State blankets site with forms

South Dakota last month became one of the first states to make almost all of its government forms available online, and by the end of the year, officials aim to enable users to complete all of those offerings online also.

For now, forms that can't be filled out online yet can at least be downloaded as PDF documents and printed out, so people can complete them by hand and mail them in.

The state's Bureau of Information and Telecommunications (BIT) developed the online forms system in-house for less than $200,000.

"We originally looked at a number of approaches, including having the system hosted entirely by an outside organization," said Otto Doll, the BIT commissioner. "But not only would that have been too costly, those systems can't [serve the very small volumes of forms] that businesses such as our state's 234 barbers need to have available."

Doll said he was adamant that "a ubiquitous solution" be found that could cater to all of the people doing business with the state. Even if they only file one or two forms a year, he said, "they should still be able to find those forms relevant to them online."

The answer was to design a portal called South Dakota Service Direct (www.sd.gov). It is stripped of all graphics and unneeded elements and delivers access to the more than 1,100 forms in a simple way. The site is composed of several SQL databases with various links and "a little code," Doll said.

The state is now working to automate online forms processing from the Web front end through to back-end agency systems. Only a portion of the forms can be processed that way now. For the remainder, government employees have to intercept the information and insert it into agency systems.

A small number of forms can't be made available online at all, as they require visits to government offices and personal interviews before they can be filled out and filed.

Once the system is completed, the state's focus on e-government probably will "turn inward," Doll said, to persuade agencies use more electronic transactions and less paper.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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