Internaut: A quick trip through e-gov evolution

Shawn P. McCarthy

Government employees, media types and analysts hear electronic government bandied about so often that it has become ubiquitous background noise.

Vendors like to tout any piece of computer equipment that might be used in a government office as an 'e-government solution.'

But there is no such thing as a standalone e-gov solution. Let's take a tour of what does and does not qualify as e-gov.

First stop: www.egov.gov, a site within www.WhiteHouse.gov. There you'll learn that the president considers e-gov to include applications, projects and services that improve communication between government and citizens, government and business, agency and agency, and government and its employees.

Second stop: Other e-gov sites, which are popping up all over as e-gov evolves toward a formal structure. The driving force is the E-Government Act of 2002, which calls for much more than just putting agency forms online and listing contact points on a Web site. It mandates streamlining services and consolidating data'not only putting it online but letting people interact with it.

One of the first such projects was the FirstGov.gov search engine that spiders government sites and makes their information much easier to find.

Other examples: Grants.gov, which not only consolidates several hundred grant opportunities but streamlines applying for them, and GoLearn.gov, which offers more than 3,000 e-training courses, e-books and career development resources.

Third stop: the federal CIO Council and its ongoing activities. At CIO.gov, the government's top information executives can trade best practices and coordinate large-scale projects to map out the future of government IT services.

Take a look at the council's 2004 strategic plan, which promotes cross-agency collaboration and tries to ensure the IT workforce has the resources and skills to meet mission objectives.

No mention of e-gov is complete without acknowledging the Federal Enterprise Architecture, a business and performance framework for cross-agency collaboration and information sharing.

Coordinated by a program management office, at www.feapmo.gov, the ongoing architecture review will deeply impact where data resides, how many applications the government maintains, how data is shared via Web services and distributed databases, and who will be the ultimate authority over specific data types.

The FEA will also shape how applications are licensed, how many IT employees the government needs, and how citizens update their information and transactions with multiple agencies.

E-government is not about single solutions. It's about interoperability, ongoing service and customized information views.

Keep that in mind the next time a vendor pitches an e-gov solution. It's only a solution if it's a building block that fits within the larger e-gov structure.

Shawn P. McCarthy is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC of Framingham, Mass. E-mail him at smccarthy@idc.com.

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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