Let’s call it iHawaii. Decades behind in the Information Age, the state is finally getting a long overdue upgrade.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia, who was hired last summer as Hawaii’s first chief information officer, unveiled the state’s Business and Information Technology/Information Resource Management Transformation Plan Thursday at the Hawaii Convention Center.

The 1,432-page strategic plan will serve as a 12-year roadmap that guides the state out of its mostly paper-based management system and into the digital world. The multi-million-dollar initiative aims to leverage modern technologies and streamline business processes to improve the delivery of government programs and services.

A public-private partnership got the plan off the ground, but the governor said the Legislature must keep the funding flowing next session if the investment is going to pay off. It’s unclear how many millions of dollars will be requested in the budget to complete the transformation, but Abercrombie said his administration will be ready in December to make its case before lawmakers.

“We cannot afford the cost of staying 30 years behind if we expect not just to compete in the 21st Century but to participate in the 21st Century,” Abercrombie told the crowd of roughly 80 people which included department heads and lawmakers. “No more Band-Aid approaches are possible. No more short-term fixes that aren’t fixes at all.”

State lawmakers budgeted $15 million in fiscal year 2013 for “development and implementation of an integrated financial management system for the state.”

Hawaii currently spends 1.4 percent of its budget on technology, according to the state Office of Information Management and Technology website. Most other states that have undergone a similar transformation invested at least 2 to 3 percent of their budgets.

A private $3 million grant managed by the Hawaii Community Foundation paid for the new plan.1 HCF President Kelvin Taketa said the project is off to a “spectacular start” in solving what the foundation considers an equity issue.

“The citizens of the state deserve a government that’s accessible to them whether they live in Hana or Honolulu, and they should be able to get it whether they work a swing-shift job or they work from 9 to 5,” he said.

Bhagowalia, who the governor described as the “lead dog in the IT sled,” said Hawaii’s current information technology system is broken. When he started the job a year ago, he said it was even worse than he expected.

There was a 30-year-old VAX computer the state Department of Education had somehow managed to keep alive by buying parts on eBay, Bhagowalia said. He added that this was remarkable in and of itself, but an iPad was more powerful and an upgrade was seriously overdue.

Bhagowalia emphasized the need to bring Hawaii into the digital world of today so the state can succeed in the future.

A natural disaster could destroy myriad records because the state has one data center below sea level and another just a mile from the ocean, he said. The plan calls for five integrated data centers — two on Oahu and one each on Maui, Big Island and Kauai; all located at safer distances from the water — to help the state administer its 220 business functions.

Bhagowalia also touted Hawaii as a hub for future investment due to its prime geopolitical location between the mainland and emerging Asian countries.

“Just think if we’re tech-savvy in government what we could provide as services in terms of inviting businesses to come in and having a workforce that can stay here,” he said. “We are plenty akamai over here, plenty smart. We’ve got everything that we need, we just have to make the investment to make this happen.”

By January, he said, all 18 state departments will have more user-friendly websites. Essentially, Bhagowalia said, the “sucky websites” have to be replaced with “cooler websites.” A contract to develop six mobile apps over the next year has also been awarded, he said.

Public feedback on the plan when it was presented in draft form this summer was varied, but generally supportive.

Local techie Jared Kuroiwa who often delves into government transparency projects said he put a “bright highlight” over the plan’s “XML First” policy and reporting to be done by extraction of data from management tools instead of through forms or presentations.

“Just those changes will be a huge leap towards a truly seamless open data environment,” he said.

The Department of Taxation has already begun its technology transformation. State officials said in the fall of 2011, the department re-engineered its check-cashing and tax return processing methods. Nearly 2.7 million tax returns were processed within 14 days during the 2012 tax season, an increase of nearly 900,000 from 2011.

Bhagowalia’s office’s website breaks the strategic plan into three categories of activities that help achieve the transformation:

  1. Streamlining and improving current business processes and applications to directly benefit the public.

  2. Leveraging the state’s investment in shared support services and technology infrastructure.

  3. Establishing a strong organization-wide management and oversight framework, including policies, processes, performance measures, program management and organizational change management.

To read the plan in its entirety, visit oimt.hawaii.gov. Here’s the executive summary:

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