E-government by committee
- By Brian Robinson
- Oct 22, 2001
Oregon's current home page
Oregon information technology executives probably would rather have gone
a different direction in putting together the state's new portal, Oregon.gov,
which will be launched this fall. But when the legislature turned down a
plan to outsource the job, executives had no choice but to do it with existing
staff members and budget.
Oregon was already well behind the e-government curve, and the decentralized
state suddenly had to coordinate the needs of agencies accustomed to doing
their own IT work.
The answer was the "cooperative partnering" model.
Under the model, a central government body called the Oregon Center
for Electronic Commerce and Government would host Oregon.gov, help develop
agency Web applications for it and manage other e-government processes,
such as a single payment solution for users, user authentication services,
help-desk services and security.
The agencies themselves provide the merchant account for collecting
revenue from online transactions as well as content for the portal, customer
service and some of their own Web application development and hosting.
"Really, it was [the lack of] dollars that initially drove us to this
[enterprise] approach," said Steve Caputo, operations director in the Information
Resources Management Division (IRMD) of Oregon's Department of Administrative
"Agencies in the past built their own IT infrastructures and put through
their requests for their own servers and other equipment, and for the people
to support it all," Caputo said. "As a state, we eventually saw that this
made no sense, so we decided to centralize what IT resources we could."
By centralizing major IT functions while leveraging investments already
made by agencies, the government struck a compromise, Caputo said. Agencies
had to agree on such things as common standards and operating systems, and
to hold each other accountable through a formal review process, called Peer
Assurance. The cooperative partnering model became the way to manage all
As other governments discovered, the Year 2000 problem crystallized
the idea of centralizing IT functions and of collaborating on programs,
said Michael Greenfield, director of administrative services.
"The fact is that you can't un-automate this now," he said. "We are
entering into a much more structured era, and I think the agencies themselves
are asking for this. Their [chief information officers] all recognize that
they have to go in this direction. They are just looking for the leadership
to help them get there."
It helped that Oregon's political leaders were on board from the beginning.
The legislature has for some time backed e-government as a state goal, and
Gov. John Kitzhaber focused his administration on IT by creating the Governor's
IT Roundtable, led by the governor's chief of staff.
The executive steering committee of the roundtable, led by state CIO
Ann Terry, oversees the state's e-government efforts. The CIOs and IT executives
of major state agencies make up the rest of the steering committee.
The launch of the Oregon.gov portal will be the roundtable's first important
achievement. It will not only provide the gateway for the state's online
dealings with business and the public, but to a large extent, it also will
validate the cooperative partnering model.
The deadline for getting the portal up and running is the end of the
According to Dan Adelman, CIO of the state's Department of Consumer
Business Services and chairman of the portal project team, the biggest challenge
with the project was the deadline; things got started in March.
So he and the other team members had no regrets in stealing help where
they could find it. They looked at what the top progressive states had done,
and they borrowed heavily from projects already developed in Oregon, such
as the Business in Oregon portal and, particularly, from a Web site the
city of Portland developed to do business with companies in the metro area.
The portal team broke into workgroups to address different aspects of
the portal's construction:
* Graphics — the "look and feel" of the portal.
* Research — to conduct such things as baseline surveys of the potential
users of the portal.
* Systems development.
* Search facilities.
* Marketing — how to "sell" the portal both internally to government
agencies and externally to business and citizen users.
There have been snafus. Because of the short time and the number of
people involved in the project, the need for good communication was critical,
"but we struggled with that early on," Adelman said. "Those closely involved
were fairly clear about what we're trying to do, but many other agencies
and people were a part of the project, and many of them were initially puzzled
about its direction."
They overcame those problems by using e-mail and a project Web site
for crucial messages and weekly updates of information, plus presentations
made directly to agencies and other user groups about what the portal was
all about. Finally, Adelman made sure the IT roundtable and its steering
committee received regular reports.
Another challenge has been finding people to do the work, he said.
"Because of the decentralized nature of the project, we had to bring
people in from many of the affected agencies," he said. "Also, we needed
a certain level of expertise, but those kinds of people are inevitably also
heavily involved in their own agencies' projects. So getting the time commitment
has been a struggle."
Officials were to hold training workshops in September, so that agencies
could learn how to develop and publish content to the portal. That would
be a test of how well the cooperative partnering model worked for the state
enterprise, Adelman said.
"Agencies are responsible for the content that relates to their own
business, and in that sense, also they become a partner with IRMD," he said.
"Hopefully, with a buy-in of that concept by the agencies, we will end up
with a very content-rich portal."
Because Oregon is using this collaborative approach, as much as possible
has been boiled down into commonly accessible tools.
For example, the state performed an assessment to see whether it was
ready for e-procurement. One of the things that came out of that assessment
was the need for a strategic plan. The assessment procedures were then beefed
up and applied to each agency to see how they measured up.
An outgrowth of the readiness assessments was forming a risk matrix
that gives an idea of what the risk would be to completing the project if
something was missing. Once a risk is identified, then someone can be assigned
to mitigate it.
Another tool is a decision matrix, which lists what is expected from
a project and who makes the decisions. That's a valuable timesaving tool,
Caputo said, because people don't waste time trying to get something approved
if they don't need to.
One critical advantage to the e-government project, Caputo said, is
that program managers are formally certified through courses taken through
the Project Management Institute. That means that all the program managers
work from the same philosophies of what it takes to manage a project.
"That then becomes an expectation of how they should be managed," he
said. "They all know what to expect, and what methodologies need to be applied.
To some extent they actually help us improve, because they have somewhat
higher expectations than other people involved in the project and can tell
us when they think we are falling down on things that need to be done."
The major parts of the project are also subject to outside scrutiny,
through consultants hired to do independent reviews.
Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.