Government Modernization Requires An Amazon Prime Mindset - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Christine Sakuda

Christine Maii Sakuda is the executive director of Transform Hawaii Government.

Much of Hawaii state government still uses old computers and technology systems that rely on manual processes.

Technology can do amazing things. Cars can parallel park themselves. We can order everything online, from groceries to running shoes to computer games, and they are delivered to our front door within days. We meet face-to-face over our computers multiple times a day, a feat once reserved only for science fiction.

The list goes on. As technology continues to rapidly evolve, our expectations as consumers also increase.

Those expectations don’t stop with government services. We demand the same degree of efficiency, speed, and convenience from state government to make our lives easier. And that’s the rub. We’re all painfully aware the services of Hawaii state government are not at the same level as the private sector. Hawaii is not alone; other states are struggling with the same issue.

It may be tempting to throw up our hands in exasperation or frustration or unjustly blame “state workers” for the way things are, but these are symptoms of broader, systemic issues that require a shift in the way we think about and approach innovation and technology.

Transform Hawaii Government, a nonprofit organization that partners with state government leaders to help advance modernization, recently released a report that assessed the progress of modernization of the business services of our state government. It was the first such study of its kind and offered valuable insights into Hawaii government.

Modern computer and technology systems are used widely, but Hawaii government lags behind. (Getty Images/2021)

Based on in-depth, candid interviews with nearly 100 state leaders and employees across 18 departments, we learned state leaders want the tools to address the fast pace of change to deliver the kind of customer service we all demand as citizens, but state leaders are often hampered by technological constraints. State leaders also have a strong desire to collaborate across departments and with the community, but often run into technological roadblocks.

Although there are bright spots and progress in government modernization, much of Hawaii state government still uses old computers and technology systems that rely on manual processes. The main backbone financial system to manage our state’s $14 billion budget is 50 years old. That’s like trying to be efficient using manual typewriters.

It’s About Proper Governance

There is a deeper reason modernization is important for our state beyond better service for citizens and reducing the costs for redundancies that must be borne by Hawaii taxpayers. Replacing legacy systems with updated systems allows our leaders to govern properly.

Modern systems eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic processes and silos within government. This improves support for private-sector businesses that generate state tax revenue. Nonprofit organizations with state contracts can deliver essential social services and get paid in a timelier manner.

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With modernized systems, elected officials can also have access to critical data to effectively tackle pressing issues such as food security, homelessness, and health disparities using real-time data to make informed policy decisions and equitable laws that can put our state on a better trajectory. Easily accessible data will take the guesswork, intuition, and optics out of the decision-making equation.

The study showed modernization requires a significant investment of state resources, which is not always viewed as a top priority. While legislative budget allocations have been made for systems upgrades in the past, it is not always easy to build a compelling case to fund something that is not particularly newsworthy or “sexy.” It’s the same with plumbing. We all need it but don’t think about it until our toilet doesn’t flush.

There is also a lack of appreciation for the rapidly evolving nature of technology. Keeping up with technology requires much more than a one-time capital expenditure; it requires recurring investment. Ongoing maintenance, migration to cloud-based solutions, and software licenses or subscriptions can easily add up to millions of dollars — costs that most are not passionate about spending since these things are out of sight, and therefore out of mind even for lawmakers.

It often takes a crisis to get everyone’s attention.

It is similar to the way our state allocates funds to build new buildings, but provides inadequate resources for their upkeep. These state buildings suffer from deferred maintenance until they literally collapse. In the same way, technology systems without ongoing maintenance built into future budgets encourage resourceful employees to develop shadow workarounds to make sure the system chugs along. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult for different state agencies to interact with each other, creating silos that make data sharing and cross-functional collaboration virtually impossible.

As we witnessed with the unemployment insurance system during the pandemic, it often takes a crisis to get everyone’s attention. Unfortunately, history shows inadequate systems come crashing down at a time when the services they are meant to provide are needed most.

Even when funding is available for technology upgrades, government leaders shared that not enough attention is given to the need for corresponding change management, which focuses on the people aspects of change. For technology changes to be effective, employees who are end-users of that technology need to be involved from the very beginning of the modernization effort, providing input into what will work or not work and to revise work practices or policies that may no longer be necessary. Investing in training for employees to ensure they have the skills to work with new systems is also important.

Clearly, modernization is complex. It is not an overnight process. Transform Hawaii Government has worked closely with state leaders through different administrations for the past decade. It is not always easy, but we believe this work is important for our state, and we will continue to invest time and resources to move Hawaii forward so that we can all thrive.

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About the Author

Christine Sakuda

Christine Maii Sakuda is the executive director of Transform Hawaii Government.

Latest Comments (0)

I'm glad that Transform Hawaii Government provides an ongoing presence and continuity to the effort of upgrading the state's IT systems, even as the civil servants and elected officials change continuously.

CaptainMandrake · 1 month ago

Modernization is an operational activity. What’s missing is vision. We don’t want to retrofit old plumbing. We need to invest in a technical architecture that advances societal engagement with state government.What does that look like? That is the "sexy" policymaking that the Legislature should work with the executive branch to invest in in the same way bold goals for energy and sustainability were set.Some outdated services can be scrubbed. Requirements have changed. Rainy days have come and gone.Power and politics- these 2 synergistic companions could move this issue if desired.

Jessie_3333 · 1 month ago

I’m sure there are govt. depts. & services that could definitely be streamlined by use of technology. But there will always be those offices/services that can modernize/automate only so much. And it’s not the fault of administrators, front line workers or the union. I’m talking about those services which are heavily utilized by folks who are one or more of the following: low income, homeless, limited/no access to the internet, limited English proficiency, having special needs or requiring accommodations, etc. A commercial business like Amazon is not obligated/expected to provide service to disadvantaged segments of the population. For example, private businesses can go exclusively with online appointment systems & dispense with workers doing it manually, in order to save on labor costs. But if city/state offices do the same, & someone from one of the disadvantaged groups experiences difficulties & hence, are denied public services,…well, I can imagine the field day that the local media will be having, covering those types of stories.So yes, our state govt. should embrace & invest in new technology, but b/c of the wide range of people needing help, don’t expect Amazon 2.0.

KalihiValleyHermit · 1 month ago

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