Editor’s note: Civil Beat’s Nanea Kalani interviewed Sonny Bhagowalia on Sept. 13. Watch a video of the conversation below.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie described Hawaii as “entering the 21st century” when announcing the hiring of Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia as the state’s first chief information officer in June.

Bhagowalia heads the state’s newly formed Office of Information Management and Technology1. He officially came on board July 6.

Abercrombie has laid out an ambitious mission for Bhagowalia: “Transform Hawaii’s outdated technology infrastructure into a modern system that will make government more efficient and improve services for the people of Hawaii.”

UPDATE: The video below is a recording of the live interview held in Civil Beat’s newsroom on Sept. 13.

  1. Disclosure: The Office of Information Management and Technology was funded in part with a $3 million grant from the Omidyar Ohana Fund, a donor advised fund established at the Hawaii Community Foundation through the support of Pierre Omidyar, publisher of Civil Beat, and his wife, Pam.

Meet Sonny Bhagowalia

Bhagowalia has previously held federal and corporate CIO positions. He most recently was deputy associate administrator for the Office of Citizen Services and Technology at the U.S. General Services Administration in Washington, D.C.

He previously was CIO of the U.S. Department of the Interior. In that role, he oversaw an information technology portfolio worth approximately $1
billion. He also served as the CIO for the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Department of the Interior. Bhagowalia was an Information Technology Program Management Executive for the FBI before that.

Before joining the public sector, Bhagowalia worked for 14 years at Boeing. He served as a senior principal engineer in the prestigious Boeing Technical Excellence Fellowship Program.

He holds an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and two master’s degrees, one in information resource management and another in electrical engineering. Bhagowalia also holds a CIO certificate from the National Defense University.

Initial Questions

Here are the initial questions we thought people might have for Bhagowalia.

1. What’s the ultimate goal of Hawaii’s Office of Information Management and Technology?

The ultimate goal for the Office of Information Management and Technology (OIMT) is to provide the long-term strategic direction for the State of Hawaii’s information technology (IT) and information resource management (IRM), which includes developing IT strategic plans, IT governance and technology standards. That all leads up to transforming the State’s IT infrastructure and systems, and ultimately how government business can be conducted in a digital and mobile environment.

It’s a huge undertaking and one that won’t be fixed overnight. We’re in the first phase right now — assessing the current state of IT throughout the departments. We’re listening to their concerns, the issues they face and what their information and technology needs are.

This work by OIMT is part of Gov. Abercrombie’s administration’s efforts to transform how government works. In the case of IT and IRM, that means reducing costs, fostering innovation, providing convenient services to taxpayers, making government more accessible and transparent, ensured security with minimal disruption to users, and more closely aligning information technology with the business needs of the state.

2. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve identified for Hawaii?

Hawaii has struggled to keep pace with emerging technologies due to the economic turndown and budget cuts the State has faced. Consequently, there are areas where we are up to two decades behind, using manual and paper processes, and other older technologies. But the employees have been doing an amazing job keeping things running given their limited resources.

The State’s current IT environment presents us a number of opportunities to implement many technologies that are now available, such as cloud computing, open source collaboration tools, secure mobile computing, Web 2.0/3.0, and enterprise solutions, which will help leap frog our technology into the future.

3. What are some experiences you’ve had in the past that you think could benefit Hawaii?

Overall, I think my experience in private industry and at the Federal level in building systems and processes that improve integration and interoperability between the departments, and providing government services to citizens digitally will help at the State level.

For instance, while at the Department of Interior, I worked collaboratively with 13 bureaus and office CIOs to develop a unifying vision, mission, goals and objectives with 12 different plans. We facilitated a turn-around in teamwork from a fragmented and uncollaborative department to a relatively synergistic enterprise.

At the General Services Administration, I led the efforts to help the Federal CIO implement government-wide e-Gov/Open Gov programs in an agile manner. These programs included Data.gov, the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative, FEDSPACE (a government-wide collaboration portal), mobile applications, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, and FEDRAMP (cloud security).

4. Technology purchases have been deferred by the state to save money. But have you identified places where technology purchases could instead save money in a relatively short time?

We’re still awaiting the final findings of the baseline assessment to determine specific areas for cost-savings. However, from my past experience there are certainly areas where economies of scale would benefit all departments across the State. For example, the State could leverage enterprise licensing agreements for software, indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) or blanket purchase agreements for hardware, and unified contracts for services across all departments for savings.

There could also be other areas where cost-savings can be realized other than direct IT acquisitions, such as increasing web-enabled public interfaces or digital (paperless) processes, which would help reduce hard costs for paper, power and other related expenses.

5. We’ve heard a lot about outdated technology in Hawaii state government, including some employees still using decades-old Wang computers. Before you came on board, the Office of Information Management and Technology was charged with doing a thorough analysis of the state’s technology infrastructure. What’s the latest with that?

As mentioned earlier, we are still in the first phase of this multi-year technology transformation. The baseline assessment is in its last stages and we anticipate receiving the full report by the end of September. From there we will create the strategic plan and IT transformation roadmap.

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