IT director for the city of Champaign, said the city has also started an cybersecurity education program for its staff.

"The way things are going, cybersecurity is an ever-increasing threat and concern for us," he said. "And probably the biggest weakness places have is in its own staff falling for a phishing scam."

Toalson also criticized some of what the state is doing.

He said he was happy to see the state centralizing many of the IT services some municipalities rely on, but added that not all of these state-mandated efficiencies are helpful.

"Illinois Century Network raised the prices a year ago and now it's more expensive than getting internet from a local provider," he said. "In theory that would be nice, but I'm not sure the reality is there yet."

He hopes that as the state consolidates program and applications, that it makes it easier for municipalities to get information from the state. But he's most excited to see updates to already existing applications.

"Enterprise Resource Planning modernization, implementing a new financial system, a new HR system, several modules being built, this is some of what we've done, and we'd like to see more of that from the state," Toalson said of Champaign's IT infrastructure. "Centralization, which their working on, has been an issue for quite sometime with redundant services and expenses. As long as they continue to modernize it will help us in accessing state information that we need."