Hawaii’s first chief data officer targets data governance

Hawaii Chief Data Officer Rebecca Cai said data governance goes "hand in hand" with generative AI, a technology the state's planning to use.
Hawaii state capitol building
(Getty Images)

About a month ago, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green named Rebecca Cai as the state’s first chief data officer, fulfilling the requirements of a law passed last year that established the role for the state.

Cai, who has 24 years of digital, data, analytic and decision intelligence experience in the private sector, will be in charge of setting a data governance framework statewide. And though she’s been in the position for just a bit, Cai already has plans in motion. Along with leading a “data task force,” she will also help in readying the state’s data practice for the use of generative artificial intelligence.

“Data governance goes hand in hand with AI governance,” Cai said. “Data quality is essential for the right AI outcome — it’s garbage in, garbage out. It’s so true for data and even more for AI, because the data quality determines whether the recommendation given by the AI is correct.”

Cai joins Hawaii from New York state, where she also served as chief data officer for about seven months. In that time, Cai said she set up New York’s data governance framework and crafted its AI guidelines. She said she also built up the state’s data governance, geospatial, data analytics and artificial intelligence data engineering teams. When she left New York state’s Office of Information Technology Services for Hawaii, Cai said, the office was beginning to post those job listings.


“I think I left New York in a very good state. And I hired a person who joined on as a deputy CDO, so he can carry on and keep the momentum going,” she said. “I have full trust in him and the CIO, the secretary of technology. They’re all super supportive and they have a great team there.”

In Hawaii, she said, Cai’s met with a lot of folks from the state’s departments, including her boss, Hawaii Chief Information Officer Doug Murdock. She said she’ll help Murdock set benchmarks for future uses of data in evidence-based policymaking and setting policies for responsible use of generative AI.

While Cai’s role and structure of data governance will be new for Hawaii, the work of putting data to use won’t be.

“Hawaii actually, even without the CDO — different departments and nonprofit organizations have been doing a lot of work in data on the front end already,” she said.

Cai told StateScoop about Hawaii Green Growth, a public-private partnership innovation hub that maintains data dashboards that track sustainability goals. She also said Hawaii already has a statewide program for geographic information systems, which was a resource for her in deciding where to relocate from New York when she got the job.


“That helped me a lot before I made the move to Hawaii to figure out all the census information related to the map. They helped me a lot to find out where I want to live, how close it is? What’s the age group within that location?” Cai said.

In Hawaii, Cai said, she’ll build a team like she did in New York. The law Hawaii passed last year that created the role of the state CDO also created a “data task force” that Cai will chair and build out. She said the group will help her develop, implement and manage the statewide data policies and to facilitate data sharing across state departments.

“I’m looking forward to creating impacts in all aspects and to support the evidence-based policymaking for the governor, Gov. [Josh] Green’s administration, and how can we best utilize data and AI to create impacts and bring value to the residents in a measurable way. And who can resist Hawaii?” Cai said. “Just in time to escape the Albany winter.”

Keely Quinlan

Written by Keely Quinlan

Keely Quinlan reports on privacy and digital government for StateScoop. She was an investigative news reporter with Clarksville Now in Tennessee, where she resides, and her coverage included local crimes, courts, public education and public health. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Stereogum and other outlets. She earned her bachelor’s in journalism and master’s in social and cultural analysis from New York University.

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