EDITORIAL

Good intentions

Thomas R. Temin

A new term is emerging in electronic government: intention-based transaction. Intention-based is shorthand for the linking of a series of discrete transaction systems that add up to the ultimate goal of the user.

The example I've heard most often is starting a business. This typically involves obtaining permits, tax registration and so forth. Manufacturing or processing businesses might require approval from federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Food and Drug Administration.

Each step is a separate transaction with a different agency. A would-be business must complete each transaction, but no single step is really the goal, or intention.

Given that the Web sites of most agencies are as complicated to navigate as physically going to each office, there's a lot to be gained by integrating all that plumbing behind a single front end with a big button labeled 'Starting a business.'

Once you've said intention-based, though, the clarity gives way to the mire of stovepipe systems that don't communicate and, in some cases, of agencies that don't cooperate.
The danger in building such systems is trying to do everything at once in a big, multiyear integration project. You know how those generally go.

At a dinner during last month's FOSE 2001 trade show in Washington, Eric Brewer, co-founder of Inktomi Corp. of Foster City, Calif., and donor of funds to build the FirstGov portal, gave simple but sage advice to agency executives with big goals. Keep the overarching vision in place, but break up a project into discrete pieces you can deliver reliably and quickly. Stop thinking in terms of years or lengths of presidential administrations, he said; think in terms of what you can deliver this quarter.

Some agencies are getting this message. Even the IRS is taking a measured, step-by-step approach in its long-term modernization efforts. I liken it to one of my hobbies, running marathons. Stop thinking about the finish line and instead do a quality job on each mile. The distance will take care of itself.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: [email protected]

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