INTERNAUT

These five trends could change government IT

Shawn P. McCarthy

I've noticed some trends recently that have the potential to spark big changes in agencies' information technology practices:

  • Peer-to-peer applications could break the current Internet business model. Napster, Gnutella and Uprizer are pioneers in sharing online computers as both clients and servers. Lots of new apps are developing for all kinds of file types, which could spark a huge demand for bandwidth to the always-connected systems, followed by provider price increases. Government offices that lease both dial-up and permanent connections could feel the pinch.


  • Government-specific Extensible Markup Language tag sets finally could become a reality. Take a look at xml.gov. Many government data centers have experimented with XML, but the idea of developing schemas to shuttle data among departments and eliminate duplicate data collections has not taken hold yet because of the massive amount of work involved.

    When you visit the site, take the time to fill out the form at xml.gov/efforts_form.cfm?sectionid=9 to make others aware of XML activities in your organization. On the site's future road map is a repository of governmental XML data elements, document type definitions and schemas.


  • Federal sites are gaining popularity. Ratings giant Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. of New York listed three fed sites among its biggest gainers at the end of January. IRS.gov traffic rose 3.6 percent, with a reach of 5.5 percent of the online population and a unique visitor count of 4.52 million. Fedworld.gov traffic rose 2.6 percent, with a 4.1 percent online reach and 3.41 million unique visitors. USTreas.gov enjoyed a 1.5 percent traffic gain, with a 2.7 percent reach and 2.27 million unique visitors. Those numbers are based on sampling and likely do not reflect exact counts as measured by server logs.


  • More government sites are accepting online payments through third parties, which frees the government staff from building and maintaining the back-end systems.

    For example, Official Payments Corp. of Stamford, Conn., accepts taxes for the IRS, 17 state governments, and 700 counties and municipalities. Such payment processing could easily transfer to other functions, from licenses to court filings to database purchases. Service providers today charge about 2.5 percent to process a payment, and that bite will drop as the service becomes a commodity.


  • More governments are adopting Web techniques invented by industry'for example, online auctions. After severe electricity shortages, California's Department of Water Resources recently held a 27-hour reverse auction to find lower-cost energy sources. The department asked bidders to download a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet application from its Web site, print it out, fill it in and fax it back with peak and off-peak energy pricing.

    Such auctions have also been used by agencies that buy lots of commodity items, but California took the next step by negotiating several million dollars' worth of energy contracts.


  • Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos-inc.com.

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