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State’s IT Challenges Are Daunting But Fixable

Kidani’s Korner… State Sen. Michelle Kidani

Over the past few weeks, the state Office of Information Management and Technology (OIMT) has been briefing administration and legislators on a new strategic plan that will bring Hawaii to contemporary standards in computing power and data management over the next 10-12 years.

In his presentations, the state’s chief information officer, “Sonny” Bhagowalia, has conceded that while he expected the worst when he took his new job just over a year ago, the state of our systems was even more dire than he could have imagined.

The last major investment in state information technology (IT) was in the 1970s. There is no centralized oversight of systems, resulting in tremendous duplication of effort among and even within state agencies. The current limited resources available for IT are being spent on maintenance of old hardware and software rather than upgrades to improve efficiency. He tells the story of one department scouring eBay for spare parts to keep a 30- year old system running.

OIMT is now circulating its plan to fix our 30-plus year problem with a 10- plus year investment of resources that aims to centralize state IT systems management, give the state the capability to run as efficiently as private businesses, enable our employees to be much more productive, and to provide the people of Hawaii true value in their interactions with state government. Bhagowalia rightfully labels the task “transformational.”

It has not been all assessment and planning during the first year of OIMT’s work. Nearly three dozen real improvement projects have been implemented or are currently under way. Probably the most visible of these has been in the Department of Taxation, where system upgrades have made it possible to process tax filings and deposit tax payments quicker, and to issue refunds in a matter of days rather than weeks.

Early in 2013, people who access the state’s many departmental websites will discover they have been redesigned and standardized to make them more user- friendly. OIMT also plans to redesign and upgrade the main Hawaii.gov Web portal to improve accessibility and services.

Three things are needed to make the plan succeed:

• Authority for OIMT to take command and lead the way with the clear vision that has been laid out in the strategic plan.

• Allocation of resources. The state spends about $150 million a year on IT systems, and will need to double that to about $250 million to $300 million to meet the goal. That’s an investment of only about 2-3 percent of the annual budget.

• A buy-in from state departments and IT staff to make the plan work. OIMT characterizes this as a cultural shift from a no-can-do attitude to a can-do climate.

Picture a time when the public, state employees, contractors, etc. will have 24/7/365 access to current, accurate information on a reliable, secure system through a single portal. With a commitment of state resources, it’s on the horizon.