A complex, growing organism

With everything that was once a search engine or even just a dusty old Web site now calling itself a portal, the US National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council (NEC3) has put forward definitions for government portals based on five levels. Each level becomes increasingly difficult to master, sort of like playing Nintendo. Many governments are already at level one or will be very soon, and some are approaching levels two and three. Levels four and five are mostly still visions.

The first-level portal provides information or services easily with relatively few mouse clicks. It is functional, hiding organizational complexity and showing a face of government as the citizen wants to see it.

The second-level offers online transactions such as vehicle registration, business licensing, tax filing and bill payment.

The third-level portal lets people jump from one service to the next without having to authenticate themselves again. This requires collaboration between departments and the sharing of services such as authentication, security, search and navigation.

A fourth-level portal draws out data needed for a transaction from all available government sources. This requires collaboration between organizations as well as data warehousing and middleware technology so that different databases can interface with each other. The federal government of Canada is accomplishing this with what it calls a “federated architecture” comprising both shared departmental and government-wide components separate from the systems that individual departments use for their own needs. All departments will be able to rely on the new architecture to share information and provide integrated services directly to Canadian citizens.

The fifth and highest portal level adds value and allows people to interact with government on their own terms, providing aggregated and customized information and services in subject areas corresponding to the citizen’s own particular circumstance. Taking the vehicle registration scenario, rather than logging onto the motor vehicle agency’s web site, the URL for which nobody knows, citizens can go to the government portal and click a “my car” icon. This gives them access to their vehicle registration as well as a listing of their traffic citations, insurance company ratings, recall notices on their car and more. They could be reminded to renew their car registration and request updates on traffic conditions via a pager, cell phone or by email.

“A level-five portal will be a complex, growing organism, rich in data, transactions and multimedia – it will almost replicate a society,” says P.K. Agarwal, past chairman of the NEC3 and now CIO of the California Franchise Tax Board. “It is hard to visualize because it will be nothing like today’s web sites.”

Article extracted from ‘eGov: e-Business Strategies for Government’ by Douglas Holmes, published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing, ISBN: 1-85788-278-4. US $29.95. To order, email:[email protected].

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