New Nashville portal will put people first
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Mar 04, 2001
Nashville is planning to unveil a "citizen-centric" portal within the next
three months after recently signing a five-year deal with a hometown e-government
"When I came here, our Web site was adequate, good, but it was very
much a first-generation Web site: You want this information? Here it is.
Very static," said Richard McKinney, who's been the city's chief information
officer for a year now. "I wanted to redesign the Web site to be citizen-centric.
They don't need to understand government or structure. [They] just need
to know what information they want."
If a resident understood the government's organizational chart, then
that resident knew which agency or agencies to deal with, he said. But most
went "hunting and pecking" through the Web site (www.nashville.org), he
Over the next several months, Link2Gov, partnering with Microsoft Corp.,
will assess the city's technology systems, develop a consistent design concept
— or the site's "look and feel" — and construct a dynamic infrastructure.
James Treacy, Microsoft's state and local e-government industry manager,
said Nashville and Link2Gov are taking a managed approach to improving government
services. By building a sense of community first, citizens — rather than
the government — can dictate the direction of the portal.
"Technology isn't really the biggest challenge," he said. "I think the
biggest challenge is to build a sense of community through their portal."
Link2Gov will host "jam sessions" with city residents to find out what
they want in a Web site. Officials said residents, visitors and businesses
shouldn't have to go to three or four agencies to get something done. Some
e-government services include paying utility bills and citations, registering
motor vehicles, renewing driver's licenses and accessing records.
Kim Boyce, Link2Gov's director of marketing communications, said residents
are somewhat computer literate. In 1999, she said Nashville ranked as the
54th most wired city in the nation, according to CyberAtlas, a guide to
online sites run by internet.com Corp. Nearly 36 percent of all homes have
computers and Internet access, but company officials said a telephone interactive
voice response system would be implemented for residents who don't have
Tom Tarver, Link2Gov's chief technology officer, said the company would
use Web development tools such as Microsoft's Visual Studio and IBM Corp.
products, as well as Extensible Markup Language, or XML, as a communication
mechanism to unify the hardware and software.
The new site will also be dynamic, he said. User-friendly technology
will enable government employees without any particular technical expertise
to instantaneously change Web content without the help of a programmer.
"This way you could change individual components on the fly," he said,
adding that this can reduce errors and misinterpretation.
Another new component will be an intranet, which will make information
— including health, financial, leave and attendance — available for government
employees via the Web. McKinney said this will increase efficiency, adding
that he also wants to increase accountability by having the system track
requests, complaints and suggestions — instead of employees exchanging paper
from desk to desk.
Link2Gov officials said they would like the government to be more proactive
with its constituents. For example, the new system could enable the city
to send out e-mail reminders to residents whose motor vehicle registrations
are up for renewal.
Another future service could be to create a personal account for each
resident. With a log-in name and password, a resident could view "every
bit of information" city government has about him or her, said Ed Braswell,
Link2Gov's executive vice president. This could include property taxes,
motor vehicle records, credit information and police records.
Braswell said when the new site is unveiled, the company and city will
actively market it through public and grassroots campaigns, via school events,
civic events and official notifications.
Under terms of the contract, Link2Gov, which beat out nine other companies,
will charge fixed hourly rates, McKinney said, adding that it's difficult
to put a total dollar amount on an ongoing project.
A Web site "is a house you never finish building," he said. "Five years
from now, we'll still be working on it, refining it."