Illinois partners with Telangana, India on smart state initiatives

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Illinois Chief Information Officer Hardik Bhatt explained Monday the details of a new agreement between Illinois and the state of Telangana, India, that will allow information sharing on open data, cyber security, infrastructure, the Internet of Things and other emerging technologies. 

During a press conference, Bhatt described the agreement as a foundational document upon which the two states might build future projects. 

“We’re also looking to learn from Telangana because they have a great innovation policy framework,” Bhatt said. “They also have made strides in e-government, and we want to take that to make our services better for our citizens, and also create more opportunities for entrepreneurs, and for our businesses here to create more jobs.”

Illinois is one of the few states in the U.S. that has an office in New Delhi and has roughly 6,000 state residents employed in 73 different companies in India, Bhatt said. The Smart State memorandum builds on that international relationship, while attempting also to derive benefit from an ambitious plan by Indian government to turn 100 of its municipalities into smart cities. 

India’s goal is far more than marketing hype. With 1.2 billion citizens already, India’s leaders expect the nation to become the most populous country in the world by 2030. As such, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed $1.2 billion to seed the program, which leaders hope will accommodate the 843 million people that are estimated to live in India’s future megacities by 2050.

Telangana, with a population of more than 35 million people, would be the second most populous state if it were in the U.S. — a figure that wedges it right between California, at 39.1 million residents, and Texas, at nearly 27.5 million, according to July 2015 U.S. Census estimates. 

The memorandum outlines collaboration areas including e-governance, digital agendas, enterprise systems, joint innovation, potential joint incubation projects, best practice sharing, and generating employment for both parties, said K.T. Rama Rao, Telagana’s Minister for IT, Municipal Administration & Urban Development. The end goal though, he said, was not about technology at all. It was about improving the quality of life for citizens through smart governance and an “effective utilization” of resources.

“I do hope sincerely that with this intervention, with this memorandum of understanding, we will in fact make rapid strides of progress with respects to helping each other with innovation, entrepreneurship, e-governance and a lot of other initiatives we are signing here for today,” Rama Rao said. 

Bhatt explained that since states are often required to fill in service gaps for rural communities — many with limited funding — he felt the partnership might prove valuable as state agencies look for alternative tech solutions to aid residents. Bhatt has worked to make services more accessible to citizens since he signed on as CIO last year. With a mindset for modernization, Bhatt has moved many of the state’s systems into the cloud, and he told the Wall Street Journal that he hopes to boost state transactions with citizens from one percent to 45 percent by the end of 2017 — and to 80 percent by 2019.

“As part of the overall transformation that we are carrying out through for Illinois — the digital transformation — the key concept behind this is making our state a smarter state,” Bhatt said. “It’s been a very proud day for the people of Illinois and the people of Telangana as we embark on this major smart state partnership.”

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