If necessity is the mother of invention, in Mississippi it's also the mother of collaboration. "We just don't have a lot of money available to do the things we need to do," explained David Litchliter, Mississippi's chief information officer and executive director of the state's Department of Information Technology Services (ITS). So when it came time to deliver e-government services through a new state portal, tight budgets helped persuade state agencies to agree on a single platform for all applications.

"The more we can leverage costs across multiple solutions, and solutions for multiple entities, people are more and more open to that type of thing," Litchliter said.

For citizens, Mississippi's collaborative approach has yielded a suite of easy-to-find services with a common look and feel. For the state, creating an enterprise infrastructure for many online services has saved time and money. It's also provided an automated, streamlined interface between disparate applications and back-office systems.

When Mississippi started developing its e-government vision, the state already had a portal, but it was "not very comprehensive," Litchliter said. It served mainly to steer visitors to separate state agency Web sites. Without a central search engine, citizens could find services only if they knew which agencies provided them. At the same time, the site offered no facilities for renewing licenses, paying fees or conducting other business transactions.

Mississippi officials wanted to deliver true e-government, but faced a dilemma. To save money up front, many states were building portals through contracts that were based on transaction volume: The more traffic a new system drew, the more the state paid the software vendor. "We didn't feel that would work for our state, because the volume wasn't going to be anything like it was in Texas or California," Litchliter said.

Mississippi officials heard that some vendors were losing money on transaction-based agreements. Mississippi's portal traffic may have been insufficient to support that type of arrangement, Litchliter said. "When we put our RFP together, we had a lot of vendors tell us that if we were going to try and follow that model, they probably wouldn't bother to bid."

Laying a Foundation

Rather than follow the pay-as-you-go route, Mississippi ITS obtained one-time funding from the state Legislature to build a central e-government infrastructure. This backbone would support online services for any number of state agencies. The money also would allow ITS to create and pilot a handful of online applications. When a citizen paid a fee online, the state would add a small surcharge - $1 or less. As portal traffic grew, ITS expected those transaction charges to support ongoing operations and maintenance, and perhaps help finance new applications.

Mississippi ITS released an RFP in January 2001, and awarded the contract to a team headed by EZGov Inc. and IBM in April 2001. EZGov provided its Flex Foundation e-government software and developed most of the online applications, said Ed Trimble, CEO of the Atlanta-based firm. IBM provided the hardware and underlying software, and linked the e-government system with agencies' back-office systems.

Other members of the team included KPMG, which helped Mississippi develop its e-government business model; Siebel Systems, which provided a customer relationship management solution; and Ciber Inc., which performed technical development as a subcontractor to IBM.

The team's proposal was attractive because Mississippi already chose IBM products to develop a system for the state tax commission, and it wanted to adopt a standard platform for all of state government, Litchliter said. EZGov's software could save application developers a great deal of time as well. "We would be able to reuse code from one application to the next if there was similarity there," he said.

Basic Components

Flex Foundation makes it simple and inexpensive to develop e-government services because it provides basic components for functions

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer