Ready or not, the dot-coms have arrived
- By John Monroe
- Jun 05, 2000
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