A Call to Action for Hawaii’s Transformation into the Digital Age

Posted on Jan 4, 2014 in CIO Blogs

dialogueHawaii CIO’s Prologue to Upcoming Monthly Blogs with Two-Way Dialogue

] Sonny_CIO_8[2]Aloha Kakou! Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season and are ready for a Happy New Year in 2014! I am on much needed vacation for a few weeks with my family, after my extended team and I have worked almost non-stop on the incredibly hectic enterprise transformation journey for the State of Hawaii since the Governor appointed me as Hawaii’s First CIO on July 6, 2011!  While the work hours for the past 2.5 years have been incredibly long and the journey has encountered some bumps along the way, it has all been worthwhile because our progress is overwhelmingly positive on so many levels for the great people of Hawaii!  The crucible of leadership (per se) teaches us that one must stay the course and focus on the end outcome when the cause is right and we do things the right way (contrary to “the end justifies the means” approach).

blogWhy blog on a monthly basis and what do I hope to achieve through the process?

It has been a long time since I blogged to update you all on all the incredible happenings and achievements in the CIO’s office in 2011-2013 throughout the great State of Hawaii and the journey ahead. I stay incredibly busy and I must admit, I have not been a big blogger in the past.  Some of us CIOs across the nation have privately commiserated that there is some bluster out there in some circles of the “blog-o-sphere” under the guise of purported intellectual thought leadership. I will avoid any propensity in this area and try to stay with my basic leadership philosophy supplemented with any supporting facts or specificity (as required)!  However, I do reserve the right to include quotes from court jesters or popular culture offering levity, interspersed amidst established thought leaders offering appropriate gravity, to ensure we don’t take ourselves too seriously at times.

I have chosen to blog henceforth on a monthly basis in 2014 for two reasons (in ascending order of importance):

a)    I am trying to promote a meaningful two-way conversation on all aspects of our enterprise transformation journey we are undertaking for the State of Hawaii.  We don’t have the monopoly on the best ideas – anyone can weigh in and contribute to solve the challenges we are facing;

b)   I have been approached and encouraged to use social media platforms more regularly to share lessons learned and best practices (“thought leadership”) throughout this journey of enterprise transformation.  I guess one should be proud to be even considered a “thought leader” (not my words) versus a “laggard”? Silver-Grey hair and 28+ years of battlefield experience (metaphorically speaking) in Industry, Government counts for something!

participationHow can you participate in Hawaii’s Transformation?

  Comments on the transformation blogs will be welcome from any stakeholder writ large – be they from Government, Academia, Industry, or any Resident of Hawaii, USA or the World for that matter – as long as they are constructive and/or in the spirit of Aloha.[1]

I will solicit comments through two avenues for on-going two-way dialogue:

Yes, you can choose to remain anonymous but we will adhere to professional decorum in our discourse and not accept unproductive diatribes either.  So, to quote a famous rock band, please be “careful with that axe, Eugene.”[2]

disclaimerLet Me Proclaim Four Disclaimers Up-front!

These four perfunctory-but-important disclaimers shall guide the two-way dialogue during the course of monthly blogs of the transformation.  These core thoughts and beliefs guide my worldview (viz. transformation/change). 

1.    My professional views are my own and will be personally written by me.  I want to unequivocally state that these blog(s) will be written entirely by me, the CIO of the State of Hawaii.  I am responsible for the entire content, thoughts and views.   No speech writer or communications director are involved in its preparation, no pre-ordained “messaging” is provided to me nor will I insert any messages for “buzzword compliance” or “political correctness”.  My thoughts are delivered straight from my heart, soul and mind, for the great State of Hawaii!

2.    Let History Be our Teacher about Change. Great minds throughout history have taught us some key concepts about change, transformation and common sense (a scarce commodity nowadays, it seems):

  1. “Nothing endures but change” [3] - i.e., the only constant is change
  2. “We must become the change we want to see in the world”[4]
  3. “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”[5]
  4. “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”[6]
  5. “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”[7]
  6. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”[8], “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”[9]
  7. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” [10] Said another way, there are many who erroneously believe in repaving the same cow path but expecting a different result!

