preferred network protocol will be TCP/IP. However, the RFP says NYT must also provide multiprotocol capabilities, allowing agencies to migrate toward Internet technologies at their own pace.

What's more, the winning vendor will handle NYT's ongoing monitoring, management and maintenance. "You want to outsource what you don't do great," explained Thomas. "We're not going to have a state agency that's running the NYT, per se." OFT currently is reviewing vendor responses to the RFP and hopes to make a selection by this month.

The choice will be made "on a best-value basis which optimizes quality, cost -- including lifecycle cost -- and efficiency," according to the RFP. The document adds that OFT intends to award a single NYT contract, but it reserves the right to contract with multiple vendors.

RIGHT COMBINATION

NYT's intranet structure combines the flexibility and user-friendliness of the Internet with the security of a private network, said Dawes.

She noted that the TCP/IP network provides clear standards for those who build and manage network applications, in essence becoming the glue that binds together disparate computer platforms and operating systems. Internet technology also provides standards of a different sort for end users, who will access network applications and services through a common Web browser. "It really enhances the ability of people to get up to speed quickly," said Dawes.

Settling on the TCP/IP protocol was easy for NYT participants, said Thomas, reflecting the IT community's broad acceptance of the Internet

standard.

"The first action the governance council took was to say that [TCP/IP] is our protocol," she said. "I've been involved off and on in IT for 16 years, and at no point could we ever agree on a standard protocol. This was the first time."

UNIQUE PROJECT

While other states have also undertaken large networking initiatives, New York's commitment to involving local government sets the NYT project apart, Dawes said. Driving that commitment is the fact that many programs administered by the state are actually operated by local agencies.

"The whole service delivery channel begins at the local level; that's where the customer interfaces. So it's really critical for local governments to be fully involved if those programs are going to operate well," she said.

Dawes credits Internet- and

intranet-style communications with lowering the technology barriers to government information sharing. But, she added, there are plenty of other challenges.

"These remain very difficult projects because of all the other things that don't have anything to do with technology," she said. "Organizations collect, use and define information differently. They're funded from different sources or on different timelines.

"All of the things that separate one organization from another don't go away because the technology problems have been lessened," noted Dawes.

However, Thomas said the NYT governance council has been meeting for about a year to manage those types of concerns. "The committee handles anything from organizational issues to setting protocols and developing rules governing how NYT is used. It'll also be dealing with bandwidth allocations and finances," she said. "I don't think the NYT would have happened without it."

A key issue for the committee will be developing a billing mechanism to support the project. Thomas anticipates that agencies will be charged based on their network use, but the details are still being hammered out.

"We've guaranteed everybody that they'll be paying no more than they're paying now, but they'll have more services for that money," she said. "Over time, that cost should go down."

SEEKING SECURITY

While NYT's intranet design promises to provide agencies with much greater networking flexibility -- which is particularly important in an era of welfare reform and other changes that demand new data