E-gov: Customers first

While designing electronic government, federal information technology managers

should keep one thing foremost in mind — their "customers."

That's the advice a panel of IT experts delivered during a May 22 hearing

of the House Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee.

"Information has to be organized according to how people will use it,

rather than how agencies will create and maintain it," said Patricia McGinnis,

president of the Council for Excellence in Government.

Build "customer-centric World Wide Web-based applications," urged David

McClure, the General Accounting Office's associate director for governmentwide

and defense information systems.

Plan to control access to sensitive information by using digital signatures

or personal identification numbers, said Kathleen deLaski of America Online.

But keep it simple: "I can't be expected to remember a different PIN to

access each government agency."

And, to be really useful, government Web sites should connect citizens

to government services at all levels, deLaski said.

Ultimately, e-government must be about more than just providing information

and services over the Web. The Internet should become a medium that enables

people to participate in government, said George Molaski, chief information

officer at the Transportation Department.

The panel's key recommendations on e-government:

* Make it user-friendly. "Users want one-stop access without having

to go from Web site to Web site," McGinnis said. "Minimize the mouse clicks,"

said Molaski. People want Web sites that take them quickly to the information

or services they are seeking.

* Adopt a "customer-centric vision" that considers how citizens use

government as a whole rather than just how they use individual agencies

separately, said McClure. And follow the private-sector model to make online

contact interactive and personal.

* Use the Internet to make government available 24 hours a day through

multiple communications media, such as handheld computers, cellular phones

and pagers, in addition to computers, Molaski said.

Unlike the private sector, where companies can move into e-business

relatively quickly, federal chief information officers lack adequate authority

and control over agency IT expenditures to prompt rapid transformation,

Molaski said.

Federal agencies also lack the expertise, deLaski said.

"The mistake I've seen is that government agencies are trying to be

AOL or Yahoo" by trying to create their own Web portals, she said. Leave

that to the pros, she recommended.

"Government agencies should specialize in what they do best — delivering

service," deLaski said.

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