Fairfax, Va., dishes up Web services

'Web service is something that still is being defined, and we are working to define the standards. One of the reasons we need to do this now is because money is tight, and we need to leverage our investments in technology.'

'Wanda Gibson, Chief Technology Officer for Fairfax County

Henrik G. DeGyor

Wanda Gibson refers to Fairfax County, Va., as the Internet of the East because of all the high-tech companies that populate the Dulles Corridor in the western part of the county.

With that unofficial title, Gibson, Fairfax's chief technology officer, knows county residents have high expectations for conducting business on the Web, and it is her job to make that happen.

Gibson is turning to Web services to connect disparate systems to make it easier for residents to find information about and do business with county, state and federal agencies online.

'Our strategic goal is to build a government without walls, doors or clocks,' Gibson said recently at the Web-Enabled conference in Washington sponsored by E-Gov. 'To do that, we need to use Web services, Extensible Markup Language and application integration software to bring all the pieces together.'

Fairfax has more than 1 million residents and 55 county agencies. The county uses more than 350 applications and works closely with a number of federal agencies, including the Homeland Security Department.

The breadth of systems Fairfax County must integrate locally, statewide and with the federal government led Gibson to support the use of Web services before many other government agencies. Officials in the Office of Management and Budget praised the possibilities of Web services early last year and have slowly started to roll out applications using the technology.

Gibson, though, said she couldn't wait for the technology to fully develop.

Best money can buy

'Web service is something that still is being defined, and we are working to define the standards,' she said. 'One of the reasons we need to do this now is because money is tight, and we need to leverage our investments in technology.'

Gibson said Fairfax has too many legacy systems that work well but are not very good at delivering services to the customer. County agencies use systems that run Cobol and DB2, Oracle and other databases.

Web services will let Fairfax share information between levels of government. Gibson said the county is working with Homeland Security to develop an information architecture for first responders' systems.

The key to Web services, Gibson said, is an enterprise application integration suite and a content management system. The county hired webMethods Inc. of Fairfax, Va., to supply the enterprise application suite and is finalizing plans to buy a content management system.

Gibson said webMethods' enterprise app tool will bring together information in the county's structured environment. The content management software will integrate unstructured data.

'A lot of reports have been developed by departments in other systems that we need to access,' she said.

Gibson offered a few practical examples of how Web services will tie together systems to provide information to government and residents.

Fairfax is developing a one-stop tax payment portal using Web services. Gibson said residents will be able to query the portal to find out how much and what kinds of taxes they owe.

Using an Extensible Markup Language schema, the portal will search different tax databases and retrieve the information.

'All of this will happen through the search engine using natural language queries, so people can find out what they need without having to understand the structure of government,' Gibson said. 'This will let us be a more efficient government and do more with less.'

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