Member Spotlight – Karen Higa, State of Hawaii

Karen Higa,
This month, we turn the spotlight on Karen Higa, who manages Besides being arguably the most beautiful government website (what can I say? I’m a fan of blue water, brilliant sunsets, and palm trees…), has just won the 2014 Best of the Web Digital Government Achievement Award (DGAA) for State Web Portals. The site was also recently recognized by the National Association of Government Web Professionals (NAGW) as a Member’s Choice 2014 Pinnacle Award Winner. We want to congratulate Karen and her team on these honors, and help them to celebrate by acknowledging their work, and getting to know them a little better.

What do you love most about your job?

I’m the Open Government Program Manager for the State of Hawaii’s Office of Information Management and Technology (OIMT), which is under the State’s Chief Information Officer, and leads business and technology transformation for the State of Hawaii.

What I love about my job is the opportunity to be involved in exciting projects, such as implementing the State’s Open Data Portal; and to work with amazing people. I had the privilege to work with Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia, Hawaii’s first CIO. His leadership and vision led Hawaii to the forefront and opened many opportunities for the State of Hawaii. Our current CIO, Keone Kali, and our Chief Technology Officer, Paola Saibene, are continuing the journey to implement our transformation plan, continuing the high standard of excellence with many interesting projects underway.

What are you currently working on?

The objective of the Open Government Program is to make government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative; and to better serve the citizens of Hawaii online instead of waiting in line. We have several projects in the works:

  • Website Modernization – Making government more accessible by following a user-centered design process and making it easier for citizens to find the information they’re looking for.
  • Open Data / Dashboards – By sharing our data via in an open and transparent means, we empower our citizens, ourselves, and our customers to access information anywhere, anytime.
  • Mobile Apps – Developing mobile applications for departments to meet the anticipated demands from residents to access government information and services on their mobile devices
  • Statewide Intranet – Providing a collaborative area for users within the State’s organization to communicate, find information, and deploy applications to support business operations.

Please tell us about a recent success you’ve had. was re-launched in 2013 as a comprehensive update to the state’s main web portal. It was released in conjunction with upgrades to webpages across all state departments and agencies, with enhanced mobile, touch and speech capability, increased consistency, and improved accessibility. The update was part of the OIMT’s award-winning Business & Information Technology/Information Resource Management (IT/IRM) Transformation Plan unveiled in 2012. The newly designed was developed via a collaborative effort with Hawaii Information Consortium, LLC (HIC), Hawaii’s state Internet Portal Manager, and the OIMT.

The next phase,, is an innovative approach to bring digital government to the citizen – customized their way. It’s a key step on our Transformation Plan to deliver an integrated digital government to the citizen. It can bring in citizens to interact with the right information for authorized users, anywhere, anytime, for any mission, on any device, securely and reliably. We’re also introducing gamification, another innovative way to gain adoption and buy-in versus traditional techniques.

How do you like to spend time away from work?

I enjoy watching a movie or relaxing at the park with my husband. My daughters and I love to engage in mother-daughter bonding activities; some of our adventures include skydiving and viewing the Aurora Borealis. I also love to travel with my dog, Kodi.

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