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A Developing Country That Can Teach Hawaii An IT Strategy Lesson Print

Vietnam is in the process of upgrading the entire country's IT system. With support from organizations such as the World Bank, Vietnam is rebuilding not only physical infrastructure, but also starting from the ground up building new IT systems - including a large scale virtualization strategy.

Hawaii may not be so progressive. The first line of an Associated Press story on Hawaii's lack of a functional IT strategy goes like this:

"In many ways Hawaii's government runs its computers like the Internet age hardly happened." (AP)

The story goes on to expose Hawaii's lack of IT policy, the fact they are using old systems, a mixture of Apple and PCs for individual users, have a 1960s version of disaster recovery (offsite physical diskette storage), and other parallels with industry that add more discouraging evidence to Hawaii's IT shortfalls.

Sensationalizing the Obvious

Information Technology in HawaiiI've always found it very easy to criticize. Perhaps the role of a journalist is to sensationalize the shortfalls of others, as people do tend to like watching others suffer - as long as the pain stays in somebody else's life or reputation.

OK, so Hawaii does have some shortfalls in their IT systems. As a user, I have to say my experience using Hawaii's eGovernment applications hasn't been too bad. A plus in the Hawaii IT strategy column. I have never had an email rejected from a Hawaii state email server. Another plus. I could probably rack up a lot of pluses, but it is not sensational.

Now let's look at the difficult side of journalism. Writing something positive and still trying to make it interesting to the readers.

Vietnam is an interesting case study. A larger population, and a lot more government than Hawaii. More problems to deal with - but the government is trying to drive the national IT strategy down to the city level, decentralizing actual applications and access as much as possible to promote the independence of provinces and cities - without disrupting the national IT plan to standardize IT management throughout government.

Nobody would ever suggest the US government try to standardize data strategies down to the state level, much less the city level, however there is still an interesting lesson that can be applied from the Vietnam model.

Data format standards on a national scale can facilitate information sharing and data mining. We won't go into the personal security issues of that statement in this article, however data format standardization is a good thing for government. The commercial world and manufacturing have had data format/classification standards for many years, including projects such as RosettaNet, XBRL, and UNSPSC.

Thus a driver's license format in Danang would look identical to the same item in Hanoi - representing 2 very different provinces. Data can easily be shared as needed for identification, reporting, law enforcement, and other data transfer.

Standardization is good.

Enter Virtualization and the Cloud

If a government bureaucracy in a state like Hawaii has extended its inefficiencies into the world of IT, and as stated in quotes the AP article included:

  • Hawaii's department-by-department way of handling information would not work in the business world, where companies invested heavily in upgrades as the Internet and computers grew in importance.
  • It's like we had all these little companies and they all grew at the same time, and then when the big company came along and merged everything, it never made the changes.

Beautiful Island - Not So Impressive IT StrategyWell, even in deeply entrenched bureaucracies there has to be a scheduled refresh of technology at some point. Even those precious little Macs and PCs will eventually die, become so old they cannot even load a browser, or the state will grind to a halt because a day will come when no computer in the government will be able to open a Microsoft Word 2010 document.

Maybe, just maybe - much like the government of Vietnam has come to realize, that refresh strategy could include cloud computing. The city of Los Angeles has accepted cloud, and that city probably has a larger government and bureaucracy than the entire state of Hawaii.

The AP article mentions that Governor Lingle has tried to establish an Office of the CIO within Hawaii. Good idea. One that will ultimately save the state a lot of money. Let's push our representatives to make that happen!

A Proposal

Now select a couple of good data center locations. A couple on Oahu, maybe one each on Maui and the Big Island. Start building cloud computing centers on each island, connect them via dedicated high speed links, synchronize data and applications, then inform the state that all new editions of office automation software will be using a hosted edition of Office 2010, or other high performance hosted package.

Bang - saved money on license fees, labor for installers (those guys who are paid to update your anti-virus software and load service packs on your computer), and high performance desktop and laptop computers.

Start refreshing with dumb terminals and netbooks.

Establish a real state-wide disaster recovery model:

  • Cloud-based virtualized storage
  • Central cloud-based email system
  • Distributed DR model using network-based backups in geographically separated locations
  • Dumb terminals and netbooks backup to the centralized data base and storage - not on local equipment (unless the worker is a traveler). Access to the data is still available from a distant end location through use of VPNs.

Retrain the IT staff on developing applications in the cloud - not on under-the-desktop servers.

Could it really be that simple? Actually - yes. In addition, if the state of Hawaii can build a storefront of applications (including Office 2010-like products), and make those applications available to users on a state-wide basis, and reduce provisioning time for applications to minutes rather than months, why wouldn't we consider this as an option to what Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa) was quoted as saying, "Every department has IT (information technology) people, and they each have their own way of doing things."


Very 1970s... So not 2020s...

Vietnam is rebuilding their national infrastructure, the US government under the direction of CIO Vivek Kundra is rebuilding the national IT strategy. Hawaii can rebuild ours as well. And we have great examples and precedent to learn from.

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