NACO to Create E-Government Enterprise

NACO to Create E-Government Enterprise

Bert Jarreau

By William Welsh, Staff Writer

In a move that may speed up the implementation of electronic services by local governments, the National Association of Counties and other organizations supporting local governments are creating a for-profit enterprise that provides e-government services to local governments.

The e-government venture envisioned by NACO would be similar to a purchasing alliance for local governments
established by the Washington-based association and its allies several years ago. If everything goes according to plan, the enterprise could be running in 2001, said NACO officials.

The enterprise would be a joint venture among a select few technology companies and local governments bidding for services and technology. The participants on the technology side likely would include at least one or two software companies, a systems integrator and a telecommunications company, according to NACO officials.

"We intend to provide one local government program that covers everything from state government on down," said Bert Jarreau, NACO's chief technology officer.

The planned enterprise is considered a winning idea not only by government entities but also by technology companies.

"The partnership proposed by NACO offers the opportunity to address large numbers of [government] buyers with a whole host of different applications," said Lee Musick, who is manager of local government alliances for Oracle Corp. of Redwood Shores, Calif.

With an estimated 80,000 local government jurisdictions in the United States, the challenge for organizations such as NACO, the International City/County Management Association, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors is to help members obtain reliable and efficient ways to provide electronic services to businesses and citizens.

"The smaller governments need guidance from their professional organizations because they don't have the resources that larger governments have," said Kara LaPierre, director of e-government initiatives at NIC USA Inc., Overland Park, Kan.

The enterprise would operate in much the same fashion as the U.S. Communities Purchasing and Finance Agency,
Sacramento, Calif., established by
NACO, the U.S. Conference of Mayors
and the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing in 1999. Through the alliance, smaller jurisdictions can piggyback onto government contracts let by larger jurisdictions, saving time and resources.

"[NACO] has shown through the national purchasing agreements that
they really bring their membership
into some of their endeavors,"
said Musick. "I think they are highly regarded by their members as a source of information for local governments to compete and exist in the digital economy today."

NACO has met with more than 50 technology companies this year to discuss the enterprise, said Jarreau.

Oracle is one of the top contenders and had "multiple discussions" with NACO, which is still working out the details of how the enterprise will operate, Musick said.

"We are definitely interested, we think we have a lot to offer, and we are looking forward to being a partner in the arrangement," he said.

Washington-based Public Technologies Inc., which is NACO's research arm, will advise NACO as it moves forward in establishing the enterprise.

Despite NACO's success with the
purchasing alliance, PTI Director
Costis Toregas believes the crafting of
the e-government enterprise as suggested is a difficult challenge because of the uniqueness of individual local governments.

"As they move forward, they are
probably going to recognize the complexity of the challenge ahead, and that it is going to be difficult to put into a box a standard solution," said Toregas. "But we will be there with them every step of the way when they ask us [for help]," he added.

A number of studies are under way to help NACO determine the right course of action. One is a six-month pilot on Internet transactions being conducted by the NACO Financial Services Center and Atlanta-based EzGov in three counties with populations ranging from 50,000 to 150,000.

The study is looking at the savings realized and citizen reaction to convenience fees. The three pilots are in Burleigh County, N.D., Robeson County, N.C., and Whatcom County, Wash.

As part of the pilot, EzGov is providing the counties with an application that allows citizens to pay property
taxes online. NACO has made no commitment to EzGov or any other Internet service vendors at this time, said NACO officials.

NACO plans to compare the results of the study later this year with data from PTI. EzGov and NACO will release the findings of the EzGov pilot in February 2001, according to EzGov.

NACO originally hoped to have as many as 20 counties in the pilot, but found that some of the larger counties already had their own plans for e-government, while others weren't quite ready to experiment with outsourcing.

What's more, it took the counties longer than expected to sign up for the pilot. "The decision-making cycle on the [government] end was a lot longer than we anticipated," said Jennifer McCollum, EzGov's communications director.

While application service providers
will be part of the future of counties,
they are not currently an integral part
of their approach to e-government,
said Jarreau.

To promote digital government, NACO has identified a number of ways that counties will benefit from shifting transactions away from labor-intensive counter service to Internet service. Among the benefits are quick installation of services and savings on hardware, software and systems support.

The push in local governments for application or managed service providers comes from the inside as well as the outside.

"A lot of the information technology groups in the local governments don't want to support a smaller internal service," said Mark Parry, director of strategic alliances, Tidemark Solutions Inc., Seattle. "They would much rather pay a subscription fee."

A subscription fee to a service provider is about $40,000 annually for one application, while the cost of multiple transactions for large governments may amount to several hundred thousand dollars, said EzGov officials.

The services that EzGov provides to
its local government customers include payment of property taxes, parking and traffic tickets and utility bills; renewal of auto tags, permits and security registrations; and searches for property information.

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