Old technology blamed for more than $1M over payment to state employees and vendors

Old technology blamed for more than $1M over payment to state employees and vendors
Published: Jul. 31, 2015 at 8:49 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 31, 2015 at 11:01 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii lawmakers say aging technology at the state government is costing you millions.  A state sponsored steering committee will meet next month to design a blueprint to replace old computers and information systems.  Meantime state agencies, schools and hospitals are susceptible to system failure.

In our high tech world the dozens of IBM mainframes at Hawaii's Department of Accounting an General Services are living dinosaurs.

"I mean a kid nowadays can't keep a cell phone for more than a year now because that technology is obsolete,." said Kathryn Higa.  "So imagine systems that are 30 and 40 years old."

Higa has been a information technology adviser for businesses and government all her life.  While working at the state capitol recently Higa learned about Hawaii's aging infrastructure.

"A lot of things are done manually and then input manually into another system,." explained Higa.   "When you have that kind of redundancy there's not just the additional human effort that's required, but that's where you have the exposure to errors."

Processing the more than 80-thousand payroll checks Hawaii's cuts each month is just an example.   Each needs to be manually typed into the state system using code that was first developed in the 1950s.

"It's costing us a lot of money," said State Senator Donna Mercado Kim, (D) Kapalama-'Alewa-Kalihi Valley.

Kim says the inefficiency is leading to expensive errors.

"We have over a million dollars on the books of over payments to employees," Kim said.

The costs only continue to add up.  Service and spare parts for the mainframes don't exist.  So to keep the system up and running, the state continues to invest in the old technology.  It's also faced with tough times replacing those few employees who actually understand the older technology.  Higa says identifying, installing and implementing new technology will take time because dinosaurs don't die overnight.

"Recognizing that, there is no hail Mary pass kind of solution," stated Higa.

Higa says transitioning to new technology could take years.   But she says Hawaii's not alone.  California, Oregon, Washington and even the Federal Government all have similar technology challenges.

Meantime Kim says the state is attempting to recover the over payment to employees and vendors.   However, with the old technology even that is not easy.

If you're looking for a silver lining here, the old technology may be more secure than the new.   Not only is the state information not accessible to hackers via wifi or the cloud, but the knowledge of the old systems is no longer taught in schools.   That means its unlikely few have the training to break the code.

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