HPU Today
Digital aloha

By Paula Bender

HPU alumni with a passion for Hawai‘i’s virtual relevance 

With its emphasis on cloud computing and mobile devices and hunger for ever-faster Internet access, today’s computing culture is focused on helping users work, play and  stay connected, no matter how far from “home base” they might be.

It is a particularly familiar challenge for anyone who has lived in Hawai‘i, where residents and businesses have met the challenges of location and connectivity to the world beyond for generations. Hawai‘i Pacific College was incorporated the same year that Digital Equipment Corp. introduced the minicomputer, marketing its speed, small size and reasonable cost. It is against the backdrop of the high-tech revolution that the development of the Hawai‘i Pacific University we know today took place.

Perhaps it should be no surprise, then, that HPU took an early interest in academic programs and careers focused on computing and has watched those areas expand exponentially over the years. Bit by bit and byte by byte, HPU graduates in computer science, information systems, applied mathematics and related areas are making an undeniable impact in the virtual world. 

Gordon Bruce and others

Pacxa CEO Gordon Bruce (left) collaborates on a project with Integrated Security Technologies President Christine Lanning and CEO Andrew Lanning. Photo by Tracy Wright Corvo

Tech-preneur helping companies

Gordon Bruce (MBA ’00) is chief executive officer of Pacxa, a firm of several merged companies formed in 2013 to serve clients who wish to outsource their IT needs. Bruce, a well-known tech guru, came to Hawai‘i in the 1970s for the beginning of ATM installations at a Honolulu bank and served as the director of the Information Technology department for the City and County of Honolulu. As CEO at Pacxa, Bruce is a tech-preneur who embodies transparency and innovation, and he believes in making it easy for business owners to acknowledge that something like IT sucks the joy out of their day and profits.

“Think of how much technology changes in a single year. Think about the effort it takes to stay on top. While people in Hawai‘i are considered early adopters of new technologies, businesses are not,” Bruce said. “Companies don’t want to be in the tech business. It’s difficult for Hawai‘i businesses to keep their technologies current. At Pacxa, we see opportunity to leverage our access to technology and employee talent to help companies move forward.”

Pacxa, under the parent company Island Holdings, is locally owned and operated. It is affiliated with large technology providers like Oracle, Microsoft, Dell, HP and IBM.

“They’ve reached out to us to be their ‘go-to’ partner in Hawai‘i,” Bruce said. “Other companies are reaching out to us to either be their Hawai‘i representative or provide the services needed for them to expand their reach to Hawai‘i and Asia.”

Employees are encouraged to understand the business, the business of their clients, and to look for growth and expansion opportunities. Everyone employed by Pacxa is the sales team, Bruce said.

“It is not uncommon for a Pacxa employee to take the initiative to provide more than what is in the contract,” Bruce said. “They are empowered to do the right thing.”

While Pacxa has seized the opportunity to help its clients wade through their IT challenges, Bruce said that Hawai‘i politicians should persist in their support of science and technology businesses.

“A good start would be to provide legislation that would give companies tax breaks for upgrading to newer technologies,” Bruce said. “It would help local firms, encourage companies to move offices to Hawai‘i and build out our tech industry. Long-lasting tech incentives would encourage more.”

The sun has set on Hawai‘i’s Act 221, which provided tax credits to high-technology companies as an incentive to set up shop here. Think of 221 as the big picture, the legislation that put Hawai‘i on the high-technology map, and as the seed that has helped many in Hawai‘i set a course for global significance. That includes HPU instructors and students focused on a future that will result in Hawai‘i’s growing virtual relevance.

Linnes and students

Associate Professor Cathrine Linnes, Ph.D., and the Spring 2014 software engineering graduate student team of Ruben Morales, Nicole Koyanagi, Jonathan Watanabe, Wayne Liang, Sanjeev Ranabhat, Shweta Hurakadli, Kevin Siegmann and Rohana De Silva.
Photo by Brian Metcalf, Ph.D.

Technology hub with the aloha spirit

“We do have some local politicians on our side and even some political strategies firms as clients,” said Collin Paran (BS Applied Math ’13), who is a founding partner of MuBeta Solutions LLC. “Hawai‘i is where ideas and trade from the West and East converge. There is no reason we cannot grow Hawai‘i into a major technology hub.”

Last year, MuBeta was founded by Paran and fellow HPU alumni Courtney Jones (’13), Chris Wheeler (BS Computer Science ’13) and Sergio Stringfors (BSBA Travel Industry Management ’14), on the premise that marketing companies, custom software companies, financial strategists and data scientists did not necessarily collaborate to help small to mid-sized businesses. MuBeta brings creativity and innovation to the table and expects to gain an understanding of a business and its industry as the collaboration progresses. Paran and his partners control the growth of their ‘invite-only’ business and prefer recognition and attention through quieter channels. Word has gotten out and expansion from Hawai‘i’s small business community has gone global.

“Not very many Mainland companies understand the Hawai‘i business culture nor do they understand how to approach it,” Paran said. “MuBeta also understands that other, international businesses crave the Aloha Spirit. That is why we have expanded to other states and have an international network of consultants.”

