This month, our Employee Spotlight focuses on our new Chief Executive Officer (previously President and Chief Growth Officer) Hardik Bhatt, who is sure to lead SDI into a bright future.
Describe your journey to becoming SDI’s CEO.
One word—zigzag. I have gone back and forth between the public and private sectors; from consulting at Oracle to the City of Chicago (CPD, OEMC, DoIT) to Cisco Smart Cities to the State of Illinois to Amazon Web Services – State & Local Government Sales and now, SDI Presence.
What was your most significant accomplishment as the State of Illinois’ CIO?
When I started, the state was still using a system built in 1974 (when I was two years old) and had a Digital States ranking of C+ – placing Illinois in the lowest quarter of all US states. We embarked on a modernization journey that I called “45 in 4.” 45 years (1974 through 2019) of modernization (in one, four-year gubernatorial term). Within 30 months, we…
- Consolidated all state IT agencies into one new department, the Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT) with 1,567 employees and nearly $1B budget.
- Instituted the office of CISO for the first time in the state and addressed $4B of potential breach costs.
- Instituted the office of CDO, and created a 360-degree view for various HHS customer personas (e.g., foster child) and received $56M from Federal CMS for Statewide Data Analytics practice.
Prior to joining SDI, you were a part of the AWS State and Local Government leadership team, what was your most significant accomplishment in that role?
Well, I’m extremely proud of leveraging my Amazon experience to benefit SDI, but as far as accomplishments while at AWS, here are my top three:
- When I joined the AWS State and Local Government team, our annual run rate was $50M, we grew it 7x in three years.
- I set up our first public sector startup incubator—starting with AsiaPac, ready to be scaled for Europe and South America.
- I started the Accelerator program for mature startups (Series A onwards) for regulated industries, especially clean energy, and sustainable cities.
What has surprised you about your career path?
Becoming the CIO of the third largest city within eight years of being a first-generation immigrant. That can only happen in the US.
What are some of the greatest lessons you have learned along the way?
- If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
- Always be ready to challenge yourself; don’t get complacent and default to the status quo.
- A leader is only as good as their team.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
- Stay in touch with people, especially when you don’t need them.
- Bet on yourself—you may lose some, but you will win many.
What advice would you give someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
It takes decades to build a reputation; it only takes a few moments to ruin it. Honesty and integrity trump only financial success.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
Speaking English in the US—I had studied through 12th grade in my native language—except for one English language course per year from 4th through 12th grade. I only began studying in English when I started my engineering degree. I started speaking in English daily only when I moved to the US in 1998.
What are some differences you can see between the public and private sectors?
The public sector moves slowly, and deliberately. Procurement is a bigger issue than funding; people in the public sector really work hard, but they must tackle a lot of bureaucracy.
On the other hand, the private sector is not always after the public sector’s money. They get frustrated when an obvious decision takes forever to be made.
What have you learned from working with both public and private sector organizations?
You need to understand drivers for the private sector to be successful in the public sector and vice versa. Profits can’t be the only driver for the private sector. If customer success is your driver, profits will follow. You also need to understand why the public sector moves slowly and deliberately to be successful in the private sector. On both sides, if your team clearly understands and buys in to your vision, then only you can succeed.
What emerging technology are you most excited about?
ChatGPT—generative AI will be huge. I just read that ClearGov is adding ChapGPT to help governments build their budget books. We should take a look at how ChatGPT can help us build our governance reports, our status reports, IT Strategic plans, etc. We should also take a look at how we can accelerate delivery using generative AI.
How do you wind down after work?
My family has a routine at home. Every day when I’m not traveling, we all have dinner together and then sit and chat for 30 minutes.
I exercise four days a week—two yoga days and two workout days. I also practice North Indian classical music and sing/play at our Hindu Temple every weekend. With other down time, I watch Netflix or listen to business books and biographies.
I also think introspection is important. I try to remember that all I can do is give 100%; the results of those efforts are out of my hands.
How do you describe what you do for a living to family and friends?
SDI does three things:
- We modernize IT.
- We run/manage IT.
- We advise our customers (about how to run/manage/modernize their own IT).
And we do this mostly for State & Local Governments and for Gas/Electric/Water Utilities.
Tell us something fun about yourself very few people know.
- I am scared of watching horror movies after dark.
- I was quite clumsy around my kids when they were growing up and injured them frequently; nothing serious thankfully.
- I am obsessed with cricket. My wife jokes that if she were dying while an India cricket game was going on, I would ask her to wait.
We’re heading into spring, what is your favorite thing about Chicago in the spring?
My favorite thing about spring is that it isn’t winter anymore. Winter is over!!!!! (Is it really?)
Interested in learning more about Hardik Bhatt and SDI? Connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
We celebrate diversity; the views expressed above are those of the interviewed individual, not SDI.