Washington's Digital Academy Speeds E-Gov Revolution

Washington's Digital Academy Speeds E-Gov Revolution

By William Welsh, Staff WriterWashington state officials are gearing up to roll out 20 new online services within the next few months under a program that is speeding the state's transition to electronic government.The Washington State Digital Government Applications Academy, a place where state agencies work together to build digital government applications, develops standardized templates for Web services that individual agencies can adapt for their agency-specific needs.The academy, established in December 1999, also conducts courses on the fundamentals of digital government, such as e-forms and e-permits. As many as 60 or 70 agency technology officials attend courses at a time. The officials work with each other and with private-sector companies to develop standardized templates that are published and made available to the agencies."We pick a project that applies to other agencies, and then we build it into a class," said Dave Kirk, manager of the Digital Government Applications Academy, who serves as the "dean."Because of the promise the academy holds for digital government, other states are considering adopting a similar approach, said Washington Department of Information Services officials during a presentation on the academy at the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council conference, held Dec. 13-15 in Las Vegas."Building out the infrastructure to support digital government is one of the top priorities facing state government," said Tom Davies, senior vice president at Current Analysis Inc., Dulles, Va. Washington state invests $500 million annually in its digital government portfolio, said Steve Kolodney, director and chief information officer of Washington's Department of Information Services, who established the academy. The state has 95 applications under development that will soon be added to the 240 applications already available online, he said."We believe the academy is a great opportunity for us to better understand the needs of the state and of its constituent departments," said Chris Church, vice president of professional services for Shana Corp., which won the statewide master contract for e-forms. The result is that agencies not only have policy in place but also computer code with which to work, he said. The templates are available to 160 state agencies, boards and commissions and the 2,000 cities and towns in the state. Shana of Edmonton, Alberta, won the e-forms contract last month after competing against four other companies from the United States and Canada. The companies that competed for the e-forms contract are JetForm Corp., Ottawa; Multimedia Abacus Corp., Inglewood, Calif.; PureEdge Solutions Inc., Bellevue, Wash.; and Qwest Communications International Inc., Denver.Under the contract, Shana will provide the software platform that will enable Washington state agencies to provide online forms for services such as campground reservations, license plate renewal and fishing and hunting licenses. "We knew that Washington state was going to be on the cutting edge of digital government, and because of this we were willing to mold our technology to their unique needs," Church said.Agencies will purchase the right to use Shana's software platform at a cost expected to be between $30 to $50 for each user, said Nigel Brachi, Shana's spokesman. Shana said agencies might purchase software rights for 300,000 users.State officials said they don't know how many agencies and users will participate, but they estimated the contract would cost the state a few million dollars.Privately owned Shana has about 50 employees and offices in Alberta, California, Florida and Ontario, according to Brachi. The company also provides its e-forms platform to British Columbia and is pursuing similar opportunities with state governments in the United States, he said. After it publishes and distributes the e-form template, the academy will turn its attention later this year to other applications that are key to electronic government, such product fulfillment and professional licensing, said Kirk. Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., and Carta Inc. of Sacramento, Calif., helped the academy create and present its curriculum. Other information technology companies that have helped the academy include IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y., Oracle Corp. of Redwood Shores, Calif., and Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif. Washington didn't want vendors that were already doing business in the state to teach the curriculum, so Microsoft recommended Carta for the job, said Chris Roberts, Carta's chief executive officer. Carta teaches agency personnel about the main components of Web-based projects: user interface, business rules and technology. This way, Carta is helping Washington build an Internet backbone that will communicate with back-end systems designed by IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, Roberts said.Carta has about 75 employees and 20 projects in the public sector. The company is looking to expand its strategic consulting to provide similar settings for application development in other states, he said. The existence of the academy will likely affect the number and type of opportunities that are available to IT companies that want to do business with the state, said analysts and state officials."Some companies, such as Accentuate, that have deep skills in system design and development may not find the opportunities in Washington as attractive," Davies said. "But this will be offset by companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle that have infrastructure and [others] that have applications." The applications the academy develops will serve as key components of Washington's digital government architecture. Companies hired to assist the state with digital government will be required to use existing applications, said Kirk."If agencies want to contract out the development of those applications, then integrators can use our application when they provide those [services] to the agency," he said. "We want them to use all of the new covenants of this digital community we are creating."State officials believe the clearer requirements that result from the academy process will ensure greater project success. "There is a higher chance of success for the integrators from now on when they contract out work with the state," Kirk said. The benefit for industry is less time spent in design and development, lower risk of a missed requirement and lower risk of cost overrun, said officials."Well-managed IT operations, such as Washington state, have a better track record than others, because they see what needs to be done and take proactive steps to mobilize their resources in creative ways to get the job done," said Davies. "Those states whose top-level officials fail to implement innovative ways of managing IT resources often become the victims as opposed to the beneficiaries of new technology."

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