Let Em Vote From Their Living Rooms

Citizens and businesses alike want to access Federal, State and Local services online. That's where you come in.

If Heaven is the absence of Hell, then E-government could be a glimpse of paradise on earth. Imagine never again languishing in line at your local Department of Motor Vehicles, or waiting in the pouring rain to vote. Dont you feel reborn already?

E-government—providing government services via the Internet—is just part of an overall effort by local, state and the federal government to bring their IT infrastructure and systems into the 21st century.

"The government is in a modernization era," says Wayne Kelly, special assistant to president of Computer Sciences Corp.s Federal Sector in Falls Church, Va. "They have a wide range of standalone stovepipe-type systems. Theyre just starting to put in ERP. The information the government has is often not easily available, and that is impeding how they can deliver better services to citizens, as well as operate more efficiently."

At the same time, the federal government, and probably some state and local governments, have reduced their internal IT expertise. "Over the past eight years or so the federal government has been scaling back in terms of number of employees," says Kelly. "As a result it hasnt been hiring people. Over fifty percent of people in IT are eligible for retirement in the next five years and there is no one to take their place."

All of that leads to plenty of work for systems integrators and their B2B software partners, and for ASPs that can help governments get online quickly without investing huge sums to update their infrastructure.

Gartner Group estimates that spending on e-government initiatives will rise steadily, growing about 34 percent a year, from $1.9 billion this year to $6.6 billion in 2005. As a result, local, state and the federal government by 2006 are expected to collect 15 percent of fees and taxes online—for a total of $602 billion, according to Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

"Essentially, the market opportunity going forward is e-government or utilizing the Internet as a communication network," says Bruce Dahl, president and CEO of Tidemark Solutions, a software provider and ASP based in Seattle. "Its a long-term evolution and its not going to happen overnight."

But it will happen more quickly than it would have in the past. Starting in the mid-1990s, the federal government introduced a series of acquisition reforms that helped to vastly improve what was a laborious and painfully prolonged request for proposal (RFP) process. The reforms have cut down the time from RFP-to-contract award from years to months.

Take, for example, the Naval Sea Systems Command (Navsea) contract announced earlier this month. According to Max Peterson, VP of sales at E-government Solutions Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Commerce One Inc., Navsea briefed the industry on the contract on Dec. 5, 2000. It then received proposals, evaluated them over the holidays, and awarded the contract on Jan. 19, 2001 to Commerce One, CSC, IBM and Exostar.

"To say the RFP process is improved is an understatement. Thats true Internet speed," says Peterson. "Thats fast. Thats even fast in terms of large corporate [contracts]."

Commerce One, as prime contractor, and its partners are building an e-marketplace in which Navseas Support Services Acquisition Program Office can manage between $200 million to $300 million in services-based contracts annually. The marketplace is part of Navseas effort to cut $250 million out of its contract by 2005. Commerce One, through its government subsidiary acquired when the platform maker bought AppNet in April 2000, is providing the marketplace software infrastructure. IBM is doing e-business consulting. Exostar is supplying the connection between the Navsea portal and the programs service contractors. And CSC is providing systems integration, supply-chain consulting and Navy procurement process expertise.

Another area of opportunity is in helping the government to integrate all those so-called stovepipe systems in order to provide a unified view into an agencys financial, procurement, or other systems. American Management Systems Inc., a systems integrator in Fairfax, Va., for example, is working with webMethods Inc. on upcoming contracts at three large agencies, according to Zip Brown, VP of e-government solutions at AMS.

"One of things clearly happening in the government market is the need to tie together disparate systems to provide one view," says Brown. "There are systems out there running for which there is no documentation, no source code. In some cases it may make sense to use output from those, bridge it through some of these EAI tools," rather than replace the systems, she said.

Another form of integration is occurring, particularly in local governments. There, counties and cities that adhere to the same state laws are working together to deliver uniform services so that a construction company, for example, can apply for permits online the same way across counties. "Regionalization is starting to become an issue, too, but thats more in the area of businesses," says Tidemarks Dahl. Tidemark, for example, is working with Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a nonprofit group that is working toward providing the same online services across the several counties that form the Bay Area.

With a little divine intervention, maybe those DMV queues, and hopefully our antiquated voting system, will go the way of punch cards.