Hawaii’s Once-Lagging Digital Footprint Is Now Transformed

Hawaii's State Capitol in Honolulu.

Hawaii's State Capitol in Honolulu. mj007 / Shutterstock.com

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The Aloha State’s online redesign essentially had to start from scratch. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In 2011, Hawaii was way behind the Web game.

Three years later, the state is telling a different story. This year, Hawaii was awarded top rankings in the “Best of the Web” competition by the Center for Digital Government, one of the more than dozen awards the state has received for its new digital presence.

For citizens of Hawaii, the state’s Web revamp streamlines many of their needs and interactions with the state through my.Hawaii.gov, a platform that customizes user experiences so state government services are more easily accessible. 

"We're trying everything to make it simple and easy to use," Sonny Bhagowalia, most recently Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s chief adviser for technology and cybersecurity, said in a recent interview.

Bhagowalia, who started this week as the U.S. Treasury Department’s new chief information officer, said Hawaii is making progress.

“You can choose what you want based on what you’re doing there,” he said.

The customized division of the website is now up to 40,000 users, Bhagowalia said. And the list of services being added to my.Hawaii.gov has been growing, said Russell Castagnaro, general manager of the Hawaii Information Consortium, which worked with the state on improving its digital government footprint.

"We're getting more and more coming every month," Bhagowalia said of the services users can access. Officials also have to strike a balance of not making the site overly busy with too many icons in order to have a more straight-forward user experience.

The Hawaii Information Consortium is part of a larger corporation—NIC—that works with governments to help them digitize their information resources. In addition to Hawaii, the organization also works with a number of other states, including Virginia, South Carolina, Texas and Oregon.

Before the state created a universal technology department, Castagnaro described Hawaii as being in flux from a digital standpoint. Only some of the state's agencies had a good online presence and there weren't guidelines across the board, he said.

Starting from scratch wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Other states might have already improved their digital footprints through their online government services. But in Hawaii's case, since the existing information infrastructure wasn't that highly evolved, the opportunities were wide open to make big improvements, Castagnaro said.

"That gave us a definite advantage," he said, noting that the state’s existing paper-based operations were very entrenched.

Before Bhagowalia, formerly the chief information officer at the Interior Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs, started his position in Hawaii, Castagnaro said, state agencies were responsible for their own online presences. Once the state CIO position was created, online standards were set for all state agencies.

"That's how people are," Castagnaro said, explaining that people want their government to work the same as everything else they spend time doing. "We've gotta make our services work for them."

Allison Prang is a journalist based in Columbia, Missouri. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News and The Kansas City Star, among other news outlets. Follow her on Twitter at @AllisonPrang.

(Image via mj007/Shutterstock.com)