Texas portal builder eyes expansion

City of Dallas Web site

BearingPoint Inc., which built and manages the TexasOnline government portal,

is planning to expand its e-government services into the judicial and K-12

education sectors.

The company is basing its plans on recent successes extending its services

to several municipalities.

Houston and Austin officials are considering taking advantage of an

already-developed online water utility billing service, while several counties

are poised to use an upcoming online court filing application, said Gary

Miglicco, national e-government director for BearingPoint's state and local

sector.

Greater demand and expanded offerings into other sectors, he said, signals

e-government's evolution beyond the basic "low-hanging fruit" services,

such as online tax filing, parking and traffic ticket payments and driver's

license renewals. "This is the first time in the industry that...citizens

are demanding government to put services on the Internet," Miglicco said.

State agencies aren't required to participate in the portal, but many

do, and the number of state agencies and local governments participating

in the portal now totals more than 60, he said. The company continually

receives citizen feedback, including performing about 5,000 online monthly

surveys. It also carefully establishes benchmarks for online applications,

documenting whether they reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Part of that is being accomplished through partnerships with other companies,

such as edocs Inc., which develops self-service and e-billing applications.

That company helped create the payment tool for online water bills being

used in the cities of Dallas and Mesquite.

Dallas chief information officer Dan McFarland said officials there

wanted to make it easier for citizens to pay their monthly water bills via

the Internet. Dallas residents can enroll in the password-protected application,

view their bills and pay via credit card or online check. E-mail messages

are sent to residents notifying them of the bill's amount and due date.

Edocs automates the back-end process for Dallas, which pays a yearly

flat fee to cover costs, said Jed Rice, managing director of the Natick,

Mass.-based company's public-sector group. Benefits include the elimination

of paper and postage costs and around-the-clock service, he said, adding

that return on investment usually is seen in six to 18 months.

Although the application has been up for about a year now, only 2 percent

to 3 percent of residents are using it, McFarland said, and that's because

of lack of advertising. Once economic conditions improve, Dallas plans to

step up its marketing campaign with a 20 percent adoption target, he said.

Rice said it's important to reach out to constituents to drive e-government

adoption. If citizens get a utility bill or beneficiary statement every

month, it's an easy pass for them to transition to the Web. "What we want

to do is allow government to establish recurring interactive relationships

online," he said.

McFarland believes legal restraints that don't allow municipalities

to charge fees or pass costs onto citizens for some services are the real

hurdles — not technology, which he said remains an "untapped resource"

to increase efficiency and productivity.

The state legislature is discussing easing some of those laws in this

current session, he added.

BearingPoint, formerly KPMG Consulting Inc., earns revenue by charging

convenience fees for certain applications, subscription fees, fees for premium

services, or cost-sharing with agencies. It shares about $20,000 a month

in revenue, Miglicco said.

That's a strong case to replicate the platform in other jurisdictions,

he said, adding that several other states and cities, as well as nearly

two dozen international governments, have inquired about the model.

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