The effort to drag Hawaii’s state government into the 21st century is taking decades, but information technology advocates are seeing signs of progress.

A few key bills are moving through the Legislature, including one to create a chief data officer and a data task force and another that would require the state to update and review its information technology plan every four years.

There’s still far to go: The state’s level of information technology competence has been called “medieval” by Hawaii Business and “ancient” by the Washington Post.

Christine Sakuda is the executive director of Transform Hawaii Government.

“The systems are archaic, old and really need to be modernized,” said Christine Sakuda, executive director of Transform Hawaii Government, a nonprofit that promotes better technological skills in state agencies. “Many of the departments’ critical systems — what the government needs to perform vital services — is decades old and dated.”

One initiative by Gov. David Ige, launched early in his administration, has come to fruition. In January, the state shifted from a 50-year-old system of paper payment statements for state workers to electronic payment, allowing more than 20,000 employees to have direct-deposit at their banks. The payroll system issued checks for 66,182 employees.

“It’s really streamlined it and made it more efficient,” Sakuda said.

Sakuda is championing several bills she hopes will push things forward.

House Bill 532, for example, establishes a new post of chief data officer and a data task force in the Office of Enterprise Technology to help all the agencies update and manage data. It is moving forward in the Legislature, along with a parallel bill, Senate Bill 1001.

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Sen. Glenn Wakai, a member of the Senate Technology Committee and the sponsor of SB 1001, said he believed the measure, in one form or another, would have significant public benefits because it is difficult for any single department to keep abreast of ever-changing technological innovations.

“There are so many opportunities for data analytics to spur and inform efficient and prudent decision-making, but often our public sector leaders are not up-to-speed with the latest advances,” he said in an email.

Until January when a new electronic payroll system went into effect, Hawaii still issued paper paychecks to state workers.

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Since it is impossible for each agency to hire data experts, a person serving as chief data officer for the state could provide that expertise for others, Wakai said.

The proposed legislation would also establish a data task force that would bring together representatives from various parts of the government to share information and establish state data-management procedures. The panel would include members from the judiciary, the health department, human services and other sectors, and also include two four members of the public.

“The task force was conceived as a method of ensuring the CDO is not operating in a silo, and relevant stakeholders are vested in the process from the beginning,” he said.

Wakai identified two sticking points so far. The Senate version of the bill proposed that the group should be composed of 12 members. But in the House, the number was reduced to eight. Although he sponsored the Senate version, Wakai said he agreed that eight members would be the right number.

The other obstacle, he said, is the cost, estimating the new enterprise would cost between $100,000 and $150,000 annually.

The state Office of Information Practices has also endorsed the bill.

“Everybody supports it,” said Jennifer Brooks, an OIP staff attorney.

Sakuda said she is seeing an evolution in thinking about the state’s need to sharpen its information technology skills.

“There’s an understanding by the Legislature of the need for leadership resources for the journey to becoming a digital government,” she said.

A second set of bills — Senate Bill 219 and House Bill 531 — would require the Office of Enterprise Technology Service’s chief information officer to update the state’s data plan every four years, which would allow deliberations to occur in a more timely manner. Both have made substantial progress toward passage.

Meanwhile, technology advocates are also applauding the appointment of a new chief information officer at the Department of Accounting and General Services, Douglas Murdock, who was confirmed on March 27.

Murdock, a former Air Force judge advocate, had previously served as state comptroller and director of DAGS, where he was involved in planning the overhaul of the state’s outdated payroll system.

Murdock told lawmakers he intends to continue to develop the state’s human resource management system to track employees’ time and attendance. He said he will implement new employee recruitment technologies and build cybersecurity awareness throughout the state government.

Sakuda testified in support of Murdock’s nomination, noting that he had independently begun participating last year on a task force developing the state’s information technology strategic plan.

“It is highly encouraging that Mr. Murdock serves on a working group convened last year to begin the plan’s development, and since his appointment this year has expressed support for its completion,” she wrote. “Such a plan will serve as a ‘North Star’ roadmap to chart the course for state IT and data across all state agencies over several years.”

The Hawaii Community Foundation’s Omidyar Ohana Fund supports Transform Hawaii Government. Pierre Omidyar is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat.

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