June 8, 2010 By Andy Opsahl
Texas officially launched its new Web portal, Texas.gov, on Tuesday, June 8, after a brief soft launch. The site's design is strikingly different than the state's previous Web portal, TexasOnline. New features include lots of white space, plain columns of data and a large search field at the top-center of the homepage.
As state Web portals evolve, they typically feature new e-government services, more intuitive navigation and links to agency social networking pages.
While the new Texas.gov certainly includes those features, it also introduced new services for state and local agencies. Chief among those is a free content management system (CMS) delivered through software as a service (SaaS). The site also introduced a crowdsourcing platform enabling citizens to share ideas about the direction of government.
The new portal, like the old TexasOnline, is "self-funded" by transaction fees on various electronic services, so it requires no money from the state. It was created by Kansas-based NIC, which in 2009 won a seven-year contract to operate the Texas state government portal. The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) said that while TexasOnline.com had been an effective tool for the past decade, it views the new Texas.gov as simply an improvement.
The portal lets the DIR offer free Web hosting services to Texas local governments. Under this arrangement, agencies manage the content on their portals through the same CMS that the DIR uses to support Texas.gov. The local agencies' portal data is stored on the DIR's servers, which are maintained by the department's IT workers. The service is free for up to 100 GB of content. If a local government's site exceeds that storage amount, it pays an incremental cost. The service could be a welcome opportunity for local governments that are short on funds and IT staff, said state CIO Karen Robinson, who serves as executive director of the DIR.
"This should be especially useful to smaller agencies that don't have the resources to provide up-to-date websites," Robinson said.
State legislation allowed the DIR to provide free CMS functionality to local agencies. The DIR can afford to offer the service without charging by treating it as a shared service, as it's developed once and then distributed to various entities.
The costs of managing Texas.gov and developing new features are covered by transaction fees attached to electronic services provided by the portal. The arrangement is similar to the self-funding model used for TexasOnline - which contributed nearly $70 million to the state's general fund over the past decade - although revenue calculation is simpler under the new portal contract, according to Douglas Holt, deputy executive director of the DIR.
NIC had operated TexasOnline since May 2009, after acquiring management of the site from original contractor BearingPoint, which filed for bankruptcy protection in last February.
Texas officials announced a new portal contract with NIC in August 2009, which gives the state about half the revenue generated by the portal after expenses. The new contract is expected produce more than $183 million for the state's general fund over its seven-year term. At the time, state officials also said the new contract would put greater focus on transformational Web initiatives.
As a way of empowering citizens to engage the state with their ideas, Texas.gov features a collaboration tool from third-party vendor Get Satisfaction, which offers citizens a platform for sharing their ideas with other citizens.
"It engages Texans more in their government process. It's a trend that's happening throughout the country," said Janet Gilmore, assistant director of e-government services for the DIR. "We wanted to use that and see if we could make government more transparent and accessible."
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