Securing data for clients 

Integrated Security Technologies, founded in 1998 by Christine (MSIS ’04) and Andrew Lanning (MA Communication ’10), is the perpetually attentive watchdog for commercial and government clients in Hawai‘i and in the Pacific. Few businesses and government offices these days function without security measures. IST secures data from every badge swipe, elevator ride, telephone, and access control systems to protect companies’ trade secrets, corporate intelligence and proprietary information.

“We founded IST because none of the Hawai‘i security companies at the time had the skills or the vision to enter the small but growing segment of the security industry called system integration,” said Andrew Lanning, CEO of IST. “We believed that Hawai‘i business owners and employees deserved the same level of protection that was being deployed by Mainland companies, so we put on our training wheels and went to work looking for technology based solutions.”

IST employs the same systems in Hawai‘i that are used by 70 percent of the Fortune 100, Lanning said. It designs, procures, installs, and maintains security systems for its clients, and then it trains client personnel tasked with front-line and monitoring duties.

“We have clients in nearly every sector — financial, health care, petroleum, education, hospitality and transportation. We are asked to develop solutions for retail and multi-dwelling unit markets, both here and in the Pacific,” Lanning said. “And Fortune 100 companies that open offices or facilities in Hawai‘i will find in us a competent security provider with the technology and know-how to sustain a system 99.999 percent of the time, a requirement for most [Department of Defense] and some commercial facilities.”

Collaborating with the State of Hawai‘i 

In the fall of 2013, state agencies under then Chief Information Officer Sonny Bhagowalia sought the assistance of HPU MSIS software engineering students taught by Associate Professor of Information Systems Cathrine Linnes (MSIS ’00), Ph.D. This came on the heels of Linnes’ spring semester students successfully completing three IT projects for state agencies. The fall project was a collaboration with the Office of Information Management & Technology (OIMT), the Department of Human Resources Development (DHRD) and the Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS).

“Students created a web-based system for DAGS’ Public Works Division to grant access to plans and other documents of state facilities to construction consultants,” Linnes said. DAGS currently oversees approximately 450 Hawai‘i state-owned buildings, which contain approximately 15,000 documents. “The purpose of the system is to transition the document sharing from a physical, on-site, location-based experience, to an on-line website.

The new system created by the HPU students allows for administrators to add, modify, delete and view documents from a single database; and administer user accounts and add future building documents. Contractors and other users can view and download documents from the DAGS search page via its global search function or through Google Maps. A thumbnail of each document is shown so the user can confirm they want the document, preventing users from downloading and printing huge files they might not need.

“A system like this makes the operation 24/7, saves user time and reduces the need for users to engage with staff to physically pull the documents on location,” Linnes said. “This results in big cost and time reductions, and is in accordance with the State’s initiative of becoming one of the best digital states in the U.S. within the next 10 years.”

Linnes and her students were recognized by Governor Neil Abercrombie for their successful project that has eased time and cost constraints for vendors, contractors and the state.

“This has been a fantastic experience for HPU and the MSIS program to partner with the state and OIMT on real-life projects that have immediate impact,” Linnes said. “I am very proud of my students’ accomplishment and I am excited to continue to work with the state.”

Completely in touch with the consumer perspective of how IT affects those of us who just want an Internet connection, the successful transfer of funds, or to stay engaged with our social media outlets is Rosemary Peh (MSIS ’01), Enterprise Project Manager Officer at Hawaiian Electric Company. Peh divides the IT practitioner into two areas, those who create IT products and those who service them.

“Think not only of the help that you need when you cannot use the computer, but also think of the actual computer itself, your mobile phone, your smart TV, the application products that allow you to automate your work, or when cashing out at a fast-food restaurant,” Peh said. “All this needs to be created, managed and maintained. Think of automation — the underlying capability that technology careers support.”

Preparing to work globally

Peh says IT curriculums generally attract science students with a knack for math and logic who have a tendency to be analytical and find great joy in solving problems. They are also usually self-starters with a keen capability to team with others and still have self initiative. These students have technical engineering skills, business skills, and the soft skills of human interaction that makes it possible for them to explain complex tech issues into easy business terms. And Peh said that is because of HPU’s industry-based faculty.

“I hope HPU never departs from its practical roots in applied academics. I had lecturers who were professionals in the field that they were teaching in. This provided real-life experiences interjected into the student experience,” Peh said. “The base academic grounding is definitely needed. “However, the added benefit of real work experience brought into the classroom is a differentiator. This is especially true for the technology profession where product and service life cycles can be short and ever changing.”

Peh said she has hired HPU students at the companies she has worked at for a variety of reasons.

“First, they come business savvy. I’m not only getting a ‘tech-head,’ but also one with a business basis and capability to interact with functional staff without scaring or boring them to death with techno-speak,” Peh said. “They are trained with a nice mix that allows them to do the business translation with ease.”

In fact, Peh said HPU graduates are prepared to work anywhere.

“HPU’s location provides for an immersive multi-cultural experience that is translatable to any country as long as the student is open and progressive,” Peh said. “This experience is great preparation stage for a job located anywhere in the world.”