Better tech needed to advance the Web governmentwide

It would be the understatement of the year to say "The World Wide Web has and will continue to dramatically change how we conduct the business of the federal government." In fact, the change is so dramatic we must completely rethink how we do our jobs.

We need to look at the best that technology is offering us in order to be productive and to cut loose the parts of technology that negatively impact productivity. For example, aggressive use of the Web expands the capabilities of office automation and is, I believe, creating productivity enhancements of more than 20 to 100 times over other traditional local-area network-only architectures. However, while e-mail facilitates communication, at the same time it becomes an overwhelming deluge that takes huge chunks of time out of the day.

This paradox becomes more significant as government goes digital. An increasing number of workers in agencies, particularly operations and program offices, will rely on Web tools and applications to do their jobs. As the use of the Web for conducting business proliferates throughout government, we all will, in effect, become Webmasters.

But the tools must become easier to use and integrated before operations and program offices will feel comfortable using them. We must create many workarounds to create a seamless environment to use the Web and office automation software. We need more seamless, integrated tools to develop Web-ready content, manage electronic mailing lists, develop Web-enabled databases, organize information, manage links, search the Internet and post information. On the positive side, robust tools enable Webmasters to convert and post documents to the Web fairly painlessly.

The difficulty of organizing our ever-growing libraries of documents to make them accessible via the Web also poses an obstacle to wider use of the Web. Here at the Emerging IT Policies Division at the General Services Administration, we have realized that the names we give to our directories and how we organize them represents our "taxonomy" for how we think about issues. Taxonomies seem to grow quickly in any one topic and enormously when combining several topics into one portal.

We spend significant portions of time organizing information so that it is accessible. Understanding the location of information on a topic and the structure of information within a topic in today's world is more important than detailed information about a topic.

We have had difficulty developing and explaining our taxonomies. Search engines and Web management tools have only partially filled this gap. We need significant improvements in the integration of Web and office automation software with the naming, organizing and communicating standards that point to the location of our information, including data on intranets.

At the Emerging IT Policies Division, we have had to use spreadsheets with hyperlinks to create a user interface for the "program office" equivalents in our organization. Using spreadsheets with hyperlinks insulates users from having to remember where files are located.

There also is an enormous amount of detail required to communicate in the virtual world via electronic mailing lists and electronic forums. We have had to maintain separate lists of how to subscribe and unsubscribe to mailing lists, the location of chat rooms and forums, an increasing list of passwords and preferred Web sites. We are swimming in the details of participating in the virtual world.

We have found that taxonomies, information and communication are all working together to form a new work environment and new business processes. Through our practical experiences we have realized (sometimes on a painful level) that knowledge management is the integration of taxonomies, information or content, and communication. We hope the private sector continues to improve the development, integration and management of taxonomies, information and communication as a single set of tools that eventually nearly every federal employee will use.

— Kellett, founder of the Federal Web Business Council and co-chairman of the Federal Webmaster Forum, is director of the Emerging IT Policies Division at the General Services Administration.


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