State Preps IT Coalition, Open Data Platform

Transforming Government

On Friday, State CIO Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia and the Office of the Governor called together several community stakeholders to update them on their ongoing initiative to transform government. The presentation came just as the state selected Socrata for its open data platform. Contrasted against the passage of SB2858, it made for an interesting week in government reform.

I was glad for the chance to attend Bhagowalia’s presentation, especially given the caliber of others in attendance. Much of the work to date was made possible through the financial backing of the Hawaii Community Foundation, and HCF president and CEO Kelvin Taketa was there to set the stage. Other groups represented included the Hawaii Business Roundtable (HBR), the High Technology Development Corporation (HTDC), Enterprise Honolulu, the Kauai Economic Development Board (KEDB), the Healthcare Association of Hawaii (HAH), HMSA, and First Hawaiian Bank.

Of course, there were many friends there as well, including Burt Lum, Dan Leuck of TechHui, Jay Fidell from Think Tech Hawaii, Forrest Frizzell from the City & County of Honolulu’s Department of Information Technology, and Jared Kuroiwa of Oceanic (but better known for independent, pro-civic affairs hacking). It was also great to see Ricky Li, now part of the governor’s communications team, as well as Keith DeMello, with whom I worked at Ka Leo more than 20 years ago.

Taketa noted that the HCF had been working with the governor’s office on a tech transformation initiative since Gov. Abercrombie took office, with $4.1 million in backing from the Omidyar Foundation. The money provided for staffing, including Bhagowalia’s position, and so far two major projects: a baseline assessment [PDF] of existing government IT, and now, the development of a 10-year strategic plan.

“We saw a this as a chronic issue affecting the effectiveness of government,” he said. “We also saw it as an equity issue: access to government benefits and services being limited because of the inability of the government to provide 24/7 access to services, especially for rural communities.”

Of course, the funds will only last through next July. And that’s why the group was convened.

“This is a long-term effort, and the energy for its continuation has to come from the consumers of government services, the interests that you represent, to make sure that this happens,” he said.

Then came Bhagowalia’s presentation, “Transforming Government through Business and Information Technology (IT)/Information Resource Management,” the slides from which I’ve embedded below.

He opened by retelling the story of how he was lured to Hawaii from his federal post, thinking the first email was an incredibly sophisticated spear phishing attempt, and how his boss said, “If you’re not going, I’m going.” Then he got down to business, sharing the results of his extensive meetings with every department, getting a solid picture of what IT there was in state government.

“There is nothing like pressing the flesh, and we collected over 1,500 pages of notes,” he said.

Throughout state government, IT involves more than $157.5 million in budget, and carries a staff of 746 (out of 14,000). In addition to countless inefficient manual systems, the assessment found over 700 different applications (and dozens more by the week) across the state government’s 200 lines of business. There were wide funding disparities, and a lot of duplicated effort.

“We are 20-30 years behind,” Bhagowalia said, noting that he even found a 20-year-old VAX system in the Department of Education that was being kept alive through sourcing old parts on eBay. He added: “Within a mile of this building, there are four data centers below sea level, and we’re storing backup data/tapes in the flood zone.”

But Bhagowalia said several times that we can now jump to the leading edge. He was bullish on tablets, and on the cloud, remarking that the timing is such that the state could effectively skip an entire generation of computing.

“The tablet will replace the computer in three years. The world is going IP, as a utility. The promise of Hawaii is that we can catapult directly to the front — we can leapfrog directly from mainframes to modern technology,” he said. “By July, we will publish a State Strategic Plan, and for the first time we will make sure all department plans are aligned. In ten years, we want to have one network, one computing environment, with five sigma (99.999%) reliability.”

And Bhagowalia said that open data was one of the key ways that Hawaii could distinguish itself as a national leader, announcing that the state had selected Socrata to provide a platform through which all state agencies would be able to make information available to the public through a web portal and robust APIs.

(Open data is one of my personal obsessions, of course, and my day job is at Hawaii Information Service, which is similarly focused on public records. Now Burt Lum and I, as Hawaii Open Data, will be working with Socrata as part of a geek ground team.)

Noting that most people have phones, but not necessarily computers, Dan Leuck asked Bhagowalia if he’d consider a “mobile first” strategy. Bhagowalia said that mobile was absolutely a priority, “along with ‘cloud first’ and ‘XML first.'”

Gov. Abercrombie spoke of a recent visit to Searider Productions at Waianae High School. “Kids are way ahead,” he said. “It’s the school and our infrastructure that is way behind.”

“Government does not have a monopoly on the best ideas,” Bhagowalia concluded, explaining why we were all called to the governor’s office. “We’re forming a stakeholder group, and as we present the strategic plan, we want to know what you think are the most important priorities, and how we should go about it.”

The group was dubbed the “Make IT Happen Coalition,” and the governor’s office said that its membership would grow, and be called upon for feedback and community support. A website and social media presence is already in the works.

The state also set up a feedback crowdsourcing site at Using the Ideascale system, people can suggest, review, and vote up ideas to shape the state’s technology transformation strategy. And that’s where the first draft of the strategic plan has now been posted.

Here are the slides from Bhagowalia’s presentation:

And here are some photos from the meeting:

2 Responses

  1. Daniel Leuck says:

    As always, this is great coverage of the event. Nicely done. I’m very happy Sonny has committed to mobile first and cloud first. We have long advocated for both of these strategies.

  1. June 29, 2015

    […] the new office came the state’s first Chief Information Officer, Sonny Bhagowalia, who led an ambitious effort to transform the state’s technology and business […]

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