Many legions of people believe that the “cult of personality”, charisma of these leaders and sheer power of their words was the force that caused major transformations instead of becoming “proud words on a dusty shelf”[11].  I don’t deny that, but what strikes me is that the true force multipliers were the people who took it, adopted it as their own and implemented it.  Each person is a small-but-important cog in a giant wheel of movement and momentum.

Religious scriptures and History have also taught us repeatedly that: "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls.”[12] One of our greatest presidents opined:  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”[13] Ergo, to succeed, we must be united in purpose with a unity of effort to a common goal with priority and focused resources.

3.    Predict the Future by Inventing It I am bit of a paradox – a literary mind trapped in an engineering body; a Hindu mystic swayed by scientific influences; and eastern philosopher educated and brought up in western society.  I believe in the Indian concepts of Kismet, Karma, Dharma and Saṃsāra (Cycle of Birth, Death and Re-birth including Reincarnation).[14]  Yet, I also strongly subscribe to the western belief that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”[15] I would add a corollary to that maxim: “but use it wisely and practically for the greater good of humanity”.

It is hard to keep up technology and the information age because they are changing the world so rapidly.   Relevant information is becoming more readily available to solve our daily problems in our lives, anywhere, any time and on any device relatively securely and reliably.  The change is almost revolutionary (versus evolutionary)[16].  The rise of really ancient civilizations(e.g., India, China)[17],[18] and somewhat more recent ones (e.g., Japan, South Korea, Singapore, USA) are embracing/leveraging it to resounding new levels of successful transformation while balancing their proud traditions of their past.   In fact, some are leapfrogging decades into the front of the pack by embracing change, while many others are left behind stuck in inertia, inefficiency and inept systems of government due to inaction.  Lets face it, new entrants continue the cycle of civilization throughout history with the usual aspirations of hegemony - we are currently watching an emerging Asia take our US playbook and even try to school us in our own “wheelhouse. “

We’re still #1 thanks to our entrepreneurial can-do spirit of an innovation nation of leaders…but we “gotta get going” as a country by reinventing our future!

4.    Strive for the Summit (“Kulia I Ka Nu’u”)![19] It is a humbling experience and a privilege to serve as the first CIO for our Great State for the past 2.5+ years.  Before I came here, I was immeasurably moved by the beauty, majesty and proud traditions and culture of Hawaii (including Aloha)[20].  Thanks to the Governor’s vision and leadership, the Cabinet’s help, the legislature’s support, participation from Industry, Academia and the Citizens, and my extended CIO “Ohana”, incredible progress has been made in formulating, publishing and implementing the award winning, state’s business and technology transformation plan.  However despite this progress, there are many challenges for Hawaii to leapfrog into the 21st Century Digital Age.  Hawaii needs to connect with the world in the information age.  If we “get going”, Hawaii can reap the benefits of a connected, protected digital society that can connect with the world and conduct business online instead of having to wait in line with better backup/recovery from single points of failure.  We need to balance the Aloha of the Islands with a little Urgency to strive for excellence – hence, a little “Aloha with Urgency”, if you will, as I like to coin the phrase.

Throughout my 28 years of service I have served in top organizations in US Industry and Government but a basic question has always nagged me – “Why can’t the government achieve excellence in serving the people?”  The unequivocal answer is “Yes it can (and does) by working together, smarter, not just harder; and focusing on a doing fewer things better at Industry’s pace.“  It can happen anywhere as long as it is a holistic approach with three types of transformation:  business, technology and organization culture.   Guess which one is hardest?  Yes – the third one.  In Hawaii, we need to empower our state IT workers, who have achieved a lot with relatively little resources for a long time.  We also need to change organization culture from “no can” to “can do” by replacing the “CYA or CYO” risk-averse culture with one that rewards innovation, continuous improvement and with solid leadership “backing” across rank and file!

