Use the Vote to Modernize Government

May 8, 2022 | Honolulu Star-Advertiser - Island Voices

By Christine Sakuda

This is a pivotal year for all Hawaii residents. We’ll be electing new government leaders as a result of reapportionment, and we’ll be deciding who will be our next governor and lieutenant governor.  
Affordable housing, homelessness, job creation, living wages, education, traffic and other platform issues are sure to top the list of prospective candidates. However, we need visionary government leaders who will also ensure government modernization is a top priority to create a more accessible, transparent, streamlined, and cost-effective government. 

The pandemic was a cathartic experience. It confirmed our state government has inefficient, outdated information technology and processes and this made us painfully aware of our systemic shortcomings.   

During the early stages of the pandemic, we saw our state’s unemployment rate skyrocket from 2% to nearly 22% in just five months, from January to May 2020. Thousands of Hawaii residents lost their jobs and struggled not only to make ends meet, but also to painstakingly navigate the unemployment insurance application process. State employees were overwhelmed with an outdated system and workflow processes that had been, to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ credit, in the initial stages of an overhaul when the pandemic wreaked havoc in our lives.  

It was a harsh wake-up call. We cannot ignore the fact that government touches the lives of so many in our community. We learned it is critical to continually invest in government modernization.   
Hawaii’s voters and taxpayers want government to work efficiently, and are willing to pay for it. In a recent poll commissioned by local nonprofit organization, Transform Hawaii Government (THG), 60% of Hawaii voters indicated they are in favor of using state tax revenue to upgrade our state government’s infrastructure so that the public can have better online access to state agencies and services.   
Adopting IT solutions — accompanied by a new way of thinking and operating —can no longer be viewed as a peripheral issue; it is key to making our state more resilient and allowing Hawaii residents to thrive.   

But big, sweeping changes take collaboration. It requires conversations, resources, and the courage to create change. 

THG has been a partner to government leaders for more than a decade, providing the resources to the state’s first comprehensive information technology plan back in 2011 and subsequent versions since then. These plans serve as a roadmap to move our state forward and are still relevant for today. 

The state IT plan represents the north star for the state chief information officer and helps provide continuity and sustained progress in addressing underlying systems that form the backbone of all government services to avoid fragmentation of technology and data.  
Individual government agencies may attempt to optimize what they have, but ultimately, the disparate systems do not work together. Silo-based band-aid solutions do not fix underlying problems and only exacerbate our state’s challenges. Inevitably, this leads to exasperation and an inability to serve Hawaii residents efficiently. It’s a never-ending, vicious cycle that can only be broken through urgent, thoughtful collaboration.  

Change is possible. THG played a key role in laying the groundwork for the recently announced $18 million state Enterprise Financial System. It will replace the state’s 45-year-old accounting system and allow different agencies to seamlessly interface with each other. This also required a corresponding investment to help state employees discover new ways of working with each other.  

Once operational, the new system will result in a better workflow, faster data-based decisions, and the elimination of unnecessary paperwork. This means no more delays on government contracts lost in the system waiting for approvals, and that translates into jobs that yield better infrastructure support for all Hawaii residents.  

Visionary government leaders who embrace government modernization are necessary to future-proof our state. This year, who we vote for on our ballots will help determine Hawaii’s future.