A government can then provide the services to other agencies within the enterprise. The company can host the gateway system or implement it on a government's own facilities, managing the system remotely, providing upgrades and new functionality under the e-utility contract.

Arizona was already working with the company on building an e-government portal with secured access when the e-utility concept was raised as a possible avenue to take when building the portal.

It didn't take much arm-twisting to convince the state to drop its plan for a proprietary gateway and sign up for the pay-as-you-go service, GITA's Martel said, noting that the utility option would cost less, since the company would use the same infrastructure to provide services to multiple governments.

"We haven't solidified the cost just yet. But we do know that it is going to be affordable," he said.

Behind the Gateway

Each application behind the gateway has an administrator who decides what information to collect from prospective users by creating a Web page that users fill in to register for the application.

The administrator then reviews the captured information. If the user is approved, the gateway sends the registration data to the agency's application. To ensure privacy, the gateway itself does not retain the user's registration details.

A user registers separately for each application he or she wants, providing whatever information the application requires, and each registration is a one-time event. Once the user gains approval to use the applications, he or she signs on only once to log into the gateway. That brings the user to a personalized page listing the applications he or she is allowed to use. Once inside, a user who is authorized to access certain applications can pass freely from one to the next.

Governments devise their own policies for granting access to various applications. If they use digital certificates, they are responsible for issuing them or contracting with a third party to do so.

Credit Unions Register Cars

Arizona pilot tested an early version of the service last spring with a Department of Motor Vehicles application that allowed a credit union to issue a 90-day vehicle registration permit to a customer who borrows money to buy a car.

A credit union's representative must pass through the secure gateway to prove that he or she is authorized to issue the permit.

"At this point, it's done through user ID/password/PINs, but in the full blown version of the secure gateway, we're looking to tack on the use of a digital certificate," Martel said.

Beyond that, Arizona hasn't yet chosen particular applications to place behind the gateway. One possibility under discussion, Martel said, would allow state workers to conduct transactions involving their benefits, payroll and other personnel matters.

Health-care providers might also use the gateway. Providers need access control to protect data when they file routine reports with the state. With growing concern about homeland security, providers also need access control to report information about unusual disease patterns.

"Why would we want to have multiple access-control methods?" Martel asked, adding that a one-stop access control makes good business sense. "What we're trying to do with portal environments is take away some of the more complicated, maybe even burdensome, components of electronic government and do it in a more centralized environment, so the agencies can rely more on satisfying their business requirements and conducting these transactions."

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer