GSA techie says e-commerce change is about time

GSA techie says e-commerce change is about time

E-commerce will develop as agencies accept change and find the best use of technology, GSA's Mary Mitchell says.

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

Mary Mitchell scoffs at headlines proclaiming that any year will be the year of electronic commerce.

'I don't think anything happens overnight,' said the new deputy associate administrator for electronic commerce in the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy.

The transition to e-commerce will take time because agencies must focus on the less glamorous task of reworking antiquated business processes, Mitchell said recently during an interview in her office at GSA headquarters.

'I don't ever think there is going to be a year of electronic commerce. It's going to be something that happens as you change your processes. It's all a chain of information technology automation,' said Mitchell, a self-proclaimed techie.

Much of the media attention has been on the consumer e-commerce marketplace. 'That's not where e-commerce is happening. It's happening under the covers' in business-to-business transactions, Mitchell said.

'People don't talk about those kinds of improvements,' she said, because they are not as popular.

She noted that although most people point to the phenomenal growth of the Internet, in reality the Internet has been in development for years. Only recently did it reach the point where the average person could understand it, she said.

In May, Mitchell moved to GSA from the National Institute of Standards and Technology where she worked with industry to define technology investments in electronic commerce, intelligent controls and intelligent engineering design. She replaces Tony Trenkle, who left GSA for the Social Security Administration. He played matchmaker between GSA and Mitchell, encouraging her to take the post.

Although she acknowledges she does not come from a policy background, Mitchell said she feels she is well-suited for her role as a champion of e-commerce in government.

'I come from more of a technical, open-consensus, standards background,' she said.

But the process for setting policy has changed in recent years, she said. 'It's now very much this consensus mode. You have to really listen to the stakeholders and form alliances. That's a big aspect of what this office needs to do if we are to improve electronic commerce governmentwide.'

What she hopes to develop is a broad vision of how government business processes need to change in three critical areas: service to the citizen; services across the federal government; and federal, state and local interaction.

The development of that broad vision requires consensus and partnership, skills that have been integral at NIST, she said.

'You cannot just insert technology without figuring out how it improves the situation, how you can leverage other efforts,' she said. 'To really get behavior to change ' you have to show them how.'

Through necessity, agencies have been developing stovepipe systems, she said. 'Electronic commerce is still at a point where the government needs to experiment and learn how to take the new innovations and transpose our business process to best take advantage of them,' she said.

Those pilots, however, eventually need to migrate into broad-based systems.

One of the most difficult tasks for government is investment planning, Mitchell said. Projects eventually need to move to a subscription model where a number of agencies can share the costs, she said.

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