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CBS 2 Investigates: Old Computers Causing Big Problems For Illinois State Offices

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The 2 Investigators are digging into a looming crisis here in Illinois.

We can see the crumbling roads and bridges because of a cash shortage, but also hidden inside state office buildings are aging and obsolete computers that are prone to problems.

CBS 2's Dorothy Tucker asked the top tech guy in Illinois the tough questions.

Ron Guerrier showed Tucker around the Thompson Center offices of state's Department of Innovation and Technology, where he is in charge.

Workers there have state-of-the-art equipment, but behind the scenes, the mainframes that power many systems are not so current at all.

"The systems are old," Guerrier said. "Some of them are 30-plus years old."

Thirty years ago, President George H.W. Bush – President Bush Sr. – had just taken the oath of office as president, and Richard M. Daley had just taken office as Chicago's mayor. Computers were large and bulky and had drives for floppy disks.

Some computer systems that old are still in use by the State of Illinois.

"In the state, there are systems that are well over their shelf life," Guerrier said.

Why are we telling you this? You will remember a few weeks ago on July 10, computers for the state's unemployment department stopped working – inconveniencing tens of thousands.

"One of the reasons this happened that had such a ripple effect is the antiquated systems are a lot older than we anticipated, so if you make a change here, it has an adverse effect on other systems around it," Guerrier said.

He said such a thing could indeed happen again.

"It may happen again, but every time something happens, we want to learn from it so that one particular issue does not reoccur," Guerrier said.

The Illinois Secretary of State's computers suffered an outage back in January, causing major headaches for those needing to obtain or renew their driver's licenses.

Tucker asked Guerrier about that shutdown.

"That I can't speak to, because the Secretary of State has his own CIO," he said.

Of the five top elected officials in Illinois – Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Secretary of State Jesse White, Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Treasurer Michael Frerichs, and Comptroller Susana Mendoza – all but Mendoza have chief information officers right now.

But do they communicate with one another? Long story short, the answer is no.

"The idea is that we're going to have more discussions. Historically, the four CIOs have never spoken to each other," Guerrier said. "We are bringing that together."

He said the CIOs are now scheduled to meet soon.

Part of the issue is money, of course. New computers are not cheap.

But it's also an aging workforce. As older state employees retire, they take the institutional knowledge of keeping old systems running with them.

"How do you get a millennial to get excited about a mainframe – which is a challenge? Because at the end of the day, they want to work on the new, cool, exciting stuff. They don't want to work on an old green screen," Guerrier said. "Unfortunately, what we have today are old green screens."

But this story is not all doom and gloom. Guerrier has some solutions to try to bring Illinois' computers into the 21st century.

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