Texas Weaves a Framework for E- Gov
Smart shoppers know that it pays to do your homework before putting down
money for a big-ticket item. And Texas has made that a basic principle of
its new strategy to move government services to the Internet.
When the Texas Legislature last year passed a bill directing the state's
Department of Information Resources (DIR) to determine the feasibility of
conducting government transactions via the Internet, it included a provision
for a demo project to find products and services required to support electronic
Now, with both the project and the feasibility study past the halfway
mark, the legislature's call for starting small and then spreading core
technologies to fit the diverse needs of the state's agencies is starting
to seem downright prescient.
The task force DIR created to carry out the legislature's mandate began
its work by surveying state agencies and universities to determine which
e-commerce functions are most commonly required in transaction-based applications.
The resulting list of technologies, including directory services, security,
authentication, digital signatures, electronic forms and payment collection,
is at the heart of the Framework for Electronic Government business portal
and payment system.
The electronic framework project is designed to test a whole layer of
common e-commerce functions, said Phil Barrett, director of e-business,
technology research and agency assistance for DIR. "We want to get the infrastructure
in place to make sure that each agency has the common layer that everyone
needs, and that it's secure and private. We'll test the portal with smaller
applications and make sure it's sound before making it available to a larger
The framework, scheduled for use by May, will smooth the path to e-commerce
on both sides of a typical transaction, Texas officials said. For agencies,
the ability to tailor best-of-class e-commerce functions to a particular
set of services is expected to speed the move from paper-based forms and
manual fee collection to electronic systems. At the same time, the ability
to offer state and local services through a single uniform portal promises
to make it easier for people to interact with government.
"We are a very decentralized state, and we have to take into account
that each agency may want to deliver its services to its constituents in
a different way," said Gary Thompson, executive director of the Texas Electronic
Commerce Association and a member Electronic Government Task Force.
"But when citizens interact with the government, they may not know whether
a particular service is offered at the state or county or local level,"
Thompson said. "We're trying to develop a portal that provides a single
point of access for citizens while still taking each agency's needs into
Initially, the framework demo project will target services such as interactive
license renewal for real estate agents and electronic applications and fee
collection for well-drilling permits, Barrett said. Then, as agencies' comfort
levels rise, the system will be expanded to handle high-volume applications
such as driver's license renewals.
The biggest portion of the framework is the payment portal, Barrett
said. The state Comptroller's Office will use it to collect sales taxes,
starting with taxes less than $500.
The demo project approach has interested vendors hoping to access the
revenue streams generated by state services. But Texas is proving to be
a shrewd shopper. The project's request for offer specified that the portal
- including all hardware, software and support necessary for building and
installing the e-commerce gateway - be provided at no cost to the state.
Each vendor must provide a model for how it would recoup its costs, Barrett
Barrett outlined several potential methods that vendors might use to
generate income, including:
* Transaction fees, in which a fee is charged for additional services,
or convenience fees for services such as license renewals via mail.
* Value-added or subscription services, which allow the vendor to repackage
data into industry-specific form and sell it.
* Cost savings or revenue sharing, in which the vendor estimates the
amount of savings or additional revenue that a given application will generate
and then shares that money with the state.
The request for offers closed in mid-January, and proposals are now