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The Digital Branch of Government
It's clear that the government is interested in riding the digital bandwagon into the 21st century. Dubious claims of having "invented" the Internet, promises of Web access to every classroom in America and laws recognizing the validity of e-signatures are proof of that. But it's going to take more than this to reach the goal of true e-government. It's going to take time, dedication and, of course, plenty of funding to do that.
Just as a business with a Web site isn't really a digital business, a government agency with a Web site--however slick that site might be--isn't really e-government. Still, according to Andy Makowka, Vice President of james martin + co government consulting, these sites are a good start. In the private sector, a business would make that first step and then move on to more sophisticated web-based functions. In the government, that's not so easy.
One of the main obstacles to e-government is security. Makowka points out that putting proprietary government information on the Web is dangerous, and hackers are always finding a way to beat the system--even if it's a relatively mundane government office, hacking into the feds is just fun.
The other (giant) roadblock is, of course, funding. Getting money for any government project is an ordeal involving mountains of paperwork and endless bureaucratic hoops to jump through. And when you're talking about something like "e-business development,"--something that is nearly impossible to hold in your hand--well, the purse-strings are held even tighter. When you also consider that only about 50 percent of Americans actually use the Internet, it becomes nearly impossible to convince financial officers that the cost justifies the benefit.
There is also the question of getting the government--well known for its static nature--to move forward, taking all of its staff and procedures with it. Making a major change in government process is time-consuming, complicated and costly. The only way to get things going is to recognize the importance of making the transition.
So why is that transition important? The short answer is, because the government has to work with the rest of the world. The commercial sector is moving at a fast pace to integrate electronic business. This can be difficult for commercial businesses who work with the government. It's sort of like trying to put a Beta tape into your VHS player--nothing happens. While corporate computers are talking to one another and making end-to-end transactions faster and in many cases, simpler, the government is pretty much out of the loop.
There are a few immediately possible ways to get the government closer to the e-business world. One is by helping government information sites build themselves into portals. According to Makowka, many IT companies are working on creating models that offer free portals.
There are, of course certain types of data which are not web-accessible, and may never be, but the portal model allows for wider data distribution without compromising security.
Makowka's firm, james martin + co, has also developed a simple way for government agencies to ease into the electronic age. They have created a system that can lead managers through defining the requirements and identifying the e-solution to government needs--with a deck of cards. It seems elementary, but the idea is that when managers see a straightforward, non-technical approach to defining their needs and solutions, the once-elusive concepts of "e-business" and "e-government" become clear. And that makes projects easier to justify and easier to fund.
Of course, gantthead can help, too. When IT developers and project managers in the government need advice or guidance, they can find it right here. And they don't need to cut through the red tape of RFPs or POs. They can just sign on, get what they need and get back to running the country.
And isn't that what the government is all about?
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