Commerce Department zeros in on digital effort's hurdles

Commerce Department zeros in on digital effort's hurdles

Digital director Karen Hogan says good communication is important.

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

The Commerce Department's chief information officer said his department's electronic-government effort will likely be the start of a trend.

To make its Digital Department Initiative work, Commerce staff members will have to change the way they think about their work, CIO Roger W. Baker said. Within the department, each bureau's relative independence has created a cacophony of systems that lack interfaces and duplicate services, he said.

'If we have to drag 15 or 20 telecommunications networks into the Digital Department area, that's a more complex task because you have a whole lot of people you have to coordinate with and probably different equipment,' Baker said.

It starts with IT

Achieving e-government services would be a far simpler effort if information technology problems had to be solved only once or among a few groups, but at Commerce no one uses the same hardware or software, he said.

Karen F. Hogan, director of the Digital Department Initiative, said good communication among her team and Commerce's users will be the key. Not only must she find a way for systems of varying age and design to interoperate but, Hogan said, she must also cajole managers and systems personnel into helping her build a departmentwide intranet.

By using affinity groups, Hogan is delving into the cultural issues and technological problems that hinder the changes, she said.

The groups are studying the planned intranet architecture that would let Patent and Trademark Office staff connect with personnel at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and workers at the Census Bureau communicate with analysts at the Economic Analysis Bureau.

The groups'composed of IT staff members from various offices and bureaus within Commerce'also will suggest policy changes that the department should make, she said.

In December, Hogan and Baker rolled out an intranet for use by workers in the Office of the Secretary. 'It was very easy to bring up the Office of the Secretary intranet,' Baker said. 'We all run on standardized equipment here.'

Commerce used a simple architecture that can be made more robust with software upgrades, Hogan said. The intranet, with pages built with Microsoft FrontPage 97 and using Microsoft Internet Information Server 4.0, runs under Microsoft Windows NT on a Compaq ProLiant 1600 server.

Now, NOAA is studying a similar setup for an intranet that would connect its regional offices. 'We are in a kind of transition,' said Robert Kidwell, acting director of NOAA's Office of Information Systems.

Kidwell said he is looking to the agency's Silver Spring, Md., Network Operations Center as a model for how NOAA can create a NOAA-wide intranet.

Meanwhile, Hogan will continue expanding the secretary's intranet. upgrades will let users search for documents and possibly integrate workflow management, she said.

Hogan's group has until December to meet a self-imposed deadline of linking all Commerce employees in the Washington area to the intranet.

By September, the Digital Department team will determine the security needs of the new intranet, Hogan said.

In tandem, Commerce will also work on other e-government efforts. For instance, the Digital Department plan mandates that all forms required for public interaction be available via the Internet by December.

Although users would initially print the forms, fill them out and mail them back, the goal is to let the public interact electronically with Commerce, Baker said.

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