Hawaii government technology stuck in time warp

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 27, 2013 at 5:51 pm •  Published: February 27, 2013

Ideally, states should spend 3 to 5 percent of their overall budgets on information technology, he said. Hawaii's annual spending recently amounted to 1.4 percent, or about $160 million, which is less than half of what Bhagowalia says is necessary.

This year, the state is spending an additional $25 million on IT transformation initiatives. Gov. Neil Abercrombie is asking the Legislature to raise this to $60 million additional dollars for each of the next two fiscal years.

State Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he's supportive of the governor's plans, having pursued similar reforms for decades.

Previous administrations either weren't interested in spending the money or realized the need for tech investments too late in their tenure to make changes, he said.

The state Senate's experience going paperless in 2008 illustrates the potential benefits, Ige said.

Staffers who once spent most of their time copying, collating and stapling papers now focus on researching and analyzing public policy. Issues are easier to follow because keyword searches quickly locate relevant bills and documents.

The Senate is saving more than $60,000 a year with paper consumption down more than 80 percent.

Over at payroll, Fujita said computerization will free clerks to audit departments.

The problem isn't necessarily unique, Todd Sander, executive director of the Center for Digital Government, said every state has pockets of outdated technology.

Hawaii's commitment to improve earned it a B- in a survey of state government technology plans published last year by the center, a for-profit research and advisory organization based in California. The Aloha State's upgrade strategy ranks alongside six others in the middle of the pack — but ahead of 20 other states.

"The trend in Hawaii is toward continued improvement, whereas in other states, unfortunately, it's going the other way," Sander said.

Hawaii's turnabout dates to the 2010 gubernatorial campaign when Abercrombie and his major opponents all promised to upgrade technology.

After the election, a nonprofit group that had recently received a $50 million donation from eBay founder and Honolulu resident Pierre Omidyar offered to help.

A $3 million Hawaii Community Foundation grant allowed the state to quickly conduct a national search for a chief information officer and develop a 12-year transformation plan.

It's paying off, Bhagowalia says. Already, residents can register a business using a recently introduced mobile app. The state plans to launch six more apps over the next three to four months, he said, adding the plan is to make government "better, faster, and cheaper."

The change will attract money to Hawaii, he said.

"For example, why is Singapore so successful? People want to invest there because the government is effective and efficient. They're always like: 'How can we help you get what you need? Come to Singapore,' right? Same with South Korea now," Bhagowalia said. "Why not us? That's what we're trying to do here."