Web Services-Portal Is on Tap for New Mexico

IBM, Vignette to corral state's wide-ranging online information.

The state of New Mexico is harnessing the power of portal technology and Web services to transform a loosely related collection of government sites into an integrated portal that is organized by communities of interest rather than agency focus.

Because the states Web sites differ not only in content but also in the technology behind them (using everything from Java 2 Enterprise Edition to .Net to standard Web tools), the New Mexico state portal (known as the Multi- Agency Portal, or MAG Portal) needed to be neutral when it came to technology.

"I needed to tie my Microsoft [Corp.] world with my Unix world," said Bob Stafford, CIO for the state of New Mexico, in Santa Fe. Working with IBM Global Services, the state of New Mexico IT department made the decision to roll out the MAG Portal and base it on IBMs WebSphere Application Server and DB2 database. The portal is in the first stages of design and implementation. Stafford said he hopes to have the portal rolled out by the end of the year.

For the content management and portal development side, the state site developers went with Vignette Corp.s content management platform. Much of the focus here was to make it easier for content holders to add their material to the portal sites.

"We cant be dependent on the IT department to maintain content," Stafford said.

Portal project members also chose these platforms because of their support for Web services standards such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and Web Services Description Language. A key requirement of the portal initiative was that there be almost no rewriting of Web applications and services already in use. "Our vision was to use Web services to enable remote procedures," Stafford said.

Although many services in the MAG Portal consist of standard Web applications, others are newly developed Web services.

According to Renee Martinez, CIO for the New Mexico Environment Department and chair of the MAG Portal steering committee, standardizing on common services is a key goal. "Theres a lot of interest in sharing common services, such as Web payments or forms, across agencies."

Besides figuring out which services they can share and which they need to build, there is also a need to decide how to display and deploy services in the portal. "We are trying to decide how to best highlight the e-government services that are already available," said Martinez, in Santa Fe.

Since the portal is being developed around communities of interest rather than agency categorizations, it was clear that additional levels of organization would be necessary. "We quickly realized that we needed more than one portal in the state," Stafford said.

Therefore, subportals have been created—portals that are organized around services for homeland security, the state justice system and public employees.

Creating a role-based design that customizes the portal based on visitor role (such as business or government) is one tactic the MAG Portal builders are using to improve the usability of the portal. "How do we organize this data to make it easy for people to find what they need?" Martinez asked. "Constituents shouldnt need to know our internal organization setup in order to find information."

Martinez added that a key test will be when the portal becomes live to constituents. "The challenge is going to be to respond to the constituents initial reaction to the portal. We need to have a design that is flexible and nimble enough to change as needed," she said. The plan is to do some initial constituent outreach and testing to get some feedback on the portal design and usability.

Security is also a major issue in the portal and Web services development. In addition to traditional issues such as access control and securing the services, Stafford and his staff had to deal with a large number of potentially unsecured systems within their networks, meaning that safe internal access wasnt a foregone conclusion. As Stafford said: "Another problem with implementing Web services is the number of insecure servers within the government networks."

To deal with some of these security issues, the state turned to Oblix Inc.s NetPoint. The main focus of the NetPoint implementation is to maintain identity management and handle LDAP-based access control.

In addition, it was possible for the development team to begin some work in securing services through Security Assertion Markup Language because Oblix is a big backer of this standard for securing Web services and because NetPoint includes SAML implementations.

In addition to internal implementation of Web services, many of the agencies are working on outward-facing Web services. "Some agencies are already building extranets to exchange information using XML with external government agencies," Martinez said.

The Environment Department, for example, is working on sharing information with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. "The states and the EPA are working together on defining XML schemas for information that we already share, such as air quality reports," she said.

East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

Web Resources For Government XML And Web Services

  • CIO Council Federal and state government interagency forum dedicated to improving IT management (www.cio.gov)
  • eGov Strategies Site of the U.S. General Services Administrations Office of Electronic Government and Technology; central repository for information on a variety of government technology initiatives (www.egov.gov)
  • OASIS Site for the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards; information on XML standards, including several key Web services standards such as SAML and electronic business XML (www.oasis-open.org)
  • United States Congress XML and Legislative Documents Provides information about the ongoing work of the U.S. House of Representatives in relation to XML (xml.house.gov)
  • W3C Home page for the World Wide Web Consortium; central information site for most Web standards, including SOAP and XML (www.w3.org)
  • XML.gov Multinational site that provides resources related to use of XML and Web services standards (xml.gov)