Michigan jumps on portal bandwagon

Continuing a trend among states, Michigan is the latest to unveil a new citizen-centric, easily navigable and customizable Internet portal, and the state will introduce several dozen interactive functions over the coming year.

Stephanie Comai, director of the e-Michigan Office, said IBM Corp. developed the portal (www.Michigan.gov) in about three months for $3.7 million. IBM also has a two-year $3.7 million contract to host the site, after which the state will evaluate whether to continue to outsource the service or move it in-house.

With the portal's release, the state announced three new online services:

    * A financial aid site with comprehensive information about college education.

    * A pre-screening program to help health care and social service providers determine a person's eligibility for such services as food stamps and Medicaid.

    * A comprehensive and searchable business directory.

Comai said her office is working with other state agencies to develop 40 or more new or improved online applications in the coming year. For example, the state is planning to develop an online application for a health program for low-income children as well as a business tax-filing program for companies that don't pay any taxes but must file returns. Currently, the site has about 70 interactive services.

IBM was selected in January following a competitive bidding process last year. Comai said the state conducted focus groups with citizens, businesses and state employees. The portal, which is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, incorporates personalization and content management technology developed by Vignette Corp. and a search engine created by Inktomi Corp.

Comai said the big push now is to migrate existing state agency sites to use the Vignette content management tool so information on the portal can be updated quickly.

She said the state is aggressively marketing the site via public service announcements and interviews with technology reporters.

Gov. John Engler created the temporary e-Michigan Office by executive order last spring. Comai said the state constitution allows the governor to create temporary agencies. She said although the office will be terminated next year, there will be a transition plan in which the office's functions would be transferred, most likely, to another department or split among several departments.

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