Server to the Citizen

Universal server technology, as described in our cover story this month, promises to give state and local information technology managers a powerful weapon in the war against program segregation in government. Among its advantages: one-stop searching, off-the-shelf integration of complex data and centralized administration.

In an ideal universal server environment, agencies could pull data into their applications regardless of the source agency or data format. Need environmental time-series data for a utility resources exercise? Universal server promises to be able to blend the data types. Like access to a tax database for urban or transportation modeling? In a universal server scenario, nonsensitive tax data could be stripped from department records and shared.

Some might argue that universal server is dreamware, not implemented, and therefore unsuitable for the treatment it's accorded here. But despite the technical wars over its introduction, it is a technology that seems particularly suited to the public sector, too often the home of fiefdoms and stovepipe systems. It also is another of the big boundary-hopping technologies that, like the Internet and client/server, have pushed government organizations to interact directly.

The latest buzzword for this is "disintermediation," the removal of layers between communicating parties. Universal server technology appears to take that idea to another dimension. For instance, elsewhere in this issue, we have a story involving data sharing among the states' motor vehicle departments ("Data Sharing on the DMV Highway,"). In that case, a value-added network is connecting far-flung agencies that share common service goals. In contrast, universal server could link agencies with no history of cooperation but whose aggregate data might yield new ways of serving the public.

The possibilities are endless. But in order for such new data integration tools to work, agencies will have to focus not only on what they have in common but also on how to put their differences to better use. Of course, that's a lesson the vendors could stand to think over in this case. But I won't give away the story. See for yourself.

Also, just a reminder that you can now subscribe to civic.com by going to our Web site at www.fcw-civic.com and clicking the "Subscribe" button. And don't forget the "Contact Us" button as well. We welcome your feedback.

Paul McCloskey

Editor

civic.com

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