NTIS eyes e-learning

Three years after the Commerce Department announced plans to close the National Technical Information Service, the agency continues to pursue innovative endeavors.

Earlier this month, NTIS released a request for information for a joint venture partner to help develop and deliver a hosted e-learning and knowledge management service for high-security federal agencies.

The RFI is a reminder that the service is still seeking ways to turn a profit. Since 1988, the agency has been required to earn at least enough money to pay for itself, but it hasn't been easy.

"I think because of its financial difficulties, they have been struggling to find new business opportunities," said Judith Russell, deputy director of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. "They've had a longtime charter to do joint ventures. A couple [have been] successful."

With the e-learning and knowledge management venture, NTIS could be on to something good, according to Bryan Chapman, an e-learning analyst at brandon-hall.com. "Most of the off-the-shelf products don't conform to security needs," Chapman said. "It's an intriguing problem. I think they're looking to fill an interesting niche."

NTIS is seeking one or more companies that would invest in the venture, which would yield a revenue-sharing opportunity, according to the RFI.

NTIS officials were unavailable for comment.

"There's a whole debate in e-learning [about] whether to go with local or hosted," Chapman said. "A lot of high-security agencies go with local. There's a certain amount of nervousness there. [But with] hosted, they don't have to have dedicated [information technology] staff and [it's] more accessible by multiple groups."

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