E-Government Services Take Root

BOSTON (05/20/2000) - The efforts of state governments to deliver services online have been aimed primarily at individuals and small businesses. But some CIOs in business and government say companies of all sizes may soon find useful government services on state Web sites.

Raymond Sasso Jr., vice president and CIO at J.R. Simplot Co., a 12,000-employee agribusiness in Boise, Idaho, is among those who see a "huge" business potential in state online services. "I never realized how information-intensive the business of government is," Sasso said. "It's breathtaking."

Sasso speaks from experience. He is a volunteer industry representative on the Idaho Information Technology Commission, which provides direction for state IT initiatives.

Idaho, said Sasso, is working to put a "long list" of government data online, including population and land development patterns, crop status and economic indicators. Such data will give Simplot access to information that now "takes too much time" to get at, he said.

Even state online services that may provide their greatest benefit to small and medium-size businesses can also help large companies.

For instance, the state of New Jersey, in collaboration with American Management Systems Inc. in Fairfax, Virginia, developed a system recently that lets businesses apply and pay for air permits, which are needed for activities that involve emissions.

J. Russell Cerchiaro, manager of environmental regulatory affairs at $9 billion-plus pharmaceutical firm Schering-Plough Corp. in Madison, New Jersey, said the online permitting process allows the state to "get those simple applications out of the way" and have more time to process the complex air-permitting applications submitted by his company and other large companies.

The push for online services is also changing the job for government CIOs.

Irene Kropp, CIO at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in Trenton, spearheaded the air-permit project. She said she now asks managers to rethink how they perform certain business processes moving online. "So there's a greater visibility for the IT director and the CIO in the agency," said Kropp. "And I think there is a lot more responsibility to make sure that certain things are happening." New Jersey plans to open a "business portal," aimed at providing services to businesses, on July 1.

"Obviously, e-government is the direction for all state CIOs," said Wendy Rayner, CIO of the state of New Jersey. But the bigger issue is data sharing across the enterprise - allowing for records to be updated in one place, she said. John Granger, vice president of information systems at Furrs Supermarkets Inc., a 70-store chain in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said that while state online services have focused so far on small businesses, he sees the potential business value for firms the size of his. The state, for instance, is considering listing highway construction sites, hazardous areas and detours on the Web. "That certainly would help my company and a lot of other companies with trucks on the road," Granger said.

Granger serves as an industry representative on the New Mexico Information Technology Resource Management Council, which advises the state on IT issues, and he has headed a state Web development task force.