From government payrolls to income tax, camping permits to prisoner transport, schoolteachers to search and rescue, Hawaii government permeates every puka on every island. It’s also the state’s largest employer, with 75,000 full- and part-time workers across the state. Your Medicaid card, marriage certificate and your employer’s business registration were all issued by the state. Librarians, health care providers, teachers, judges — chances are you know a state government worker. “Everyone from children to adults, urban to rural, receives benefits from government,” says Christine Sakuda, executive director of Transform Hawaii Government. “So it’s incumbent upon us to make sure those services are provided in the best way possible.”
Sakuda would know. Transform Hawaii Government, initially funded in 2011 by the Omidyar Ohana and the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Technology Transformation Funds, is tasked with bringing government infrastructure into the 21st century. Imagine going online to one portal for all government business, from paying taxes to getting camping permits. What if North Shore and Neighbor Island residents could skip the hassle of going to Honolulu for state business, handling it instead from their home computers, cup of coffee in hand? Imagine the time saved if all state agencies tapped into the same systems, making it possible to integrate business functions and avoid all of the hassles of going from one agency to another.
Today, more than 400 information technology projects are underway in the governor’s office and throughout state agencies. Grounded in the premise that an informed and empowered public is essential to a successful IT transformation, the project’s first steps include listening to the community and understanding the layers of needs and interconnectivity. Its ultimate goal: empower state employees to be more efficient and effective; promote a transparent and responsive state government; and ensure that current and comprehensive data are easily accessible so that citizens, communities and state leadership can make informed decisions for Hawaii’s future.
With the advocacy of the program and its coalition, the development of the state government’s strategic IT plan is underway. “The plan is intended to provide a unifying vision or ‘North Star’ of where the state needs to go, what the guiding principles are and what we need to get there,” Sakuda says. She’s quite clear on the urgency: “People naturally expect services to be online. If the old systems break down without a modern replacement, the delivery of state services will be delayed, and the people of Hawaii deserve better.”
Sakuda advocates for technology upgrades in every corner of the state’s many departments and programs, focusing first on projects like tax and payroll and coordinating care for the homeless. “We depend on state services, in good and bad times. So it’s important for the state, like any business, to deliver as best and seamlessly as it can,” she says.
The group’s watchdog posture ensures that the work continues regardless of changes in administration or the Legislature. They are not doing it alone, however. A coalition of stakeholders — including leaders from the state’s health care sector, unions including the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA), financial sector and nonprofits like the Hawaii Community Foundation — bring their diverse experiences, resources and commitment to the project’s success.
For technology to work, people have to embrace it, and the success of state modernization efforts relies on a dedicated workforce transforming right alongside the technology. One Shared Future is training staff in a skills-based professional development curriculum, readying the state workforce for modernization, from small changes to transformative shifts. “The state’s biggest asset is its people. Providing better service to citizens is based on having the right tools and state employees who know how to use them,” Sakuda says.
“Because the state is such a large and complex business, it has potential to be the perfect place to learn relevant skills and gain professional development,” she says. “We want the best and brightest in those positions.” Sakuda envisions a future where state government provides meaningful, efficient services to the community, which in turn, takes that excellence into their own services and outreach.
“The Hawaii I’d like to see would have an optimal top-performing state government,” she says, while at the same time, acknowledging the challenge. “It’s not a fast or easy road. But it’s an exciting one.”
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Giving to Make Hawaii More Efficient
1) Help Transform Hawaii Government directly:
Tell them your ideas! You can also advocate to your legislator or submit a letter of support to a newspaper or other media channel. Visit “TransformHawaiiGov.org" to find out more.
2) Help a nonprofit “Level-Up”:
Gifts of various sizes can make a huge impact on an organization’s ability to fulfill their mission. You could direct your giving to provide replacement computers, grant-writing services, or leadership development courses for the staff of your favorite nonprofit. Or maybe you want to give memberships to organizations like Catchafire, a matchmaking service for skilled volunteers to help with bookkeeping, marketing and strategic planning. Some givers contribute without restrictions to already high-performing nonprofits through the FLEX Grants program at the Hawaii Community Foundation because they trust that the gift will be used wisely.
It’s your choice, and whatever you choose, you can feel good, knowing you’re part of a more efficient, more effective, and more sustainable Hawaii today and in the future.
Visit TransformHawaiiGov.org to find out more.