Nothing is more frustrating than searching the Internet for one particular topic or piece of information. Unless you're fortunate enough to know exactly where you want to go, surfing through endless screens of scattered menus can be like wandering through a library blindfolded.
But in Texas, the Department of Commerce and several other state, municipal and private-sector organizations have joined together to form the Texas Open Network Enterprise (Texas-One) in an effort end the countless wasted hours spent searching the `Net. By collecting and organizing a wide variety of information and services into a single system that is easy to use, understand and - most importantly - navigate through, Texas-One is becoming an example for other state and local governments.
FOCUSING ON BUSINESS
The aim of Texas-One is to provide low cost access to high-quality electronic information and services to Texas businesses in particular, although anyone can access the information. The focus on business evolved around a general effort to promote and support commerce in the state.
"If companies can find the information they need quickly, we believe this will help keep them competitive," said Kristine Mossinghoff, marketing director for Texas-One.
Mossinghoff believes this is an especially important service for states such as Texas, whose businesses are largely dependent on a rapidly downsizing defense industry. "Because the defense industry is shrinking, we wanted to help companies find new niches in the marketplace, rather than see them fail," she said.
Thus, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Information Resources - with the help of a $2,500,000 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Advanced Research Project Agency - collaborated to launch the five-year Texas-One project in the fall of 1993. Program planners believe this system will eliminate duplication of services and act as a valuable business development source for communities, businesses and rural areas.
HOW IT WORKS
The Texas-One project began by linking several independently operated BBSs run by various state agencies. "With Texas-One, all state agencies come together and work in partnership. This will not only help the people who are looking for information, but will save agencies a lot of money because BBSs are expensive to run," said Mossinghoff.
Using a computer and a modem, anyone will be able to dial up Texas-One and get information on benefits, services, licenses, permits and registrations, regardless of where they live. People can also get access around the clock to things like U.S. Census reports, federal and state government information from various agencies, NAFTA-related information, and even current foreign exchange rates.
Texas-One also ensures the consistency and the quality of the information and services so the reliability of the source is never at question. Project planners are constantly working to ensure the quality of the data and its value to businesses. Focus groups are used to keep track of what keywords are being used most often so they can then focus on searching out more data in the areas of highest interest. "The system is very flexible," said Mossinghoff, "and we are very responsive to the customer's needs."
Besides the wide array of information available from state and federal agencies, Texas-One also includes e-mail services, manufacturing forums (like chat lines) and access to existing online services.
ROOTING FOR THE UNDERDOG
Texas-One has been hailed for its value to businesses overall, but has been especially valuable to small businesses that may not have the capital to invest in the latest technology or to hire large advertising firms. "Nothing levels the playing field better than public access to information," said Mossinghoff, adding that services such as online catalogs will allow small businesses to compete more evenly with big businesses.
"With the online catalogs, people can search for any item they need. When they find it, it doesn't matter if the company is big, small or medium-sized. They are all there and it's just a matter of who has the right product at the right price," she explained.
Texas-One is currently located at its own gopher site and program planners are working on a World Wide Web site that will allow for the full use of graphics, sound and video. That project is expected to be completed by mid-January 1995. An electronic funds transfer project is also in the works.
Project planners are also looking at the possibility of using kiosks in the future, although this will depend on whether or not kiosks become directly interactive with the Internet. "Problems tend to arise in keeping information updated when using kiosks. Since most libraries plan to have direct links to the Internet, this may be a better way to go, but we are still considering all our alternatives," said Mossinghoff.
Texas-One is continuing to be an easy source of valuable state and local government and business-related information that other states could surely use as an example. "Although many states are using the Internet now, I don't believe any other state has the extensive focus on business that we do in Texas," said Mossinghoff. "But I think as time goes by, we'll see other states going in this direction as well."
The Texas Department of Commerce will display Texas-One in the Solution Center area throughout the conference. Texas-One can be accessed through the Internet at gopher.Texas-One.org or WWW.Texas-One.org
Texas-One offers a wide variety of value-added information through the Internet. The following is a sample of some of the subject areas and organizations that can be located:
+ Business directories
+ Commerce Business Daily
+ Currency exchange
+ Federal laboratories and technology transfer information
+ Federal Register
+ Labor statistics
+ Legislative information
+ Library catalogs
+ Securities and Exchange Commission
+ Technical reports and research papers
+ U.S. Census reports
+ U.S. House bills
+ U.S. industry outlook
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