Communities

Texas Speeders Pay Fines Via Net

Texas traffic offenders are racing to use E-Court Inc.'s new online court payment system, which enables people to pay traffic tickets and court fines online with a credit card or electronic check and avoid having to go back to the location where the ticket was issued.

"Interest has been phenomenal about it," company spokeswoman Lisa Onstot said. "We want to become known as the payment provider for the courts."

The system, which hit the market Aug. 1, has been well-received in communities throughout Texas. E-Court (www.ecourtinc.com) is planning to launch the product on a national scale.

The system was developed by company founder James Chadwick, who got the idea after spending three days trying to pay a ticket he received in the southern part of the state. Chadwick previously has developed software solutions for IBM Global Services Inc., Dell Computer Corp. and other Fortune 500 companies.

The Internet-based system is operated by E-Court, which handles all of the electronic commerce transactions and then passes payment along to the courts. E-Court provides the software, hardware and World Wide Web interface for local courts and then charges the courts a monthly fee for the service. The company has five signed contracts, 11 letters of intent and more than 25 contracts in review, Onstot said.

D.E. Sosa, city manager in Giddings, Texas, one of the towns that has signed with E-Court, expected to have the system in place in September. Sosa said he liked the idea because of the layout of the state and the large number of small towns and major highways.

"People are always having problems figuring out where they got their ticket," Sosa said. "We feel like it's so much more convenient for someone to be able to go on the Internet and pay their ticket than having to drive all the way back here to do it. The whole idea just boggles my mind."

The entire payment process takes two to three minutes, Onstot said. Users log on to the Web site, agree to pay their fine by credit card or check and are assessed a transaction fee-$2.50 for credit cards and $3.50 for checks-similar to service fees charged at automated teller machines.

Denton, Texas, asked for a little more from E-Court. The city wants to put a kiosk system in place in addition to offering the Web-based solution. "We put a wicket in their project plan...but they said they would research it and do it with us," said Alex Pettit, director of information services for the city. "It's different from what they're doing in other places because we want a turnkey proposal, and that's what we're trying to put together here."

***

States Form High-Tech Partnership

The Super Computing Science Consortium (SC2), a regional high-tech partnership between Pennsylvania and West Virginia, was established Aug. 30 to help facilitate partnerships among energy, university and technology interests in the two states.

The partners are the Federal Energy Technology Center, a U.S. Energy Department research laboratory with facilities in Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.Va., the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), Carnegie Mellon University, West Virginia University and the West Virginia Governor's Office of Technology.

Matthew Tunnell, director of policy and technology for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, said the partnership will enable resources from the two states to be more broadly shared.

"Without the partnerships, that doesn't happen," he said. "This [consortium] will only lead to innovation and ultimately to wealth generation for the states. The ideas, resources, products and knowledge gained from access to the system should have spin-off to the economy."

Tunnell, who called the Pittsburgh SC2 Center "one of the most important technology assets in the region," also said the consortium will aid research and communications among the partners in the technology industry.

One immediate objective of the SC2 is to establish a network linking West Virginia with the Internet hub at PSC.

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D.C. Council Holds Y2K Exercise

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) supervised a regional Year 2000 exercise last month that was designed to test numerous worst-case scenarios for its partners in state, local, federal, utility and transportation agencies.

The scenarios tested the participants' ability to communicate and assist each another in a Year 2000-related crisis. In Alexandria, Va., alone, participants responded to 131 incidents during the six-hour exercise.

"We had to respond to a [simulated] helicopter crash on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, power outages, looting, a hostage situation...in addition to mutual-aid agreements we had with other areas," said assistant city manager Angelita Plemmer. "It was a very busy day, but it was great."

Plemmer said the city also took the opportunity to test individual agency contingencies, including plans for payroll, telecommunications and transportation. "We prepared for any and every possibility," she said.

COG used the exercise to define its possible role as a regional Year 2000 communications center when the Year 2000 date change occurs. "We were testing the concept of having a regional center itself for Dec. 31," a COG spokeswoman said.

Overall, information and resources were shared effectively, allowing research and solutions to be formed more quickly than if COG had not been involved, the COG spokeswoman said.

