N.J. Blueprint Bolsters Business, Efficiency

- Reuters

New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman

N.J. Blueprint Bolsters Business, Efficiency

By John Makulowich
Contributing Writer

Seeking to serve as a vanguard for information technology among state governments, New Jersey is making a strong push to put IT in place that will not only increase efficiency and reduce costs but retain and attract business to the Garden State.

Among its more innovative projects are the automation of inmate parole records by the New Jersey State Parole Board; a voter registration system that allows constituents to register at state agencies while conducting business there; a computer network to provide job seekers, students, employers and service providers with access to job, career, training and government services information; and a computer-assisted dispatch system for state police.

It's all part of a grand plan started just over two years ago with Executive Order 38, in which Gov. Christine Todd Whitman created a private/public partnership commission known as Prosperity New Jersey, now headed by Steve Kukan, its executive director. The mission? To "create, develop and implement a shared vision to move New Jersey to the forefront of the national and international economies."

According to Anna Thomas, director of NJ InTouch, the state's home page and network for its citizenry, "We feel we are moving in the right direction. We have a foundation where every department has some kind of information on what they are doing. The effort is not only a good PR tool, but allows information sharing and efficiency."

Thomas, whose role is public policy issues and directions as well as public access efforts, notes that the New Jersey profile is likely to get a spike soon with the recently announced marketing campaign for Prosperity New Jersey, replete with its own special Internet site. That campaign will focus on government-business partnerships, encouraging economic growth and attracting out-of-state business.

To Paul Havercamp, director of fiscal services for OTIS, the Office of Telecommunications and Information Systems of the state's Treasury Department, the thrust of the effort is to "let other government agencies know what we in [New Jersey] are doing. We are making an aggressive effort and have spent over a million dollars alone in the last few years for Internet development in software and hardware."

OTIS staff are responsible for the design and implementation of the Garden State
Network, which connects individuals to
WNJPIN, the Workforce New Jersey Public Information Network. Using frame relay services with T1 lines, the Garden State Network plans to connect 850 PCs throughout the state and provide public access to
WNJPIN by December 1997 in such sites as state and local public agencies, educational institutions, libraries and community-based organizations.

Among the programs the state counts
in its successes is the so-called computer-aided dispatch system, a key part of an
emergency management service umbrella. The goal of the system is to improve the quality of service and responsiveness to accidents, fires and other natural and man-made life-threatening situations. Administered by the New Jersey State Police with service nodes in 45 cities, the dispatch system operates nonstop with two subsystems: emergency response, designed to speed call handling and dispatch; and records management, to ease record-keeping of vital details of each incident for use in reports, trends and analyses.

Another program the state profiles is its Eligibility and Publication System, started last November by the New Jersey State Parole Board. The system automates the download of mainframe data into databases on a client/
server platform. After inmate data is retrieved, it passes through an edit and correction phase, which lets one operator manage records that formerly took weeks to process. The system also generates the eligibility report in three days compared to 20 using the old process.

For Chris Foley, manager of the state of New Jersey Web server, a.k.a. Webmaster, one of the major advantages of the systems put in place is that they allow greater reach to more diverse audiences.

"Since the system first went up, we have added several sections for commerce specifically targeted to minorities and women. We also offer the standard interactive forms and had portable document format from the beginning. A recent addition is transaction processing through a secure Web server. We use it to allow companies to file quarterly tax returns via the Internet that require no payment," explains Foley.

All three - Thomas, Havercamp and Foley - see major challenges ahead with the demand growing from business for Internet services, increasingly scarce resources as departments are asked to do more with less, and intense competition from companies for computer-savvy personnel.

Notes Foley, "There is certainly the resource challenge - to create applications and deploy them takes time and money, not to mention people, training and infrastructure. Another challenge is simply to keep up with the changes in technology. This is not just a matter of understanding it, but of deploying technology that is sound and will stand the test of time."

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