Ready or not, the dot-coms have arrived

The word is out: State and local government agencies have money to spend

on information technology. Vendors are teaming up, lining up and offering

up their services.

So now the fun begins.

Don't get me wrong. No one is complaining about IT vendors finally deciding

they're ready to do business — after so many years of treating the state

and local market as an afterthought. Agencies will reap the benefits of

having companies interested in understanding their requirements, rather

than just shipping them products.

Still, that kind of partnership, though potentially invaluable, is not

a simple one, particularly when it comes to developing online services.

A slew of companies has emerged from the Internet economy, and they

aim to help agencies in their electronic endeavors. These dot-coms propose

to leverage their experience with commercial e-commerce technology — so-called

B2B applications — and create a new class of services for doing transactions

with businesses and the public.

In many cases, the companies are not just proposing to support those

services, but to take them over. They will develop the application, host

the server in their own facility and oversee its daily operations, although

it might be transparent to the end users.

This proposition is compelling because most agencies do not have the

technical knowledge or the experience to develop and manage these kinds

of services. But it also raises serious questions about the security of

those systems and the privacy of the data collected and stored.

Internet companies do not call it outsourcing, but that's what it is,

and government agencies generally balk at the idea because of those security

concerns. It is no small matter.

Agencies collect a tremendous amount of information about individuals

and businesses that must be protected at all costs, including health and

financial data. We often take the security of that data for granted, reflecting

a deep-seated though unspoken trust in government agencies. The introduction

of an intermediary dot-com changes that equation.

That is not to say government should not partner with industry. In fact,

such a partnership is necessary if agencies are serious about using the

Internet to reinvent the way they deliver services.

It's all well and good to say that government agencies should run more

like businesses. But the fact remains that the business of government is

government, not business. State and local governments, in their push to

become digital governments, cannot afford to undermine the trust on which

so much of their business is predicated.

John Stein Monroe

Editor, civic.com

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