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Hardik Bhatt -- The CIO Who Transforms Illinois Every 75 Days (Part II of our conversation)

After his role as CIO for the City of Chicago, Hardik Bhatt thought he had left life in the public sector behind. Little would he know that a phone call was coming from Springfield, asking him to join Governor Bruce Rauner’s staff as Secretary Designate, Department of Innovation & Technology and Illinois State CIO.

In this continuation of our Leading With Courage conversation with Bhatt, we discuss how state government brought its own set of challenges in the transition period and what he has planned for Illinois’ digital transformation.

VALUE DRIVERS: Government rarely moves at a swift pace to enact change. In fact, in the first 30 days on the job with Governor Rauner, you said you realized you had your work cut out for you. How so?

Hardik Bhatt: We had to move at an accelerated pace that the state of Illinois had never seen before. We had to have a clear vision aligned with where Governor Rauner wanted to take the State. At the same time, there was a workforce with a long tenure and longer skepticism. They seemed to be thinking, “OK, I'll believe when change is really here."

I had to balance vision, speed and change. .

I imagine setting the vision and journey was critical as a first step.

No question. So was getting the right mix of internal and external people on board. There was nowhere to go but up from the initial ranking in the bottom fourth of the 50 states, in terms of technology outcomes as rated by a credible national organization.

It’s still early on but are there any kind of encouraging results thus far from your efforts?

I’m proud to say yes. The recent rankings came out and Illinois is now ranked in the top third of the 50 states. We have made significant externally evaluated progress, because in 18 months we've been able to consolidate 38 silos and a billion dollar spend into one new cabinet level agency, the department of innovation technology.

I'm running this as a CEO of a billion dollar startup. You need a consolidated business system to do that, and we were one of the few states to not have one. Everyone talked about implementing one for 10 years, but did not make it happen. We did. We now have an ERP system successfully rolled out at several agencies in 15 months, with more to come. We are aggressively building enterprise capabilities and improving service to our customers. For example, we have a mobile infrastructure that rolls out one app per month. We have an analytics practice set up and are partnering with universities to help us with predictive analytics and build our workforce both internally and externally. We have a very robust cybersecurity practice.

Those are some great accomplishments. How were you able to accelerate those initiatives?

In all of these efforts, we knew we could learn from others. We established advisory boards from the private sector, from Boeing to Chicago Mercantile Exchange to Caterpillar and others. Their CIOs, CDOs, and CISOs are not only sharing what they’ve done, but also training us and teaching us. We take what we learn and configure and apply it to the State of Illinois. We’re moving at a pace where I believe we can become one of the top five technology states.

Is that your goal?

Yes, by the end of Governor Rauner's first term. We can get there because there is tremendous alignment around transformation throughout government, down to the front line employees.

Beyond that, we’re seeing business transformation happening in health and human services, in the business and workforce area, in the public safety area. The business leaders are also fully aligned with what are trying to do as a kind of administrative transformation.

The Governor has brought private people like me from Cisco, people from Aetna, people from Walgreens, and other successful corporations, in to partner with internal leaders and staff. We’re all moving in one direction. This is a powerful combination that helps me still believe that we will get to where we ultimately want to be.

Of course, if the environment were slightly more supportive, cooperative and legislative, we could move even faster than what we are moving. That hasn’t stopped us, though. We believe in ‘creativity under constraints,’ and have made tremendous progress in the face of these obstacles.

That's typical, isn't it? When you come in with a change agenda, it doesn't matter whether you're State of Illinois or a small organization, you’re facing an environment in which people have said, "This is the way we do it." However, one of the things we’ve learned is that you've got to respect that culture because there's good parts to it and it's not all bad.

Definitely. There is a tremendous amount of valuable institutional knowledge. Coming from the outside, you’re thinking, "Why are these guys not moving? This is so easy." You can get tripped up and do some wrong things if you don’t have that knowledge and guidance.

Unfortunately, the State of Illinois has so many rules and regulations, you have to make sure that you're not going against the law.

For example, procurement prohibits speaking with vendors about our plans. I cannot let them discuss what others have done and how it applies to our situation. If they recommend a course of action and it ends up in an RFP, then that automatically precludes that vendor from bidding.

If I need to educate myself and my team, I set up open sessions where any vendor to come in and educate us. I cannot speak to vendors in a one-on-one forum very easily, so I try and avoid those things.

Rather than a goal timeline that’s years into the future, you’ve really changed that part of the culture, correct?

Well, we didn't take culture change as a project. We just said, "Culture will change if we show them the outcome.”

One of the things that we started was, instead of having four year projects or two year projects, we said, "You can have a two year project, but let's break it down into 75 day chunks." So everything was broken down into 75-day objectives and deliverables they are accountable for.

My direction to my leadership team was, the President of the United States gets elected on the second Tuesday of November and takes office on January 20th, which is anywhere between 74 and 77 days, depending on the calendar year. If the president is ready to run the country in 75 days, we should be able to at least hit a milestone in the same amount of time. Let's break everything down.

After all, people talk about 90 days, 100 days or more. We only have four years for this term. I started on March 30th of last year. So April 1st to June 15th was my first 75 days. Then June 16th to the end of August. Every cycle had a different start and end date versus a quarterly end date. It kept everybody on the edge and understanding what they needed to deliver. Then we started measuring so that everybody had 75-day plans and deliverables. In fact, I have a 75-day plan going up on a wall, so now we have every agency getting into a 75-day planning cycle. Then we look back and ask, “What did we achieve?”

What's nice about that is that it gives you a long list of quick wins you can talk about. People are like, "There's a lot of activity going on here and a lot of results." As opposed to waiting for that first cycle, which is usually a year.

It's also become easier for me to talk about what we did. I could go back and say, "OK, we did this much in 75 days." We can break it into pieces. For example, if it’s a procurement initiative, when are we going to finish writing the scope of work? When are we going to finish publishing the procurement? When are we going to finish getting evaluations done? When are we going to finish the contract?

For each of those, if I break it into 75-day cycles, I can get that done in four 75-day cycles – as opposed to if I don't put a deadline on it, it might take two years.

By the way, it doesn’t always entail complex tasks. My first 75 days had simple things like, “Go and meet with as many internal people as possible.” I completely cut myself off for the first 75 days from the outside world and just focused on understanding the inside.

Our citizens can’t wait. 75 day plans communicate speed, urgency and accountability for results. The world has accelerated, and government needs to do the same. As the CEO of a billion dollar start up, this is one of my tools to change our culture to a more entrepreneurial one.

In the final part of our conversation with Hardik Bhatt, we’ll explore what the state’s CIO is planning for the next phase of Illinois’ transformation now that he has some initiatives up and running. We’ll also dive into the potential derailers to success he has to face, including how to deal with blockers in key positions who won’t change their ways anytime soon.

According to the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, just 25% of senior leaders think their high-potential employees are currently ready to meet their future business needs. If you’re one of the other 75% who don’t have a game plan for the next generation of leadership, there’s still a way to put time back on your side – get your people enrolled in the Leading With Courage Academy. In as little as one day, we can give your high potential leaders the immediate tools they need to increase their capacity for bigger roles to come. Follow the link above to learn more and let’s work together to address those challenges today.

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