States set to swap code

As a way to reduce development costs, lessen the workload, and get proven

technologies, a major state government association is exploring the idea of

a central repository of software components that states can tap to build

Web-based applications.

Georgia's chief information officer, Larry Singer, is

spearheading an initiative for the National Association of

State Chief Information Officers (formerly the National

Association of State Information Resource Executives) to promote

reusing application components developed by major

companies.

Singer's department, the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA), is finalizing

a contract with Atlanta-based ComponentSource to create such an exchange

by August. The six participating states will be able to download public

domain or licensed components via the exchange.

During the association's midyear conference this week in Austin, Texas,

Singer unveiled results of a pilot project between several states demonstrating

the initiative. In the pilot, Georgia borrowed components or modules developed

by Arkansas, and Pennsylvania used templates from Washington.

Singer defined components as explanations in code about how to do a

particular process. He likened them to Lego building blocks where pieces

can be linked together to build a whole structure. Component-based architecture,

he said, reduces the risk of unproven applications, saves development funds

and time, and speeds up use of an application.

Paul Taylor, deputy director with Washington's technology department,

likened the idea to the way automobile manufacturer DaimlerChrysler developed

a new model: The company took the Neon's chassis, power train and integrated

system and put a new "skin" on it to build the PT Cruiser.

In explaining a Web site repository, GTA's Bill Overall said states

would shop around, download components, submit customer reviews and even

participate in a discussion forum. He said reusing components also could

provide the commercial sector with an opportunity to develop niche products.

During the pilot, Overall said Georgia borrowed three components from

Arkansas to build a motor vehicles department e-government application.

It has saved his state about 424 hours and $42,000 in development costs,

he said.

Taylor said several Washington state agencies worked together for the

pilot to develop an electronic permit template. Instead of agencies having

to reinvent the wheel each time, the state made the working code available

on its Web site. Agencies could then download the code, modify it and put

up an application much faster than if they started from scratch.

That's basically what Pennsylvania did, said CIO Charles Gerhards. In

the pilot project, Pennsylvania downloaded Washington's e-permit template

source code, modified it and integrated it into its applications. He said

it took one programmer about 36 hours to modify the template. It saved his

state about $15,000 and about 85 percent of Washington's code was reused,

he said.

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