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

commerce.

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

audience."

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

account."

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

said.

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

under evaluation.

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