Consensus Key to Oregon E-Commerce Pilots
- By Patrick J. Walsh
- May 01, 2000
When the Oregon Center for Electronic Commerce and Government set out to
design its first "proof of concept" e-commerce pilot projects last year,
few of the state's agencies were eager to participate. The single portal
at the heart of the center's formula for accepting credit card purchases
seemed incongruous in a state with such a diverse, decentralized agency
For all the technical intricacies involved in building a workable e-commerce
infrastructure and implementing the pilots, the biggest challenge to accelerating
the state's move toward e-government was building a consensus about the
need for a centralized e-commerce solution.
"When we started, no one wanted to sign up for the pilot programs," said
Pat Lundeen, Oregon's e-commerce manager. "They all wanted to wait for someone
else to try it first. But once we began to present the details from our
architecture committee and our finance committee, which designed the back-office
financial system, we started to get a few volunteers. And then I started
getting calls from different agencies who want to be next. It's progressed
over time, and we've gotten more and more support."
Launched in mid-February, the pilot projects are designed to test the system's
ability to capture customer orders and credit card information, link that
data to the back-office infrastructure and then correctly route it to the
involved agency for fulfillment. The Department of Consumer and Business
Services is using it to allow mortgage brokers to register, pay for and
renew their licenses online. The Department of Revenue is selling government
publications via the World Wide Web.
"Because we have hundreds of items that state agencies sell, it would be
very practical to set up an Oregon store that would allow citizens to buy
from several agencies at once, making a single payment for everything they've
bought," Lundeen said. "We've included the flexibility of grouping items
from different agencies far in advance of any demand for it, because we
believe that it will be an important feature for our customers once the
system is fully implemented."
Facilitating the one-stop shopping approach meant further changes to both
ends of the transaction process. The single online portal funnels all credit
card purchases through the e-commerce center, which operates under the
auspices of the state's Department of Administrative Services (DAS).
At the back end, the DAS has become the sole credit card merchant for
the e-commerce initiative, through U.S. Bank. U.S. Bank technology partner,
Cybercash, handles authentication, collects the funds and forwards them
to the bank, which then deposits them in the state's treasury.
In the past, each agency accepting credit card payments entered into
a separate merchant agreement with the bank and collected and processed
payments directly, Lundeen said.
The back-office workflow crucial to the program's success was designed by
a broadly representative team drawn from various state agencies, indicative
of the communication and inclusion that were key elements in the process
of winning agencies over to the centralized approach.
Staff members from agencies that handle manual credit card transactions
participated in the decision-making process and worked with representatives
from the state technology staff, treasury staff and the state financial
management office to define the technology, workflow and control points
necessary to put the system in place, Lundeen said.
As the executive staff at various agencies learned more about the challenges
involved in the e-government initiative — including the expense of the technology,
the need for 24-hour, seven-day-per-week customer service support, and concerns
about security and authentication issues — they became more comfortable
with the tradeoffs involved in the centralized approach.
"A year ago, I met individually with the technology staff and senior
managers at 48 separate agencies to talk about the concept and how we planned
to proceed, and to get them to ask questions and to assign people to the
committees responsible for defining the pilots," Lundeen said. "The pilots
are critical, because this is such a different way of doing business in
Oregon. We don't generally do things in a centralized way, but the security
and financial issues involved with these transactions make it logical to
do so in this case."
— Walsh is a freelance writer based in Peekskill, N.Y.