Sonny Segal, chief of the Year 2000 Project Office in Montgomery County, Md., called the exercise "very worthwhile" and said it was effective for coordinating responses among the regional partners and letting the public know about those partnerships.

"The challenge was getting notice out to the public about coordinating a response in the region, and we achieved that through the simulation," Segal said. "It also helped to recognize the strengths and any weaknesses at the procedural level. COG is one of the best central locations where many regional jurisdictions are members."

A detailed report about the Sept. 1 exercise and COG's role in Year 2000 coordination should be released in mid-October. Plemmer said COG's role in the region's Year 2000 response planning will be better defined after that report is released.

Government participants in the exercise were Alexandria, Va.; Arlington County, Va.; Bowie, Md.; College Park, Md.; the District of Columbia; the city of Fairfax and Fairfax County, Va.; Falls Church, Va.; Gaithersburg, Md.; Greenbelt, Md.; Loudoun County, Va.; Montgomery County, Md.; Prince George's County, Md.; Prince William County, Va.; Rockville, Md.; and Takoma Park, Md.

In addition to Bell Atlantic Communications Corp., other participants included the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the Potomac Electric Power Co., Virginia Power, Washington Gas, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

***

Ariz. County Courts Voice/Data Integration

The Gila County, Ariz., Courthouse is using a new Cisco Systems Inc. router to help connect smaller departments throughout the region. The new network system is expected to save the county money by reducing long-distance telephone charges, while the enhanced videoconferencing made possible by the system will reduce the cost of transporting prisoners.

The county was hit with an increase in telephone costs after telecommunications deregulation, when a call from one end of the county to the other was rated a long-distance call.

The addition of the routers, a wide-area network and improved videoconferencing will enable remote state offices to save money on telephone calls and prisoner transport, said Tom Homan, senior systems analyst at the Gila County Courthouse.

"It's allowing us to go in and open discussions with departments that previously were not connected," Homan said.

In Gila County, the Cisco 1750 modular access router, which starts at a price of $1,795, has been up and running for about six weeks. The Cisco 1750 enables the county to integrate voice, video and data information across the court system, said Mike McIver, systems engineer for Cisco Systems' state and local division. "The common infrastructure requires less to manage, maintain and train people on," he said. "It provides a more flexible tool for high-speed technology in a cost-effective manner."

The county's court system serves about 700 people, and Homan expects long-distance savings of $17,000 systemwide.

"We've seen a long-distance cost reduction, and we expect the videoconferencing ability will drop our inmate transport costs by about 10 percent," Homan said. The cost of transporting inmates has cost Gila County about $30,000 per month, including vehicles, officers and other incidentals.

The new router is in place in the Gila County Sheriff's Department and also will be rolled out to a police agency.

***

Arizona Releases Strategic Plan for Information Technology

Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull (R) and chief information officer John Kelly recently released the state's Strategic Plan for Information Technology, a blueprint for making Arizona government services more accessible to citizens.

The state's Government Information Technology Agency (GITA) published the plan, which promotes Hull's theme of having cabinet members lead agencies with a focus on customer service and using technology to accomplish that goal.

"Without executive leadership, most state investments in IT were for maintenance," said Kelly, who also is GITA's director. "New products were being bought to maintain old ones, and they were spending money and just putting out old fires."

The strategic plan's tag line, "Arizona @ Your Service," acknowledges the power of the Internet in delivering government services as well as the need for a strong technology infrastructure to optimize government service delivery.

"This [plan] is the opening salvo for several different important initiatives," Kelly said. "The ideas for improvement are driven by the customers...not just the technical people."

The plan also examines the current government technology environment, factors inhibiting success, the vision for progress and global trends that influence technology decisions on a daily basis.

Arizona's strategic IT plan is available in print from GITA and also can be found on its World Wide Web site at gita.state.az.us/sitplan99/index.htm.

***

University of Texas at Arlington Students Must Be Computer-Literate to Graduate

University of Texas at Arlington officials are requiring students to exhibit computer literacy in five distinct areas in order to graduate from the school.

Students must demonstrate proficiency in word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, the Internet and online research through the school library. To meet the requirements, students can take a course or pass a computer literacy test.

