Internet, interagency

There is so much talk about e-stuff these days that one is tempted to cry out "e-nough!" However, just as no one today would refer to their TV remote control or cable as "technology," we soon will drop the "e" because that will just be the way things are.

The World Wide Web will progress through its own stages — rushing headlong from simple presence to organizational transformation.

The Internet is rapidly changing the way business is conducted. It is just a matter of months until it will shake the foundations of the Industrial Age approach to organizing the government. It starts with a simple question: What is the appropriate role of government in a post-Cold War, Internet-enabled, global marketplace?

In the interest of all our citizens, we must step up to the challenge and think about how we will integrate service delivery and reduce transaction costs. There is no value added when we force citizens to call or visit multiple, physically separate offices that are open only 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, to complete mundane administrative tasks.

The Internet has the power to make the boundaries that we've created — across the federal government and among local, state and federal jurisdictions — totally transparent. There are two possible approaches: move existing paper processes to the Web, or use the transformational power of the Internet to create citizen-centric structures that focus on the roles we need government to play.

We can learn a lot from the dot-coms. They begin with a customer-centric view that is unencumbered with a need to accommodate legacy "systems" (technical and cultural). We must think like a dot-com and develop a business plan that goes to the heart of enabling the country to compete successfully in a rapidly evolving global marketplace. Then we must sell it to our venture capitalists in Congress.

As we know from major IT systems renewals, the best approach is to run the new system in parallel with the old before totally switching over. With administration leadership and strong bipartisan congressional support, we could build new citizen- centric, parallel structures like those represented by Access America, an interagency effort under the leadership of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.

Then we need to model the future organizational structure of the government on such cooperative efforts. As the capabilities are built and tested, we could methodically move existing stovepiped activities to these new structures, retiring our Industrial Age approach to the history books.

This is where the much-lamented aging of the federal work force could be an advantage. About half of the federal work force will be eligible to retire within five years and probably will be retired within 10. We should plan how to deliver government services with half the work force.

If we focus clearly on working together to achieve a set of integrated, citizen-centric outcomes, this could become the most meaningful "transition" in the history of our nation.

Piatt is chief information officer at the General Services Administration.


Other columns by Bill Piatt

"Citizens @" [Federal Computer Week, March 6, 2000]

"Embrace the new economy" [Federal Computer Week, Jan. 24, 2000]

BY Bill Piatt
Apr. 17, 2000

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