Alabama turns to NIC for portal

Alabama has signed a three-year contract with NIC to build a hosted state government portal that's planned for a late spring launch, the state announced Feb. 5.

NIC will build e-government applications for all the state's agencies, boards and commissions with an online professional nursing license renewal as the first application to be unveiled. Other licensing applications are planned for later this year.

Alabama (www.state.al.us) signed the deal with NIC Dec. 12 after a competitive bidding process. NIC will build, maintain and host the portal, while the state will retain ownership of the content, data and statutory fees. The state will use a self-funded method to pay for the portal. That means NIC will recoup its investment by charging users a transaction or convenience fee, usually $1 to $2, for applications.

NIC, which is based in Overland Park, Kan., has developed portals and e-government services for 15 other states. It also runs portals for eight cities and counties.

With so many states, including Alabama, projecting budget shortfalls, the self-funded approach is being considered more and more, said Chris Neff, senior director of marketing for NIC.

States are looking toward the self-funding model, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks, Neff said.

"My suspicion is many states that had money six months ago don't have the level of resources now," he said. "I think it plays to our strength."

Hybrid models, where a government or agency pays some money upfront and NIC recoups its reinvestment by charging convenience fees, is another model being consider by the public sector, he added.

Neff said the publicly traded company, which has been operating in the red, expected to be "cash-flow positive by March 31, and we expect to be profitable in early 2003."

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