Sell to Uncle Sam

OK, so the Internet hasn't changed the world.

OK, so the Internet hasnt changed the world.

The digital universe of our hazy imaginings last year has turned out — at least for now — to be less a separate plane of existence and more an important communications tool.

We dont think much of entertaining ourselves online, especially after the unfortunate emasculation of Napster. Online advertisements havent shaped up as the seductive bait they were supposed to be. And it turns out that we dont loathe strolling the aisles and handling goods in stores, which means we havent flocked to e-commerce as a brick-and-mortar shopping substitute.

Netizens appreciate that online they can look up the word "anchorite" and that they can research "iliotibial band friction syndrome" — but they havent shown much interest in paying for it.

Profit, you see, is a problem in the Information Economy. Which is why anybody selling Net-related products and services should target governments. The private sector has developed an entire vocabulary around the concept of "profit," but in government, its about as prominent a word as, well, "anchorite."

Governments strive for efficiency — the degree to which they succeed is another matter — not profit. They champion services, not products. They are made for the Internet, and they are buying as much digital plastic surgery as they can afford.

Gartner Group tells us federal spending for interactive e-government projects will quadruple from 2000 to 2005, to $6.2 billion. And the number of people using the Internet as their main link to government will increase to 34 percent of all U.S. citizens by 2002, up from 12 percent today, according to a Deloitte Consulting survey.

Consider the federal government. When one of its agencies buys information technology, it does so in a big way. The National Security Agency, for example, recently requested bids from the private sector for a multibillion-dollar project, called Groundbreaker, that would revamp the spy agencys internal computer systems, telephone ser-vices, and IT security. Estimated cost: $5 billion over 10 years.

What group has launched the largest online university? The U.S. Army, to the tune of an estimated $600 million.

The list goes on, of course, with schools, libraries and courthouses in cities around the country.

You want profits? Target those that dont.