Portal links government sites

Portal links government sites

Ezgov.com offers a single point of entry for online services

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

Portals. They're the current Webolutionary darling, giving folks one-stop sites that aggregate pertinent online links to shopping, entertainment, business'and now government.

Atlanta company ezgov.com inc. has launched a Web portal to political information and online services of all governments in the United States. And if your government organization doesn't have online services, ezgov.com will set them up for you at no capital cost.

'This is a market space that's truly in its infancy. Less than one-half of 1 percent of government services are available on the Internet right now,' said Ed Trimble, ezgov.com president and chief executive officer.

The portal, at www.ezgov.com, links to a variety of local, state and federal government information. Its electronic government index purports to link to all transactional government services. All of the information is free.

So how does the company make money? Typically by charging a per-transaction fee for establishing online government services.

Ezgov.com's e-government suite includes five applications:

•'EZProperty for reviewing or paying property taxes

•'EZDeeds for researching real estate data

•'EZTicket for paying parking tickets

•'EZTags for renewing automobile tags

•'EZLicense for renewing driver's licenses.

Clients include DeKalb County, Ga.; Summit County, Ohio; and the state of Georgia.

Jeanette Rozier, DeKalb County clerk of the Superior Court, had wanted to offer online services for more than two years but lacked the budget.

'I told them I'm trying to find a way to bring the clerk's office to the citizens without costing the citizens any money,' Rozier said.

Now the county's 600,000 citizens can pay their property taxes online through ezProperty at no charge from the county. The bank that handles electronic check or credit card payments charges the taxpayers $3 per transaction. They can check out county deed and assessment data for free through ezDeeds.

The bottom line

The ezgov.com service is twofold: a portal that lets citizens connect with government services and an online services developer for governments.

Although ezgov.com charges no initial fees, it makes money by taking a percentage of government revenue generated from online transactions and advertising. Some pay ezgov.com a fee for each online transaction; some pass along that fee to citizens. Fees typically range from $1 to $5 per transaction based on factors such as population, expected use and system features, ezgov.com chairman Brian Mundy said.

Ezgov.com provided DeKalb County's applications in exchange for half of any revenues generated from online advertising, Rozier said. The portal is hosted on a Sun Microsystems E250 enterprise server running SunSoft Solaris 2.7. The company houses the application interfaces, which are developed in Java server pages and run under Netscape Enterprise Server 3.62.

Most governments, including DeKalb County, already have electronic data, Trimble said. Ezgov.com typically receives batch file feeds from clients via the Internet or dedicated lines, although it can support direct access. Extracts are then converted to the company's required standard format and housed in an Oracle8 database.

EzDeeds was up within 30 days of DeKalb County's first development meeting, Rozier said. It had received more than 1 million hits between its Aug. 5 launch and early last month.

Typically, 20 percent to 30 percent of a government's population will use online services, Mundy said. Unconnected citizens can usually find Internet access at a local library or government office, he said.

All that activity makes security the No. 1 concern for governments entering the electronic commerce arena, Trimble said.

'We're processing financial transactions and in some cases highly sensitive information. We have to go in and demonstrate that we're secure,' he said.

Transactions are encrypted with 128-bit encryption before they travel over the Internet via Secure Sockets Layer.

Batch transfers are also encrypted if they travel over the Internet. Ezgov.com encrypts credit card and bank account numbers within its own system to protect the data, said Doug Wait, vice president of product development.

The basic level of authentication in the applications is less stringent. EzLicense typically requires a driver's license number and one other authenticator, for example, so someone technically could renew a license for someone else.

It does not, however, allow address changes. For that, citizens must visit an office and verify their identities. Someone with a little knowledge could likely pay someone else's property tax under ezProperty, as well.

Governments can work out more exacting authentication schemes such as mailed personal identification numbers for particular transactions, Trimble said. Several states use that tactic for online income tax payments.

And as digital signature authenticators enter the online vernacular, more e-government apps will become viable, Trimble said.

The company plans to launch other applications over time, he said, including those with imaging capabilities.


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