Forging e-relationships

Use the Internet to conduct electronic transactions with the public. That

was the clear message delivered at this month's Information Resources Management

Conference.

E-government increases the velocity of transactions, achieves dramatic savings

in conducting transactions with the public and significantly reduces the

costs for customer service, said Marty Wagner, an IRMCO speaker and an associate

administrator at the General Services Administration.

But the simple concept of conducting transactions via the Web becomes surprisingly

complicated. In addition to implementing a number of new technologies, the

Webmaster quickly becomes the focal point for delivering new business processes

and becomes directly responsible for the customer relationships of the agency

across a broad front of federal services.

Rather than resist increasing interactions with the public, it is time to

embrace yet another new trend: the interdependence of Web sites.

We have all heard the term "interoperability," but it term tends to focus

on the technology aspects of systems working together. The Web raises the

bar much higher. The Web, true to its form to increase the pace of change,

has caused interoperability to "morph" further into the concept of "interdependence."

Interdependence means that for your Web site to be effective in delivering

the products and services of your agency, you must also support the efforts

of others that provide the glue that connects all Web sites.

Implementing a successful Web site means implementing your Web site in the

context of recognizing, supporting and facilitating interdependence. Agency

Web sites are simultaneously interdependent across and outside of the federal

government, the American public and the international "public." You need

their Web sites, and they need your Web site. No Web site exists in a vacuum.

Activities such as registering with search engines, the use of metatags

and compliance with taxonomies are just some early indications of the much

more pervasive and far-reaching impact interdependence will have on your

Web site.

Current and emerging federal portals such as FirstGov, FinanceNet, GSA Advantage,

g-Bay, eBuy and others will impact your Web site much more directly. These

new portals represent just the start of what interdependence means for your

Web site, your agency's business and you.

But the most significant impact of interdependence will be the rise of "process

intermediaries."

To understand the true nature of the intermediary function on the Web, start

with thinking about the role of public associations such as the Red Cross.

Associations function as an intermediary with the executive branch by organizing,

summarizing and presenting the needs and goals of a much larger group of

people. It would be impossible to meet individually with each subscriber

or participant in an association.

The real impact is best illustrated by thinking about companies such as

H&R Block Inc. Imagine the size of the Internal Revenue Service if it

had to duplicate the support that H&R Block and others in the tax preparation

industry provide to the nation.

As the business processes of the federal government go online, portals that

help the public understand and interact with the federal government will

grow. This is already a huge business before the Web.

As the federal government implements online transactions, we will need "process

intermediaries" to help with the huge volume of interactions a more direct

interface with the public implies. Technology can help, but there will always

be a need for the direct human-to-human interaction. When looking across

America today, the federal government could not become "big enough" to handle

the support that process intermediaries provide.

The point here is to recognize that we are already interdependent with the

"process intermediaries" and to embrace this reality on our Web sites. As

we go online with our business processes (forms and transactions), the process

intermediaries will become ever increasingly important. At the simplest

level, we will need to link to the "process intermediaries" on our Web sites.

These relationships will grow far deeper than a mere hyperlink. Through

creative architectures, we can support both the letter and spirit of our

current legal environment regarding our relationships with industry and

the public. My recommendations are as follows:

1. Participate in the cross-government activities of the CIO Council so

that your Web site becomes integrated with the larger federal government

activities.

2. Seek out inclusion in high-level portals that are available or being

implemented so that your Web site is more easily found.

3. Begin to integrate "process intermediaries" with your Web site as you

implement your on-line transactions. I would even recommend to go so far

as to begin to foster a strategy of helping the development of a tier of

"process intermediaries" if the industry you participate in has not already

done so.

—Kellett is founder of the Federal Web Business Council, co-chairman of the

Federal WebMasters Forum and is director of GSA's Emerging IT Policies Division.

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