No vacation from e-gov
- By Bill Piatt
- Aug 07, 2000
August isn't what it used to be. In years past, it was a quiet time when
everyone in Washington, D.C., was either on vacation or enjoying the empty
restaurants, Metro trains and roads. Along with so many other comfortable
traditions, the Internet has destroyed this, too. Now August is the time
to get that next application release completed, tested and ready by Labor
What has happened? Simply stated, the Internet makes every project a
short-term effort. Web-based applications are about speed: quickly delivering
services to broad sets of users, learning from their feedback and making
the experience better over time.
How different that is from mainframe and client/server applications.
The "old" approach required everything to be almost perfect before installing
the application and training users, which could cost millions. Employees'
time was secondary to ensuring that the expensive computing infrastructure
was used as efficiently as possible.
The new world of the Internet has turned that approach on its head.
Now the application is designed to make users' time as efficient and productive
as possible. The new approach is largely about self-service. Self-service
means the system has to be so straightforward that no training is necessary.
Employees are no longer standing between the customer and the organization.
Office hours? You've got to be kidding!
Not all applications lend themselves to the World Wide Web — not yet,
anyway. However, the percentage of applications that are Web-enabled is
growing rapidly. And the modularity of such applications is going to dramatically
impact how we budget for and manage IT projects.
The FirstGov portal provides a great example. The initial functions
to be implemented in September will be modest compared with what should
be available on the portal in a year's time. Furthermore, the full range
of functions that will be available in a year cannot yet be known. Through
feedback, users will help determine what should be included and in what
This makes budgeting difficult. If we don't know what will be included,
how can we know what it will cost? The Internet teaches us that there are
many paths to success. If we aren't sure that the next step will add value,
then we should postpone spending the money to build it. This logic can quickly
become circular, but the basic premise is to start small, gather feedback
and rapidly move to the next phase. Anticipation and course correction are
two critical factors for success in this new environment.
Those of us who will take some time off this month should reflect on
how profoundly this philosophical shift is impacting the world around us.
As agents of change, we need to plan for how we will incorporate this new
approach into our efforts to deliver high-quality government services to
the citizens — when they want it, where they want it and how they want it.
That is, after all, the essence of e-government.
—Piatt is the chief information officer at the General Services Administration.