How Hawaii Is Tackling IT Challenges

Sonny Bhagowalia talks about his post and collaborating with colleagues.

Transforming the state of Hawaii's technology is job No. 1 for Sanjeev "Sonny" Bhagowalia, state CIO. He recently spoke with StateTech Managing Editor Amy Schurr about his background, his vision for the Aloha State and the technologies the IT department is exploring.

STATETECH: What drove you to the CIO job in Hawaii?

BHAGOWALIA: I got an e-mail from a recruiting firm and followed up with them. At first I thought it was spam because when you see "Hawaii" and "CIO," you're, like, 'Sure.' I read up on the governor's incredible move to perform a full business and IT transformation for the state and was interested. I took the job because of this incredible opportunity. It's been an honor and a privilege.

STATETECH: How have you learned from your colleagues about tackling the challenges ahead for the department?

BHAGOWALIA: I have talked to some of the other CIOs that did transformation, including Ken Theis, the former CIO of Michigan. I also talked to [former Michigan and California CIO] Teri Takai and got some counsel from her about what to do and what not to do. I used to be a cabinet CIO in the federal government and still have contacts in federal circles. I tell folks on the island that just like they have one degree of separation over here, I have one degree of separation in D.C. We commiserate, we talk, we share ideas, we learn from each other. That's the spirit in the U.S. government and also in state government. I want to learn best practices and the lessons learned from others.

STATETECH: What are you doing to develop the skills of your staff?

BHAGOWALIA: We're investing in people. We want to use the government workforce and provide them with the things they need and grow them in their jobs. Give people something exciting and a reason to stay here in Hawaii and not go to the mainland.

STATETECH: How has your federal experience helped you in your current role?

BHAGOWALIA: There are six of us who have state CIO and cabinet CIO experience: Vivek Kundra was CTO of D.C. and then a federal CIO; Aneesh Chopra was secretary of technology of Virginia and then federal CTO; Teri Takai, Michigan CIO, California CIO and now DoD CIO; Mike Locatis was Colorado CIO and then Energy CIO; you take Steve Fletcher who was Department of Education CIO and then the Utah CIO, and then there is me, former Interior CIO and now Hawaii CIO. It's an interesting group to be in.

You don't know the other side until you live in someone else's shoes. Now that I am in the shoes, I say, 'Don't do it this way!'

STATETECH: Tell me how feedback from the public shaped the final transformation plan.

BHAGOWALIA: I believe in open government and citizen engagement. Everyone can view the plan. There's healthy debate. We received some good comments and have incorporated those comments.

STATETECH: What technologies are you eyeing?

BHAGOWALIA: I'm intrigued by knowledge search engines versus general information search. On our website, we're using USA Search, which is available from the federal government.

We are also using radio and wireless in a unique way. We're very susceptible to volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and so forth. We are pretty close to the water, so we have got to be very watchful as to how this information can be provided to everybody through video and multimedia. We're looking at social media.

Mobile will replace the desktop in less than five years. We're thinking of leap-frogging and not going to the desktop, but just having a more mobile workforce. We've also done some mobile applications such as one for business registration from the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

STATETECH: What is it like working in Hawaii?

BHAGOWALIA: We are not really goofing around on the beach; we're doing a lot of work. In fact, I've only been to the beach once or twice. But it is definitely splendid out here. That's when you get the balance of nature and technology.

Read more of our exclusive interview with Sonny Bhagowalia here.

Sep 25 2012