When Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia starts his new job in July as the Hawaii state government’s first chief information officer, he’ll have a big undertaking ahead of him.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie says Bhagowalia is charged with “transforming Hawaii’s outdated technology infrastructure.”

For starters, here are just three examples the administration says highlight just how outdated the systems are:

  • Because Hawaii doesn’t have a data center, the Department of Accounting and General Services trucks back-up tapes to an archives building for safekeeping daily
  • Some state employees are still using decades-old Wang computers
  • The state prints 9,000 unemployment checks weekly, versus making electronic payments

“When (I) took office it was clear, it rose to the top, that IT was malfunctioning in the state,” said Comptroller Bruce Coppa. “It really is a new day, and it’s on the track to be a new day for getting business done in the state of Hawaii.”

Abercrombie named Bhagowalia Tuesday, while also signing House Bill 1060, creating the Office of Information Management and Technology.

“We’re entering the 21st century, officially, today on the seventh day of June,” Abercrombie said. He noted that prior to Bhagowalia’s appointment, he believes Hawaii was the only state without a CIO.

Abercrombie said in a prepared statement that the office will create a modernized IT system that will “enable and enhance the delivery of government services, provide greater accountability for data and spending, enhance security and backup measures, and reduce energy usage.”

State Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young said the state lacks basic financial reporting capabilities and that he’s “hopeful the naming of a CIO would immediately move the state more in a direction of functionality.”

Bhagowalia, who will be paid a salary of $179,700, has previously held federal and corporate CIO positions. He currently is deputy associate administrator for the Office of Citizen Services and Technology at the U.S. General Services Administration in Washington, D.C. He’s held other positions with the U.S. Department of the Interior, FBI and Boeing Information Services. Bhagowalia was vetted by a panel that included state CIOs from Louisiana and Utah.

Abercrombie said Bhagowalia won’t have to start from scratch when he starts on July 6. The Office of Information Management and Technology has hired a consultant and started an analysis of the state’s technology infrastructure with the aim of pointing out the strengths and challenges. California-based Science Applications International Corp. was hired for the job.

Coppa said the analysis will include figuring out where departments are experiencing gaps between technology and attaining business objectives.

The public may also see some government services moved online, such as automating tax collections, making it easier to e-file tax returns, and paying vendors through Electronic Funds Transfer payments.

The ultimate plan is to present to the Legislature in January a complete strategic plan and price tag. Abercrombie noted that the overhaul will not be paid for through individual departments’ operating budgets, but instead as a capital improvement project.

When asked if poor management has contributed to the state’s technology challenges, Abercrombie said it had more to with the fact that technology has “evolved so quickly, rapidly and profoundly.”

HB 1060 appropriates $1.2 million for the OIMT office in fiscal 2012. That money is in addition to a $3 million grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation. That grant was made available through the support of Pierre Omidyar, publisher of Civil Beat, and his wife, Pam.

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