From pyramids to plywood

Perhaps no aspect of the Internet's impact on government operations is more

significant than the organizational models the Internet is driving in the

private sector.

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

through partnerships.

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

or jurisdiction.

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.

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