21st-century government requires a long-term commitment

Feb 7, 2021 | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

By Christine Sakuda

Like many business and community leaders across the islands, I was eager to hear Gov. David Ige present his State of the State address on Jan. 25. My hope was that more details would be shared on how Hawaii would bring its economy back.

Unfortunately, many media outlets and political pundits felt the governor’s speech fell short of that hope. I, too, anticipated more specifics and a clearer plan to move our state forward again. One bright spot in his remarks was his recommitment to a more digital economy. This is a promise he made when he was elected to lead our state six years ago. Now is the time to start putting words into action to take Hawaii further.

As the executive director of Transform Hawai‘i Government (THG), a nonprofit organization focused on catalyzing support and momentum to realize a 21st century tech-enabled digital government, we advocate for an accessible, accountable and responsive state government that leverages technology to help citizens, communities, and businesses throughout Hawaii to thrive.

The pandemic has revealed cracks in the state’s infrastructure that debilitates quick and convenient access to government services, while at the same time challenging leaders to make informed decisions due to a lack of real time data available to them.

Building a successful digital future for Hawaii is dependent upon a state government that invests in building its own strong infrastructure in a way that is responsive to community needs. Collaboration and transparency between the public and the private sector are key to building a stronger resiliency. Ultimately, we the people will reap the benefits of a state that has invested in itself to build up the integrity of its infrastructure.

The deficiencies of the state’s neglected and aging IT platforms have become painfully obvious over the last 10 months. Take the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR), which was nearly paralyzed trying to issue unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to thousands of Hawaii residents. The more-than-40-year-old computer system was overwhelmed by the sudden explosion in claims. This resulted in delays in sending UI checks to beneficiaries and put a dedicated state workforce, trying their best to do their jobs with insufficient technology, at odds with frustrated residents.

Would a modernized UI system been able to stand up to the COVID challenge with perfection? Probably not. However, I can assure you it would have allowed those resolving the issues to respond more quickly and effectively to the unexpected swell of claims.

Realizing a digital government in service of the community will take collective action: a long-term commitment to infrastructure investment, a lot of political will, cultural change in the way the people inside government work, support for change from external partners, and significant funding.

Transformation is bigger than any one governor, administration or elected term. It is about the collective commitment we have as a society.

We cannot afford to wait until the next disaster to build a solid foundation. THG understands that implementing and integrating IT systems across all departments takes commitment, time and investment in the people who use the technology, as well as the technology needed itself.

We seek to accelerate this transformation to build a thriving and resilient Hawaii, which includes support to expand the state’s critically important broadband infrastructure.

I’m invigorated knowing the state is thinking intentionally about its future in a digitally-focused way. I encourage you to join our coalition of more than 200 members as we continue to collaborate with stakeholders inside and outside of government to move Hawaii toward a more modernized future.

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