Microsoft's Gates Touts New .Net Initiative for E-Gov

Seeking to stake out a large chunk of territory in electronic government, Microsoft Corp.'s Chairman Bill Gates declared extensible markup language the language of government and Microsoft's .Net initiative as the best way to build e-gov applications.

.Net is Microsoft's plan to XML-enable all of its products, an effort in which Gates claimed Microsoft is ahead of competitors. XML allows disparate systems and applications to exchange data.

To better position themselves for interactive e-government applications, executives face three policy imperatives, Gates told 400 attendees from 130 countries at Microsoft's annual Government Leaders Conference. They need to create leadership that pushes e-gov, closes the digital divide between the poor and well-off and pushes for low-cost, deregulated telecommunications.

Gates credited the third item, a cheap and ubiquitous telecom infrastructure, as a reason why the U.S. economy leads the world in electronic commerce. But he stopped short of saying the U.S. government leads in online initiatives.

"You can't say any one government is way ahead. You can find best practices all over the world," Gates said.

"XML is a term everyone here should be familiar with," he said. "Doing e-gov around this approach will be very important."

At the conference, officials from Microsoft and Accenture, Chicago, announced they have formed a joint venture, called Avanade, to help agencies develop online services using a product called e-Government Accelerator.

Accenture partner David Wilkins described e-Government Accelerator as a development environment containing application programming interfaces to a suite of Microsoft's XML server products, including BizTalk, SQL server and Commerce server.

Wilkins said a common application for the accelerator would be turning forms, which many agencies merely offer for downloading, into interactive transaction tools tied to legacy systems where much of the related data resides.

"A form is an obvious place for a government entry point" into online, Wilkins said. By making forms available as PDF files via the Internet, governments have reduced office visits, but data entry and the requisite errors continue to stall progress, he said.

The Avanade team is negotiating with five state governments ? Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Wyoming ? and New York City to develop what Wilkins called intention-based projects.

Avanade would build online portals tying together transactions required to accomplish a cross-agency task, such as approving a building permit. The trick, Wilkens said, will be in hiding the complexity of the process from users.

Connie Dean, manager of Microsoft's global government business, said the departments of Agriculture and Energy, the Housing and Urban Development Department's Public and Indian Housing Office and the Naval Air Command are among the federal agencies deploying such XML applications.

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