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:
- Why are our streets and roads in such bad condition? Are we using the appropriate methods to pave and repair them? Other cities have bad traffic, worse weather, and far better roads than we have. Why?
- Aside from being old, are our government computer systems the best ones to do the job for us? Are other states and cities doing things differently and better? Where do we excel and where do we lack?
- Years ago the city boasted of its new traffic light system, yet drivers still complain about the timing of Honolulu stop lights. The city’s approach to pedestrian safety has failed miserably—Honolulu still sets records for seniors killed on the streets each year. What is the state of the art in street safety?
- The state thinks broadband will bring prosperity. Will it?
- The state thinks it should spend money on a spaceport and the users will come. Will they, or is this just another expensive boondoggle?
- Hawaii’s transportation is still antiquated. The Superferry went bankrupt not because of a Supreme Court decision but because it couldn’t make money. Outside reviewers estimated that the company was losing money with the chosen vessels because the cost of fuel was not covered by passenger fares. Also, whenever the ferry encountered rough waters it sickened its passengers. No one questioned the technology chosen for the ferry. Mufi’s TheBoat also lost money at a stunning rate because the $2 fare did not cover the per-passenger operating cost estimated to have been around $120. What would be an appropriate technology for an inter-island ferry system? We really could use advice on that one.
- The city’s smartphone apps don’t work very well. A Chief Technologist could bring us up to date on basic quality control.
- This blog has highlighted the use of permeable paving or other methods to allow storm water to go into the ground as it did before developments covered the area with asphalt and concrete. Many other states mandate that each new development handles its own storm water. In Honolulu, taxpayers foot the bill for sewer pipes instead.
- A Chief Technologist could identify areas where government could eliminate waste. An example is the medieval technology used in stadium and park lighting that wastes energy by lighting up the sky instead of the field or the ground.
- Why do we pay the highest energy rates in the world? Here’s an area where the state could use advice. Should we be putting wind farms on land or off-shore? Should we put investment instead into wave power? After we destroy the environment with wind farms on neighbor islands, will we still be behind the curve in technology? What about off-shore wind farms with salt-water reservoirs? Is OTEC going to be ready soon enough? Etc.
- Both the state and city governments apparently fail to maintain what they build. When a project is budgeted there seems to be little attention paid to lifetime costs. Will the Rail rust away just like Aloha Stadium (now there was a project that could have used a technical review before it was built…)? Maintenance is a discipline that has been mastered elsewhere, why not here?
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.