States seek their place in ‘smart’ movement

Illinois was one of the first out of the gate in 2016 to declare its intent to become a “smart state” — following the lead of a growing movement of cities across the globe. Now, as the movement takes hold, states continue to look for their place to help cities and maybe become smarter themselves.

“We want to use smart technologies to advance the business of the state,” Kirk Lonbom, Illinois’ chief information officer, tells StateScoop in an April video interview. “I think where we really have the most impact, though, is in how we facilitate smart cities across the state.”

For Lonbom, that means creating initiatives the state’s smart streetlight project to give local governments contract vehicles to purchase new technology.

“Large cities like Chicago may have the funding and ability to advance smart technologies within their own city, but smaller towns really don’t,” Lonbom says. “We’re taking a perspective that the state can really help be a leader, bring resources together, [and create] economies of scale.”

The RFP for the smart streetlight effort is only the beginning, the CIO says. Soon, the state will release a similar RFP for smart kiosks — similar to those in New York City , Chicago and other cities — giving the state and cities alike an opportunity to “enhance customer service for both the state, and our cities, as well as advance tourism.”

In Georgia, the approach has been slightly different. The state’s technology office, the Georgia Technology Authority, is instead serving in more of a partner role, while organizations like the Georgia Institute of Technology, known more commonly as Georgia Tech, coalesce cities around the smart movement. The university organized the Georgia Smart challenge earlier this year to match up local governments with industry partners and funding for smart city projects.

“The idea is they’re picking four communities to work with on one-year smart city projects,” Steve Nichols, the state’s chief technology officer, tells StateScoop in an April video interview. “They’ll bring up to $50,000 dollars per community, and a couple of different researchers to help the communities out with their projects or their proposals.”

That effort is organized by Debra Lam, Georgia Tech’s managing director for smart cities and inclusive innovation. (Lam is also the former chief innovation and performance officer for the city of Pittsburgh.) To help promote the event, Lam held a workshop for would-be applicants in the state. State government had a “big” presence, Nichols says.

“I was there to speak, the Georgia Department of Transportation was there, the Georgia Department of Economic Development,” Nichols says. “We’re all figuring out where we can plug in and help.”