Consensus Key to Oregon E-Commerce Pilots

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

culture.

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.

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