Wednesday, February 06, 2013


Hawaii needs a Chief Technologist–roads, sea level rise, ancient computers… we need help

by Larry Geller

On one level I’d like to accept Hawaii for what it is—an island in the middle of the Pacific, far from civilization, but (thanks to tourism) not in poverty. We have sun, surf, the best climate in the world. We also recently have among the world’s best chefs contributing to a fine quality of life on the islands.

On the other hand, we seem to be far away in time as well as distance. Our government computer systems are often antiquated. We seem to lack the knowhow to properly maintain streets and roads. Also, we seem ignorant of how to react appropriately to the coming rise of sea levels—we keep planning development in tsunami inundation zones, for example. Other state governments often do better. How can we?

Maybe it’s true what many of my colleagues in GE told me when I moved to Hawaii—perhaps it’s a great place to live, but it’s not a place to work in technology.  They seem to be right on both counts. It’s a great place to live, but has a ways to go technologically.

I suggest that one way to close the tech gap with the rest of the world is to have a Chief Technologist on the state payroll. I’m borrowing the idea from GE Information Services, where I used to work. They had a guy whose job it was to keep his eye on technology and keep company executives informed. That sounds like a cushy job, but imagine what it could do for Honolulu and the state if we had such a person and if our government paid attention.

For GE, having a person on staff watching the company and watching the world brought many benefits. One was that we did not have to invest in re-inventing something that was already out there. Another, of course, was that the company could benefit from access to technology that would contribute to the bottom line. It worked very well—GE Information Services was consistently the leader in its niche, computer time-sharing services.

I suggest that “technology” is more than just computers and high tech. How are we doing as a state and as a city in other areas as well?

Here are a few random thoughts on how a state Chief Technologist could help us:

Let’s not claim to be a center of technology in the Pacific until we catch up with best practices in wide use elsewhere. A Chief Technologist (or some kind of technology auditor) could help us close the gap.


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