California's photo finish
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Feb 04, 2001
On Sept. 21, California's chief executive, Gov. Gray Davis, issued a daunting
challenge: By the end of the year, he wanted a statewide Internet portal
offering a one-stop shop for government information and services.
To head up the e-government initiative, he appointed Arun Baheti, then
deputy director of the Governor's Office for Innovation in Government. Baheti
recalled many people thought the task was impossible.
"It led to a lot of sleepless nights," said Baheti, California director
of eGovernment. "That's how you move government: set an ambitious goal,
put people on the ground and hold them accountable."
Roughly 110 days later, the state unveiled a portal "My California"
(my.ca.gov). Officials proclaimed it ahead of the curve; some said it was
a feat that even the private sector may not have been able to accomplish.
Users can customize the site, which complies with Americans with Disabilities
Act certification guidelines. The portal offers nearly a dozen new online
transactional options, including obtaining fishing licenses and buying state
park passes online. And state officials can now instantaneously update information
without having to go to a computer programmer.
"This site is very much a customer-centric site that's focused on one
government, one customer," said Carlo Grifone, a partner with Deloitte Consulting,
the project's lead integrator. "All [citizens] care about is that they get
their service quicker and get it more efficiently than before."
To get there, the state and what it considered to be the best private-
sector players in Web development engaged in an intensive and collaborative
approach. The state had basically adopted a private-sector mindset for the
job, officials said.
Even before Davis issued his challenge, state officials already had
been meeting with technology companies, mostly in Silicon Valley, to help
develop a framework. "We took the time and had access to literally the best
minds in the world," Baheti said.
One of the most important concepts to emerge was the idea of customer
service, which Baheti called the "mother lode" in truly transforming government
services. He said the state had to tailor online services to the customers'
needs and convenience.
Accomplishing it all in the time allowed was no easy task for the state,
which represents the sixth largest economy in the world. Officials also
said the state Web site was the third most visited public-sector site last
year, behind the Internet Revenue Service and U.S. Postal Service.
The state is "the equivalent to an enormous Web retailer," he said.
The state started building the portal in a modular fashion, bringing
in several top technology companies, all California-based, to contribute
BroadVision, Inc. provided a flexible and scalable platform for online
transactions and software to personalize the portal. Verity Inc. provided
a high-level search engine, and its software powers the portal. Interwoven
Inc. software enables state employees, who contribute and manage content,
to publish the information quickly and efficiently. Broadbase Software's
marketing and analytic software allows state employees to analyze visitor
data, such as which links are popular.
In addition, officials from several agencies worked in tandem with
the companies, in what Baheti called a "very finely tuned sort of Fred Astaire-Ginger
Rogers dance." He said he was particularly proud of using staff from the
California Research Bureau of the State Library to help organize the information
found on the portal.
"These are professionals whose sole responsibility in life is to organization
information," he said.
The total cost to revamp the site was $2 million.
The result, said Baheti, is a portal that will save California residents
and businesses time and money.
"What is the value of 500,000 people a year spending two hours less
standing in line at the DMV?" he posed. "It's a quality of life issue. I
don't know how to place a dollar value on that."
Only several state agencies the motor vehicles, parks, fishing and
game, social services, consumer affairs, and transportation departments,
the Franchise Tax Board, and the Trade and Commerce Agency participated
in the rollout and have adopted the "look and feel" of the new portal. But
Baheti said the 100-plus state agencies will eventually adopt the new look.
"It's important [for customers] to have a common experience across our
departments," he said.