and thin clients," remarked Elder. With Sun giving away Java, its Web-based programming language, expect to see platform-independent applications that run on intranets popping up in the government sector in the near future.
Elder believes these applications will help break down the barriers that have remained in government for so long. "We can now begin to think of government as true enterprise services," he said. For example, the police, courts and prisons will become a criminal justice enterprise, with information flowing more readily between the three once-separate entities.
"EMBRACE AND EXTEND"
Meanwhile, Microsoft, the world's largest PC software producer, has been rapidly adapting its core products -- Windows 95 and NT operating systems and application software products and tools -- to take advantage of the Internet/intranet. As part of its "embrace and extend" strategy, Microsoft has rolled out Internet Explorer for the desktop and Internet Information Server for backend services.
With the latest version of Windows Office 97, users can easily turn reports, budgets and presentations into HTML format for use on the Web. Other tools make it possible to quickly e-mail and manage all the published material from any PC.
The upshot is that publishing, presenting and using information across an intranet is becoming vastly easier for governments. Just look at the seven police departments in Allegheny County, Pa., that turned to an intranet to do something that's never before been feasible: share police information in a timely manner.
Using a $105,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the seven participating departments (out of 132 in the county), built, in a matter of months, a platform-independent communications system and an information database containing more than 170,000 names of individuals with whom the police came in contact. In addition, the intranet has more than 12,000 Web pages that contain information on individuals who have been arrested. More than 1,300 of the pages also contain scanned mugshots.
Built by Tulip Systems and using software from Microsoft, the TUPPER project is transforming the way neighboring police departments share information. Lt. Dennis McDonough of the South Park Township Police recalled how a drug investigation two years ago dragged on because it was so difficult to track criminals. At one point, South Park Police spent a month trying to find the whereabouts of one criminal, only to learn over a cup of coffee that the neighboring police department knew where he was all the time.
With the intranet, police departments can keep the lines of communication open via e-mail. "The system has really enhanced communications with other municipalities as well as inside our own department," said McDonough. Putting scanned mugshots on the Web has also helped. Plans are under way to include photos of missing children and adults.
As Police Chief Darrel Parker of Munhall, Pa., pointed out, the intranet has helped police close the gap on a major advantage criminals have had over the police -- their ability to move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction without the police tracking their whereabouts. "This system has given us instantaneous access to information that overcomes that problem," he said.
SAFETY AND SECURITY?
With so much momentum behind intranet technology, state and local governments might find it tempting to plunge in before they understand what their needs are. IBM's Ludwig believes governments should view the intranet as a way to open up the business of government. "Government needs to add electronic channels to reach their internal and external constituents," she explained. Used correctly, an intranet can benefit governments politically, fiscally and economically.
To gain those benefits, Ludwig pointed out that governments have to address their concerns about intranet safety and security. "State and local governments need to set up effective policies to ensure that intranet commerce can occur, such as legally acceptable electronic signatures," said Ludwig. So far only three states have done so.
Meanwhile, intranet use steamrolls ahead. Nonexistent three years ago, intranets are expected to reach near-full deployment in the business world in another three years, according to Delphi Consulting. With the right leadership, state and local governments should also be in the thick of it.