In November 1997, South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow issued a directive to throw more money and people at the Internet after a national report criticized South Dakota's efforts in making information accessible to residents. The governor's directive was aimed at getting people more involved in government by better using technology and the Internet to distribute information.
However, like many state and local governments, South Dakota had to mobilize about 40 people across state agencies to develop and maintain more robust Web sites for South Dakota residents -- in addition to other IT duties. According to those involved with overseeing the online overhaul, the result has so far been a success.
Pat Groce, a communications-network analyst and head Webmaster for the state, maintains the hardware and software, handles issues with the firewall and Internet security, and works on the more-advanced Web applications for the state Web site.
Working on It
To quiet critics, Groce uses Allaire's Cold Fusion 3.1 to make a number of databases available online. Those databases, including Structured Query Language (SQL) databases and ODBC-compliant databases, are the key to making South Dakota's Web site useful to curious, enterprising residents and tourists.
Groce makes it all happen with a 200MHz PC desktop computer with 64MB of RAM. A G6 PC packed with a 200MHz processor, 128MB of RAM and O'Reilly Web site Professional HTTP server software serves up the Web pages. Each week, the site tallies about 200,000 page views, with the traffic statistics peaking in February, when the state's part-time Legislature convenes for a six-week stint in the Capitol in Pierre.
The Legislative Research Council developed a bill-tracking and monitoring system. Using VisualBasic programs and the Web server's built-in search software, the council gave Web surfers access to the state's powerful Microsoft SQL Server database, where the council updates and stores information, such as votes on a bill, amendments to legislation and what policy committee is hearing the bill next. The SQL database creates committee assignment reports and has a complete member directory for the statehouse. All of that information is automatically updated online every 30 minutes while the Legislature is in session.
In addition to the six-week period in February and March, members of the South Dakota House and Senate return briefly in the summer to handle gubernatorial vetoes and other unfinished legislative business. The legislative site is updated less frequently when members are away from the Capitol.
In addition to bill tracking, the state's Web site is useful for residents who do not need or care to follow up-to-the-minute legislative details.
The Web site allows residents to apply for state jobs online. Internet users may download a number of standard state documents, applications and forms in Adobe Acrobat portable document file (PDF) format. Among the forms available are most standard income-tax documents and several applications. Residents may download a form to renew their hunting license, for example.
Two key products have made South Dakota's improved Internet presence possible. First, South Dakota adopted new switching devices within state office buildings that allowed their newer desktop PCs to better communicate with the state's legacy systems.
South Dakota employs the SmartSwitch 9000 Token Ring device by Cabletron Systems. The new switches allow the state to extract existing tax information, motor-vehicle registration files and health and human services data, and better use it on desktop computers throughout the state. Some of that information is, in turn, used to generate data that is later made available on the state's various agency Web sites. "The state had made a significant investment in their mainframe system a few years back," said Cabletron spokesman Michael Emerton. "Why throw that away? SmartSwitch allowed them to use their legacy data and build on it."
Groce said the mainframe system does not directly affect the Internet product but is