IT is becoming more intrinsic and crucial to business operations.  Leading research[21] shows that IT spending is growing worldwide as “IT” becomes critical to business operations of organizations.  Unfortunately, Government is behind Industry in this realization.  Typically, IT portfolio spending was measured to be 3-5% of an organization’s annual revenue/budget[22].  Unfortunately, Hawaii has invested less than 1.5% for 30+ years (on average) and therefore, is stuck with old, manual business processes and outdated technology.

Despite, these facts, there is vast fragmentation of effort and consolidating and improving this environment to be more efficient will save money that can be re-invested into needed upgrades.  Therefore, the old adage that excellence takes a lot of resources is a fallacy and not true!  One can be a top performer as long as there is a plan, unity of effort/purpose, accountability with concomitant authority and an encouraging culture to continuously improve with urgency.  When you add transparency, accountability and innovation, everything is possible – a faster, better and in the long run, more affordable government!  We have a top-rated plan, and we can strive for the summit, if we do this together!

goA Call to Action – Lets Go!

To provide a context for Hawaii on the national and International stage:

  • Hawaii has 1.4 Million residents with a $ 69 Billion GDP (#39/50 in USA; 19/50 in GDP per Capita)[23]
  • The State Government of Hawaii is a $ 11 Billion enterprise (30% Federal Funds) with 34, 000 state government employees providing 220 business functions and services across 35 lines of business in 18 departments, 108 attached agencies
  • The State of Hawaii’s investment in IT (<<1.5%) lags behind best practices with 30+year old legacy technology and business in 746 IT systems and 743 IT staff
  • The strategic, geopolitical importance of Hawaii is undeniable as a crossroads of the pacific across time and now into the information age[24], [25]

OK - we had to start somewhere and “walk the talk”!  We have been doing just that in the executive branch of the State Government for the last 2.5 years with urgency (building upon a foundation established over the past few decades) by embarking on a statewide transformation plan to be completed in 7 phases across 12 years (based on securing another 1.5% investment each year):

check-markPhase 1 Complete (FY 2012) The transformation of Hawaii began in July 2011 with a grand powerful vision by our Governor with HCF support of $ 3 Million and hiring of 7 Staff (including a CIO).   Our first-ever, Baseline Assessment, Benchmarking Reports were published in 2011 completing Phase 1[26]

check-markPhase 2 Complete (FY 2013) A comprehensive Business and IT/IRM Transformation Plan was published in 2012 completing Phase 2 within one year.[27] This plan laid out the goal architecture and bridged the gap with a detailed implementation plan and won a national award and was the only state to recognized in 2013! Three Strategies were articulated: Transform the Business; Modernize the Technology; and Improve Transparency and Accountability (Governance).  These would be implemented through Top 10 Enterprise Programs.  We secured $ 25 Million in Supplemental funding for Phase 2, $ 95 Million in funding for Phase 3 & base operations funds for ICSD.

check-markPhase 3A On Schedule (FY 2014) We are in Phase 3A (or the first of five Implementation biennial Phases) with Top 10 Enterprise Programs across the three strategies.   We are ahead of schedule in our accomplishments in all three strategies and Top 10 programs.  More details to follow by the end of this Fiscal Year on our website – https://ets.hawaii.gov.  Phase 3B starts in FY 2015!

The contents of these monthly Blogs are an urgent “call to action” from a small group of business/technology warriors for Hawaii in State Government imploring and bracing us to embrace change to get Hawaii ready for the 21st Century.  As the Governor has stated, this transformation will allow Hawaii to honor its past traditions, improve its present state of affairs and prepare for a more efficient and fully digital future business and technology environment within a decade, once adequate priority and resources are provided.   

My CIO Team (OIMT, ICSD and our extended CIO Ohana) and I send you our warmest Aloha and best wishes for a Happy New Year!

Mahalo Nui Loa


Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia

CIO, State of Hawaii, USA


[16] “Managing Software Engineering, CASE Studies and Solutions”, Alan C. Gillies, Peter Smith, ISBN: 978-0-412-56550-2 (Print) 978-1-4899-7188-3 (Online)

[22] “Leveraging the New Infrastructure – How market leaders capitalize on IT”, Peter Weill and Marianne Broadbent, Harvard Business School Press, 1998