E-gov gets a Hawaiian punch

Aloha isn’t just a tradition in Hawaii—it’s the law.

Section 5-7.5 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, the Aloha Spirit Law, obligates all citizens and government officials to conduct themselves in accordance with the spirit of aloha.

Aloha comes from two Hawaiian words: “alo,” which means sharing, and “ha,” which means the breath of life. “It’s the sharing of life,” Hawaii comptroller Russ K. Saito said.

One could argue that central to the concept of sharing life is the sharing of information. The spirit of aloha has even permeated the Internet in Hawaii.

“People think we’re all lying out on the beach,” Saito said. “But I think we’re second to none on e-government.”

They’re Number 1

In a report last year, Broadband, Cable and Direct Broadcast Satellite Across the U.S., Hawaii ranked first among the 50 states in broadband penetration.

Leichtman Research Group Inc. of Durham, N.H., published the report. Bruce Leichtman, company president, said he came up with the findings by dividing the Federal Communications Commission’s raw numbers on broadband use by the number of households in each state, as provided by the Postal Service.

“Fifty-two percent of folks in Hawaii are using broadband Internet,” said Dan Morrison, general manager of Hawaii Information Consortium of Honolulu, a subsidiary of NIC Inc. of Olathe, Kan. Morrison is responsible for all e-government development for the state and its counties.

“You can’t drive to Maui from Honolulu,” Morrison said. “The Internet is the best way to connect. We recognized this from the early days.”

Geography plays an important role in Hawaiian government, perhaps more so than any other state’s. “Hawaii is the most isolated set of islands in the world,” Saito said.

A submarine fiber links the islands.

Hawaii’s isolation has been both a hindrance and a boon to technology. “When you’re this isolated, you tend to become more self-reliant,” he said.

For example, the state is building a disaster recovery site on Maui. The division thought about working with a disaster recovery company such as SunGard of Wayne, Pa. “We’re isolated in the middle of the ocean,” said Les Nakamura, chief of the Information and Communications Services Division. “Logistics were a tremendous handicap. Now we’re looking at doing something in-house. We’re going to use our island isolation as a security benefit.”

Although Hawaii has embraced the Internet with the true spirit of “ohana,” or family, it has been a bit wary of wireless technology.

“We’re not going to adopt anything for mission-critical applications vis-a-vis wireless unless we’re certain of the security,” Saito said. So far, the state has not felt the need for a wholesale wireless application, he said.

“Hawaii is positioning itself very differently from the common image of palm trees and vacations,” Morrison said. The state is focusing on creating its government as “an enterprise of interrelated Web activities, not built into silos with each agency throwing its own needs out there,” he said.

Hawaii is building a system to let state agencies ascertain whether a vendor meets state tax law requirements and complies with business laws. Eventually, Hawaii counties as well will use the business portal.

Perhaps in keeping with the aloha spirit, Hawaii’s government is highly decentralized. Each state agency is responsible for its own budget.

“Back in the 1980s, it was different,” said Richard Shimomura, assistant administrator for ICSD. “We were the IT department, and we were, literally, it. We controlled the dollars spent on computers, and we reviewed the budgets of each department. Now we review proposals mostly to see whether or not agencies are getting the best return on their investment.”

Fuzzy accounting

The Aloha State’s decentralization of its IT equipment and services makes for some fuzzy accounting.

No one in the state—not in the procurement office, not ICSD, not the comptroller—can list the top 10 IT contractors to the state or the amounts of any contracts. Nor does the state have a record of what it spends annually on IT.

The last state GCN profiled that had this much trouble providing similar statistics was California, which had just shuttered its IT department.

Some state agencies post their expenditures to the state’s data mart; some don’t. Procurements that go through the Western States Contracting Alliance are not tracked with other state procurements.

The Western States Contracting Alliance was formed in 1993 by the purchasing directors from 15 western states to pool their buying power. The other states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

“Because of the evolution to a decentralized IT government structure, we really don’t know the total expenditure of all the departments,” Shimomura said.

About the Author

Connect with the GCN staff on Twitter @GCNtech.

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