Christine Sakuda wants to modernize state’s IT infrastructure

Nov 22, 2018 | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

By Maureen O’Connell

Hawaii still lags decades behind other states in tapping information technology as a means to step up transparency and speed responsiveness in state government operations.

But progress is in the works, according to Transform Hawaii Government (THG), a nonprofit coalition that advocates for tech upgrades, along with the phasing out of antiquated IT infrastructure, for the sake of improved public service.

“A modern IT system would significantly improve how the state manages its $14.4 billion annual budget, creating benefits for everyone,” said Christine Sakuda, THG’s executive director.

Prior to joining the coalition last year, Sakuda served as executive director for the Hawaii Health Information Exchange (not to be confused with the Hawaii Health Connector), where she devoted much of her time to transforming the wayhealth care data is delivered. Before that, she was the information officer and telehealth director at the Hawaii Primary Care Association.

“These experiences instilled in me an appreciation for the value of partnerships, trust and the potential of data as a major strategic asset,” Sakuda said.

“With the growing ubiquity of technology and the data it generates, citizens’ expectations of accessibility of government services, online and real-time, are at an all-time high, but data will not be shared unless a trusted framework between data owners and users is established.”

Sakuda, who has called Hawaii home since she was a toddler, holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Santa Clara University, and an MBA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Business Administration. She picked up much of her tech savvy on the job, spurred on by the challenge of “figuring out how it could help solve problems.”

The next talk story event in THG’s ongoing speaker series is slated for 8:15 a.m. Tuesday at Impact Hub Honolulu, 1050 Queen St. “Transforming Hawaii’s School Facilities Through Digital Platforms and Innovative Procurement” will detail the state’s effort to use data to further efficiency and progress toward cooling school classrooms.

Question: Why is IT-focused government transformation needed in the islands?

Answer: It’s more than just modernizing for the sake of modernizing. We advocate improving Hawaii government’s business practices and ways of doing business; this often includes adopting newer technology, but modernizing processes is key.

This benefits government leaders and employees by improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness and ensuring they have access to reliable information and data to make informed decisions. It benefits the public by ensuring government services are streamlined, integrated and delivered in ways that exceed the expectations of citizens and the needs of Hawaii’s businesses.

Q: What’s your take on where the effort stands now?

A: Nearly seven years ago, the state unveiled a proposal to modernize its information technology systems and processes. This IT transformation plan promised “a future state that includes faster, better and easier access to government information and services.”

Although not formally adopted, several components of the plan have progressed under the last two adminis- trations. Under the leadership of state Chief Information Officer (CIO) Todd Nacapuy, who was appointed by Gov. David Ige in 2015, the state hardened its core IT infrastructure, and as a result the state government network is now much more stable and resilient.

… We applaud the 2018 Legislature for passing HCR 94 to request an updated “State Information Technology Strategic Plan,” which is now being developed with input from the Ige administration, state IT Steering Committee, and a public-private work group. What is very exciting is that the updated IT Strategic Plan will outline the big-picture vision, goals and objectives to help enable the state’s departments to work together in a coordinated fashion to truly leverage economies of scale — like few entities other than governments are able to do — and finally to establish an official data strategy.

Q: Why has it been so difficult for Hawaii to make progress?

A: Some of the biggest challenges to modernizing state government are the sheer number of systems and the wide area of functions involved. In a baseline assessment conducted seven years ago, 743 systems were identified as paper-based and inefficient. … Every department is different with varying needs, and state government is still very decentralized when it comes to technology.

Another factor is the length of time it often takes to implement major IT overhauls; it does not optimally fit the state’s two-year, biennial budget process.

Q: How much paper-based work still needs to move online?

A: While progress has been made in some areas, Hawaii remains decades behind other states in many information technology and business process capabilities. … The state has made great progress in implementing more electronic alternatives to paper-based processes, but the reality is paper will be part of the mix for quite a while.

One of Gov. Ige’s first goals for his administration was to transform government into a more paperless and digital process.

In July, the state Office of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) announced that a six-month paper-reduction pilot program involving nine state departments reduced paper use by 20 percent, which translates to a savings of 1 million sheets of printed paper. According to the office, one of the ways they reduced paper usage was transitioning departments into producing electronic reports instead of printing hard-copy documents. The office projects a savings of $500,000 and 10 million sheets of printed paper over the next three years.

Q: What do you see as THG’s top few highlights during your first year?

A: When I accepted the position of executive director, I wanted to bring more tangible opportunities to our coalition members to engage in transforming government.

That’s why we launched our speaker series this summer, which has succeeded in doing exactly that. Going into 2019, we intend to raise our speaker series to the next level by hosting more panel discussions that move the discussion forward.

Another accomplishment in 2018 was our successful advocacy for an update to the state’s IT strategic plan. … placing responsibility for its development on the IT Steering Committee, of which I am a member. The committee has been meeting and working with ETS this year to complete the plan with strong recommendations for the Legislature and the governor to consider going into the 2019 legislative session.

Q: What issues will be on your 2019 priority legislation list at the state Capitol?

A: Our legislative focus will be to support the elements of the state’s IT Strategic Plan, once it’s submitted, especially in those areas where we can facilitate efforts around data as well as IT workforce development. We anticipate a renewed emphasis on data, in terms of how the state manages and uses data and how it makes it accessible to the public.

Q: Other goals on the horizon?

A: We hope to directly provide help and resources to the state in real, tangible ways that go beyond advocacy. This may include funding high-impact initiatives (such as IT-centered professional development opportunities for public sector employees) … or key positions. … Of course, this would need to be in areas that will move the needle toward greater efficiency, effectiveness and transparency. The good thing is that these directly align with Gov. Ige’s goals, so we are very hopeful.

In addition, we will continue to advocate, educate, facilitate and innovate. Advocate by promoting government accessibility, transparency, and responsiveness; educate by communicating the benefits and urgency to state employees, business and citizens; facilitate by leading through building and focusing consensus toward transformation; and innovate by forging new resources for leaders and workforce to make informed decisions.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: Interacting directly with so many individuals within state government who work creatively and innovatively to improve our government and services to the public. Too often, state employees get a bad rap. I can tell you first-hand that there are great passion and talent within the state working to make a difference over the long haul.