"Basic computer literacy skills are now needed for most jobs in the marketplace," said Dana Dunn, vice provost for academic affairs. "Students who take the test can study the tutorials that come with it on their own, and then they don't have to take a four-credit academic course."

UTA classes began Aug. 30, and an information campaign was planned to disseminate the news to students through the school newspaper, the advising staff and other routes. "We don't anticipate any problematic reaction, in part because we had student input from the beginning," Dunn said. Undergraduates were represented in the committees that designed the program and established the proper requirements and content for the tests.

***

Pennsylvania License Plates First in World to Include Web Address

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) launched the state's first license plate recall since 1976 last month, as plates bearing the state's World Wide Web address across the bottom went into the mail.

The new plates are blue across the top, white in the middle and yellow on the bottom, with "www.state.pa.us" set in blue letters against the yellow band.

Ridge said the Web address is symbolic and functional, illustrating the state's high-tech leadership, but also directing people to Pennsylvania's Web presence.

This summer, the Pennsylvania home page topped the 200-million-visitor plateau, the governor's office said.

***

California Company Gets OK for Paperless Payroll System

A California World Wide Web workflow company has received a state labor law ruling that will enable its customers to deliver an entirely paperless payroll to employees.

The company, Pleasanton, Calif.-based ProBusiness Inc., had pushed for a clarification of a state law that required paper backups to be issued on all electronic payroll payments.

The company asked a state senator and an assemblywoman for help when the California Department of Industrial Relations issued a requirement that employees receive paper-based copies of payroll checks.

"Our customers were interested in the online service, so we contacted state Sen. Richard Rainey and our assemblywoman, Lynn Leach, and they agreed with us and sent a letter to the department asking them to reconsider," said Andrew McDevitt, government relations liaison at ProBusiness.

The paperless process is environment-friendly, cost-efficient and secure, McDevitt said. Employees can access paycheck information online from anywhere with a user identification and password, and they can view data for the past three years of paycheck actions.

"A key thing was giving employees access to the last three years of payroll data," said Bob Taylor, a spokesman for Rainey. "ProBusiness was ready to move forward, and they made it happen." The paperless system also cuts costs on paper, ink and postage, McDevitt said.

ProBusiness is a Web-based employee administrative services company which lists Paramount Pictures and Autodesk Inc. among its California customers.

"We're pleased with the state's reversal and think it shows that they are really embracing technology," McDevitt said, adding that he hopes other states follow California's lead. "The future challenges will involve other existing laws that were written prior to all the technology we have now. Those will have to be reconsidered."

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Illinois Colleges Launch Online Mentor System

The Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities unveiled a free, Internet-based information system last month to help prospective students find their future schools among the group's 58 member institutions.

The World Wide Web site (www.illinoismentor.org) enables users to take multimedia virtual campus tours, match their interests with specific schools, establish e-mail contact with campus representatives and perform scholarship searches.

Students also can apply for admission and financial aid at any of the federation's member schools through the site.

The idea for a Web presence came out of a meeting with federation members last year, said Don Fouts, president of the federation. "The new reality of the Internet prompted us to look for and find ways to use it, especially for recruitment and the application process," Fouts said.

Students soon will be able to get a head start on filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid form through the Illinois site and others developed by XAP Corp., said Allen Firstenberg, president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles-based company.

"The Department of Education has already approved Illinois, Texas, New York and the California state system, which allows the students' financial aid data to be automatically transferred to the federal form," Firstenberg said.

The Illinois site cost nearly $500,000 and was designed, operated and paid for by XAP, which specializes in Internet-based student services. Firstenberg said operational and maintenance costs will total about $300,000 annually, making the five-year contract a multimillion-dollar venture.

"XAP is responsible for getting sponsors that have products and services of interest to students," Firstenberg said, adding that this is also how the company draws revenue. The Student Loan Corp., a subsidiary of Citibank, already has signed on in Illinois.

Firstenberg said XAP operates mentor sites in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Texas and California. A statewide site in New York is scheduled to go up on Nov. 1.

***

Ga. Installs Online Car Title, Registration System

Georgia last month began deploying a new system that will enable participating counties to provide the state with vehicle registration and title processing information in real time, giving the state more accurate information and even helping the state police fight crime.

