CIOs make e-commerce inroads

State and local governments have steadily increased their adoption of e-commerce.

A recent study from the Progress and Freedom Foundation found that at least 45 states let taxpayers file online and provide most of their tax forms online. Thirty-two states accept at least one form of electronic payment, according to the report, Digital State 2001.

In social services, job search information is online in 45 states, the report said, and 43 states are using smart cards to disburse at least a portion of social service benefits.

Thirty-nine states--up from 22 in the 2000 survey--recognize digital signatures for some legal functions, and four states plan to implement the technology by year's end, the report said.

State and local CIOs have identified a range of factors that are helping or holding back the adoption of e-government technologies. A key requirement is to re-engineer business processes as government functions move to the Web.

"I think it is a disservice if we just put up a facade," said South Dakota CIO Otto Doll. He offered the example of a fisherman seeking a license online who might be able to skirt liability for, say, failure to pay child support unless the software supporting the form had been designed to do specific background checks.

"I expect that when I interact with state government on the Web from my house, it should be equally as effective as if I had appeared at the service counter in person," Doll said.

Texas CIO Carolyn Purcell, however, maintained that re-engineering doesn't always have to precede Web services--that, instead, the cart can be used to pull the horse along.

"Re-engineering will be done over time," she said. "Putting services on the Web is a strategy to leverage that process of re-engineering.
"It leads the way and shows legislators and the citizens that there's a different way to do business," Purcell said.

E-government will continue to accelerate in Texas, Purcell said, where it started out slow but has been gaining momentum. "I think we have just scratched the surface," she said. "We have an obligation to live up to expectations on security and privacy."

In Montgomery County, Md., with more than 800,000 residents, CIO Alisoun Moore said the county Web site gets between 3 million and 4 million hits per month. But state and local officials are wary of integrating back-end systems with Web applications.

Back-end worries

"Governments have not done that yet," she said. "There would be quite a bit of trepidation in doing that--that is where you would see PKI [public-key infrastructure, a powerful security tool] mostly used."

Moore added, "If hackers could get into your general ledger, you would have to do a lot of additional security on the back-end systems that are already very secure." She predicted layers of security for such back-end systems will be built into the applications themselves.

South Dakota's Doll said other impediments to e-government include the expense of implementing it and that many state program officials don't believe online transactions are necessarily more effective. Doll also said the lack of home PCs in the community--about half of the general public--remains a stumbling block to full e-government.

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