Virginia's Live Help Draws a Crowd

RICHMOND, Va. - When the state launched Live Help - a live, real-time customer assistance application that's modeled on Internet chat rooms - on its official portal in August 2001, nobody was sure what to expect.

"We were fairly certain that customers were going to like the service," said Rodney Willett, general manager of the Virginia Information Providers Network (VIPNet), which maintains the state's portal. "A number of e-commerce sites had been using the application and they had great success with it. We knew it would work in the government sector.

"Our fear was that we were going to be overwhelmed with customer service inquiries - webmaster e-mails, phone calls and, on top of that, live chat sessions," he said.

To the contrary, the past 11 months have demonstrated that as the amount of Live Help requests have gone up, VIPNet staff have fielded a corresponding decrease in telephone and webmaster inquiries.

VIPNet staff members field approximately 550 online chats per month, Willett said.

Previously, the state's portal received as many as 900 webmaster e-mails and approximately 500 phone calls per month from users seeking assistance in finding government resources and services. Since the implementation of Live Help, those figures have declined to a monthly average of 200 e-mails and 250 calls, Willett said.

VIPNet's customer-service representatives spend about eight minutes responding to each phone request and 10 minutes per e-mail question, including research time to find the answer - equating to 217 hours per month addressing user questions.

Online chats take less time to complete, according to VIPNet, with customer-service representatives spending less than seven minutes, on average, per chat session. Live Help also allows staff members to handle multiple chats simultaneously - up to four per customer-service representative. Altogether, Live Help delivers a savings of approximately 90 staff hours per month, Willett said.

Washington Debuts Online Candidate Filing

OLYMPIA, Wash. "Washington is the first state in the nation to allow candidates to file for office electronically," said Secretary of State Sam Reed.

"On the technology front, this is an historic day for Washington," he said. "Washington is the first state in America to make this technology available. We are shifting toward a more efficient, digital government that is more responsive to its customers."

Online filing was launched in July and allows candidates running for all federal offices, statewide offices, joint legislative districts and joint judicial districts - those districts where voters in more than one county determine races - to file via the Internet.

State officials said the new electronic method is as secure as filing through the mail or in person. Candidates filing electronically must pay their filing fees with a credit card that either matches the candidate's name or the name of the candidate's campaign.

The secretary of state's Web site < www.secstate.wa.gov > uses the highest level of security available for online transactions. After filing, the candidate receives an e-mail confirmation of his or her Declaration of Candidacy.

The declarations of are not posted online until elections staff members have put the application through an exhaustive check to determine its validity.

"We are moving elections administration into the 21st century," Reed said. "This new system will increase access to the political process while guarding against fraud."

New York Merges Telecommunications with IT Department

ALBANY, N.Y. - New York is merging its Division of Telecommunications with the Office for Technology (OFT), a move that is expected to strengthen the state's voice and data infrastructure and add support to new e-government applications, economic development and higher education.

The merger, scheduled to became official in September, shifts 107 staff from the Office of General Services to OFT. At the same time, the state's technology headquarters will be reorganized into three divisions: networking, computing and customer service, according to state CIO James Dillon.

"We made the move because it makes sense," Dillon said. "Network issues have become more data related, while telecommunications has less to do with just voice and has become more closely linked with our applications."

The merger puts a single agency in charge of overseeing all of New York's various networks, which range from NyeNet, a high-speed, statewide extranet, to Empire Net, a legacy network-transport service. Others include the state's criminal justice network and a metropolitan network that handles data in the Albany region.

The telecommunications and technology consolidation also gives New York a unified platform for launching e-government and economic development projects.

In late July, Gov. George Pataki announced that a consortium of 12 major chip makers will build their next-generation research and development center at the University of Albany. The $400 million project, known as Sematech North, opens in fall 2002 and is expected to attract major high-tech companies and jobs to upstate New York.

Dillon anticipates that his newly expanded department will provide infrastructure support to Sematech, while also helping extend fiber into other rural areas of the state for both development and educational purposes.

"The importance of telecommunications and networks in government operations has grown considerably," he explained. "Telecommunications is no longer about handling voice in government buildings. It's bigger than that." - Tod Newcombe, Features Editor

North Carolina Preschoolers Get Custom Computer Centers

RALEIGH, N.C. - Thousands of preschoolers in "More at Four" classrooms throughout the state began the new school year with technology designed specifically for them.

Gov. Mike Easley said IBM provided 229 KidSmart Early Learning computer centers and software to nonprofit and public-school-based More at Four pre-kindergarten classrooms in the state. The company also provided training to help teachers successfully integrate technology into their pre-kindergarten lessons.

"Supplementing our pre-kindergarten curriculum with computer instruction is vital in making sure that our at-risk four-year-olds learn the skills necessary to succeed in school," Easley said. "Our students get more hands-on opportunities to learn with the latest technology, our teachers get more resources they need for the classroom, and the business community gets a better-trained workforce down the road."

IBM's donation represents a half-million-dollar investment in More at Four, North Carolina's effort to improve achievement in elementary school by increasing the quality of early learning programs statewide. The program < www.governor.state.nc.us/Office/Education/moreat4_overview.asp > has partnered with public schools, Smart Start, Head Start and community-based child care centers in 34 counties across the state to serve at-risk four-year-olds in those communities.

There are currently 157 More at Four pre-kindergarten classrooms throughout North Carolina serving more than 1,600 children. The program began its second school year in August.