The Georgia Registration and Title Information System (GRATIS) will a replace an outdated and error-prone system that required counties to individually process documents, decals and other information, said Milton Dufford, deputy commissioner of the motor vehicle division of the state revenue department.

The GRATIS centralized database allows information to be shared statewide, aiding the fight against registering stolen vehicles. The system also will provide consistent name information, making sure registrations and titles match owners' names on their driver's licenses.

Law enforcement officials also will benefit from the new system through real-time, after-hours access to vehicle ownership and registration information, said Gordy Wright, director of public information for the Georgia Department of Public Safety.

Previously, information regarding stolen or nonregistered vehicles was manually routed to headquarters in Atlanta, creating a lag time that criminals took advantage of by using vehicle titles that at the time of processing did not contain incriminating information.

"The inquiries would come up 'not on file,' but now all of that information can be keyed in at the local offices, and access to it is almost immediate," he said. "Especially on the weekends, there would be no leads because there was no after-hours look up, but now that loophole is closed for criminals. There will be no more crimes in the lag time."

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New California Tax System to Target Nonfilers

California's Franchise Tax Board has tapped IBM Corp. to develop a tax system that will help the state collect $30 million in revenue lost annually because of missing income tax returns.

The system will use IBM's business intelligence and data mining software to analyze tax returns stored in the FTB data warehouse and will cross-check the information against historical and third-party data to locate residents who have not filed tax returns.

"This partnership with IBM will allow us to better go through the data and be more accurate in identifying tax nonfilers. It will make us much more efficient," FTB spokesman Patrick Hill said.

The $29 million system should be fully operational by December 2001, and it will pay for itself in the first year with the additional revenue collected, Hill said.

The state is bringing the system online in phases. The first major milestone occurs in December 2000, when the state will be able to identify non-filers. The full system also will enable the FTB to eliminate faulty data, including incorrect names, identification numbers and duplicates, and an automated case management feature will be used to mail notices to past nonfilers.

The business intelligence solution includes an IBM RS/6000 SP server, DB2 Universal Database, an online analytic process server and applications from the company's electronic business offerings.

***

Kolodney Returning as Wash. CIO

Steve Kolodney, the former director of Washington's Department of Information Services (DIS), who left June 30 for a job in the private sector, was scheduled to return to his former post Oct. 4.

Kolodney said he was enjoying his new job in Sacramento, Calif., but missed state government, so he called Gov. Gary Locke (D) to see if his position was still available.

"The governor has a strong interest in making Washington state government more accessible...and that's very exciting to me," Kolodney said, adding that there are great opportunities in digital govern-ment, which will be his focus upon returning to DIS.

Part of the attraction of the Sacramento job was that it put Kolodney closer to his family, but the whole group may be returning to Washington. "I'm certainly going to be there," Kolodney said. "When my family is coming is something we're still discussing."

Washington had initiated a nationwide search for a new DIS director but had been unsuccessful until Kolodney became available again, said Locke spokesman Keith Love. "A couple of times we were told by the headhunters that the best guy out there was this guy Steve Kolodney," Love said. "We said 'Yes, we know that,' and [we] were thrilled when Steve wanted to come back. Literally, he's the best in the country."

***

New England Adds Regional Online Presence

The New England Board of Higher Education has launched New England Online with the intention of providing the six-state region with a centralized presence on the Internet.

The New England Online site (www.newenglandonline.org) was unveiled Sept. 9, is designed it to serve as a "virtual gathering place" for the region's online population, said Charlotte Stratton, director of publications and information systems at NEBHE.

"Individuals from the different constituencies can come to the site and know that we did the legwork for them to help answer questions and do the work they need to do," she said.

The site provides information and links about New England within six topics: general information, education, government, business and economy, community service and the arts.

Future applications will include more links and possibly user registration for individually tailored information and searches as well as online discussions, Stratton said. "This is a resource to develop a dialogue among the different constituencies," she said. "Researchers, policy people and regular citizens can use it to access regional information in many different areas...and future [features] depend on the 'do-ability' of our vision for the site."

The site is sponsored by NEBHE in cooperation with the New England Council, a regional business organization, and the New England Governors' Conference. It is supported financially by the AT&T Foundation.

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