New Nashville portal will put people first

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

provider, Link2Gov.

"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

said.

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

Internet access.

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."

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