Pay a visit to the Chicago Park District Web site and at first glance it appears to be a typical government effort at online services. Theres a long list of activities available to Chicagoans, and the information seems to go on and on. But scroll back to the top and click on the words "online registration is available now." If you keep drilling down and choose an activity, say gymnastics, you will find a list of day camps. Along with the obligatory information on where the camp is located, how many openings are currently available and the cost, youll also find that familiar shopping cart icon usually seen on retail Web sites.

Thats right. You can shop your way through the Chicago Park Districts vast array of nearly 1,000 classes, courses, activities and events, picking your favorites and paying for them with a credit card when done. The new online site is a great benefit to customers used to driving around Chicago, visiting the parks during daytime hours and trying to sign up for an activity. But thats not the big deal here. The Park Districts online storefront is tied to its enterprise financial software application. Unlike most front-end Web services in government that look good but actually do little to change the process thats wrapped inside the application, this one is fully integrated with financial, human resources and payroll services.

"Government customers are no longer looking for core foundation applications in ERP [enterprise resource planning], they want completely integrated applications," said David Natelson, vice president of state and local government applications at Oracle Corp., the company that built the Park Districts storefront Web site and its back-end ERP system.

Once focused on implementing individual human resource, payroll, procurement or financial ERP systems and separate customer service applications, governments now see the value in having one system that covers all these services. "This approach lowers overall cost and avoids the problem of dealing with different versions of software with different vendors," Natelson explained.

Putting ERP to Work

From California to New York, from Arvada, Colo., to Las Vegas, Nev., state and local governments are investing in ERP systems specifically designed for the public sector that can maximize the potential for e-government through the Internet. The appeal of ERP is obvious to anyone who deals with information in an organization. The software integrates data, functions and departments across an entire organization. In addition, ERP automates manual tasks, allows users to produce and access information in realtime, and shares business practices throughout the enterprise.

ERP vendors, such as Oracle, J.D. Edwards, SAP America and Peoplesoft, have seen a surge in orders recently as

governments snap up new systems to replace old ones left over from the Y2K crisis. States and localities also are buying ERP to meet policy objectives that require out-dated, bureaucratic processes to be reengineered around an enterprise business model. Finally, ongoing demand for customer services at the front counter and over the Internet has pushed governments to do a more effective job of serving citizens, not just find new ways to spend fewer tax dollars.

"Theres a greater emphasis on effectiveness in government, instead of a better process," said Jon Gearhart, public-sector-industry director of Peoplesoft. "Im also seeing less emphasis on trying to simply spend money effectively and more emphasis on the core mission of the organization."

That may explain why two states have launched full-scale assaults on their information silos, using ERP as the weapon for breaching the walls. Arkansas is spending $30 million to create a statewide system for financial and human resource information (see "Making a Titanic Transition," March 2001). In Pennsylvania, the state has launched a three-year, $51.8 million project to upgrade software for the accounting, budgeting, payroll, personnel and purchasing

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor