From pyramids to plywood
- By Bill Piatt
- Oct 16, 2000
Perhaps no aspect of the Internet's impact on government operations is more
significant than the organizational models the Internet is driving in the
The traditional industrial enterprise is a vertically integrated "pyramid"
that is broad at its base and narrow at the top. It includes all the functions
the organization needs to operate, with large corporate overhead support
groups to handle the administrative needs of the "mission-critical" staff.
By contrast, Internet Age enterprises resemble plywood — thin layers
glued together with the Internet. Their only employees are focused directly
on delivering value to their customers. Everything else is outsourced. That
includes traditional functions such as payroll, accounting, human resources
and other back-office activities. Such companies are redefining outsourcing
FirstGov is possibly the first government organization built on a "plywood"
model. From its inception, great effort was focused on defining — and sticking
to — the inherently governmental role. The Internet plywood metaphor helped
us recognize that the long-term success of the effort depends on allowing
others to do the things that they are better- suited to do.
The essence of the plywood model is partnership. The nonprofit Fed-Search
Foundation created by Inktomi Inc.'s Eric Brewer is supplying an indexing
capability many times more robust than we could have bought. The content
that appears on the Web site is also the product of partnerships. Rather
than paying someone to build its components from scratch, we simply relied
on others who had already done the work. This permitted us to choose from
the best, and it affords us the opportunity to replace the components easily
if someone else does them better.
Opening the site's index to private- sector partners likewise provides
tremendous leverage on our investment by greatly increasing access to government
information. There are many aspects to this. For example, it is a great
strategy for bridging the digital divide. A familiar interface is especially
important for those without extensive experience using the World Wide Web.
Partners will bring innovative approaches that focus on creating the
best citizen- centric views of government. Many competing virtual views
of government will arise until the most intuitive and useful win. There
is already tremendous interest in partnering with FirstGov — in the first
12 days following the launch, we received 250 partnership applications!
Incorporating noncommercial partners is also part of the plan. Including
state and local government sites in the index will further facilitate providing
citizens with a seamless view of their government, without regard to agency
FirstGov represents the first few rays of light at the dawn of a new
day. Internet-enabled "plywood" will provide a platform for the most dramatic
transformation of government in more than 50 years.
Piatt is chief information officer at the General Services Administration.