The next step in the evolution of a truly integrated state portal is coming to the Web in Georgia. In December, the state selected Sun as contractor for the new state portal, and final negotiations were concluded Feb. 14.
The following day, Georgia CIO Larry Singer talked to the Center for Digital Government about why Sun was selected over other well-known state government players, how the state's portal strategy plan
is proceeding and how different vendors' Web services strategies compare.
Singer said the business side of the project was simple: Provide a more seamless interaction between citizen and government, and allow the citizen to define the parameters of their interactions with government.
From the technology side, said Singer, providing an enterprise face to government has historically been done by writing interfaces between back-end systems to support different programs, and passing data back and forth with those interfaces. Singer said that while some vendors have touted data warehousing and datamarts as the answer, "We've had a series of expensive data warehouse/datamart efforts around the country that have yielded none of the promise that they were supposed to yield."
So what strategies show the most promise?
"Over the last year and a half or so, some of the best minds in the business have been pointing out that XML, SOAP and UDDI can be rolled into a concept called 'Web services.' It is not only possible, but widely believed that the next great move in data processing is this Web services architecture. And there are five or six vendors who are, even as the standards are being refined, trying to establish their place in the market," said Singer
"Bill Gates says he's betting the company on his .Net strategy, a kind of a mixture of Web services' promise of systems integration with a new pricing model they hope will continue to allow them to grow their revenue stream.
"IBM has WebSphere and other products, and while they haven't yet articulated an architectural vision like .Net, they do have IBM Global Services, that has spent a lot of time and effort understanding how to use these products to provide the same benefit, not so much from an architectural perspective, but from a middleware, connectivity, Web services perspective, and they're very committed to it as well. Microsoft has a very architectural approach, IBM has a very services-oriented approach.
"Hewlett-Packard is also making a run on it," Singer explained, "based on their open HP-UX environment. Oracle and Computer Associates are chasing it too."
Singer said 38 vendors bid on Georgia's portal contract, and seven bid on the core portion -- the part the state called the "integration services" piece.
"Microsoft had a tightly integrated architected approach but it was closed," said Singer. "While their stuff all worked together in the way that we had envisioned, it only worked together as long as you used all their stuff. And it also required us to be in an IBM operating environment for our enterprise systems, and they didn't score very well on security in operating systems activity. Based on our experience, our data center folks didn't have confidence that we could run our very large enterprise on that platform. IBM didn't really have the vision, although you could have pieced some of the products together to meet a substantial part of what we were looking for. They didn't really have an integrated approach, and that was important to us.
"Sun, on the other hand, offered us [a system that was] integrated and integratable. They made a big push, saying that, 'You can pick some of our products, or you can pick all of them. Here's the reason to pick all of them .... But if you were to pick someone else's application server, ours would still work with it. If you pick someone else's directory, ours would still work with it. If you pick somebody's operating system, we could run ours on somebody else's operating system.'"
That gave the state confidence, said Singer, and since Web services is new, Sun's approach gave the state options the others didn't. "Sun won number one technical evaluation in 16 of 17 technical categories in which they bid," said Singer. "If tomorrow, someone else is in the lead - we could modularly unplug that piece and plug another guy in. Given our responsibility to meet the needs of the state today -- and to set out an architectural vision of the future -- we were able to meet that vision without being locked in. And also without having the ambiguity that came from some of the other solutions."
While Singer said Sun has not been a big player in the government market, they have been doing network-based computing throughout their history as a company. "I think they recognize that state government may be the killer app for third generation Web services," said Singer. "We got big-time commitment, they were very aggressive in the bid, they showed they wanted it and had the ability to deliver in a way that others didn't."
No Wrong Door
Before he came to Georgia, Singer worked on two different enterprise portals, including Arizona's "no-wrong-door" project, and New York State's common-intake project. "Both of those validated the need and the possibility of a no-wrong-door, common-intake or integrated-service environment," said Singer.
However, Singer said the only Web services projects comparable to Georgia's are General Electric's Chemical Marketplace, and the U.S. automobile industry's interoperability environment. The UK's Inland Revenue is also architecturally similar, said Singer. "But what everybody else is doing is what I would call a second generation Web approach," he said. "They give a list of things you can do in one place. That's 'no wrong door' in the way a shopping mall is no wrong door -- you come to a shopping mall whether you're looking for shoes or toys. But if you come here, we'll let you define the experience, not just come in to where we've brought together the people we think you'll need. I don't think anybody else has gotten there yet."
By June 30th, Georgia's portal project will roll out its first deliverable, an application to handle driver's license renewals by telephone, over the Web or by mail. "Our definition of portal is not just a Web site," said Singer, "but an interoperability hub that will drive IVR phone renewals, mail-in renewals that we'll do in partnership with a bank -- they'll scan it and use the portal to do the renewal -- and online for those who want to do direct self-serve."
By fall, the state will launch a variety of health and human services functions, including the ability for custodial parents to access the status of a child support check. After that, said Singer, a new health and human services function will roll out every 30 to 60 days. Also on June 30, the state will release a tool kit for individual agencies to use for moving additional functions onto the portal.