One of the first acts of Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia as the newly appointed CIO of Hawaii was to embark on an extensive information gathering effort that would inform a statewide IT inventory. Roughly 1,500 pages of notes fed into the final report, published in September 2011.

The state found that it was using 700 different applications to deliver more than 200 services. Approximately 150 of those services were being delivered directly to the public.

In an interview with Government Technology, Bhagowalia describes the inventory as a critical first step in laying the groundwork for a transformative IT strategy to guide not only technology policy, but business processes across the state.


Photo: Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia, CIO, Hawaii


IT services in Hawaii are fragmented in different departments throughout the organization, and technology is often woefully outdated. A “MacGyver Award”, referencing the popular television law enforcement agent known for cleverly using everyday materials to solve pressing problems, is given to employees who make do with aging technology tools long past their prime. In one example, the CIO explains that staff members kept an old system alive for 36 years buying parts on eBay.

While Bhagowalia applauds the efforts of the workforce to maintain service levels without proper resources, he looks forward to a more modern enterprise.

“Clearly there are a lot of challenges, but I relish the idea that Hawaii has chosen to do it right and I've been entrusted to try to make it happen.”

By the Numbers: Uniting IT in the Aloha State

  • 204 services (150 public facing services)
  • 700 applications
  • 18 departments
  • 36 lines of business
  • 1.4 million residents
  • 41,000 state employees
Bhagowalia is the first CIO in the Aloha State, starting the job in July 2011. His position and the recently formed office of Information Management and Technology are supported in part by the Hawaii Community Foundation, a nonprofit group devoted to enhancing the state’s quality of life. A legislative task force charged with making recommendations to improve government operations first suggested a CIO position for the state in 2010. Prior to 2011, CIO duties in Hawaii were carried out by the head of the Department of Accounting and General Services.

Earlier this month, Bhagowalia released a draft Information Technology Transformation Strategy that outlines a decade-long plan to fundamentally change the way Hawaii delivers IT services. Implementation would occur in two-year intervals, coinciding with the state’s biennial budget cycle. The public can offer feedback on the plan until June 1.

Opening the strategy up for public comment, he explains, is a strategy wholeheartedly endorsed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a firm believer in transparent government as a way to improve services and engender the public’s trust.

“There's a new energy around government-to-government partnership and sharing. Let's learn from each other and not repeat the same mistakes,” said Bhagowalia. “That's why I opened it up. I asked everyone to comment on it, so that I can get the benefit of all the best ideas.”

The draft strategy places priority on developing overall governance methodologies for technology projects and business processes in the state, and outlines a number of projects to position the state for more effective service delivery. Bhagoalia envisions a Hawaii Department of IT, much like other states, that unites technology functions across the organization to more effectively manage the transformation.

Much of the effort in the first two years will focus on funding and implementing infrastructure upgrades throughout the organization. An enterprise resource planning system will help streamline financial management, human resources, payroll, inventory and more. Key IT improvements will also help modernize the state’s tax system as well as the delivery of health and social services.

The state sees many implications for the public as a result of its renewed focus on IT. With the proper infrastructure in place, the state will be poised to expand its portfolio of Web-based services.

Hawaii’s plan to strengthen access to broadband across the state, reported on last year by Government Technology, will help enable residents to take advantage of these services. Bhagowalia explained that his office is involved in the effort, promoting enhancements like testing mechanism for residents to check their broadband speed and a dashboard to track overall progress of the broadband initiative.

“Clearly broadband is a key technology for us in Hawaii,” he said.

The prospects of putting such an ambitious plan in motion are encouraging. Skeptics told the CIO he’d have trouble securing his initial budget request of $25.3 million from the Legislature. In the end, the allocation was granted, earmarked for the ERP system, pilot projects and other foundational technology infrastructure.

“Our strategy is to have an overarching vision that unites us, and have a disciplined framework to make it happen,” Bhagowalia said.

Noelle Knell, Assistant Web Editor Noelle Knell  |  Managing Editor

Government Technology managing editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of marketing and communications experience, writing about public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she graduated from the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.