This section provides an overview of the Commonwealth's E-Government program. It begins with a discussion of the program's multiple elements and how they fit together. The bulk of this section, however, is spent discussing the elements of the government portal and how they combine to support a fully-coordinated E-Government program and Internet presence.
4.1 The current E-Government initiative coordinates multiple streams of work
The E-Government initiative described in this eStrategy and roadmap coordinates several distinct work streams, including:
- Development of enterprise E-Government policies including the development of a Governance structure that supports continued cross-agency integration of services
- Implementation of the government portal and portal infrastructure
- Development of new E-Government applications (called "eApplications" in this report) that provide functionality to the portal
- Coordination of the existing E-Government programs within the new Governance and portal infrastructure
- Ongoing refinement and continued development of new programs
With the guidance of a coordinated Governance structure, the portal and its constituent eApplications will form the foundation for a consistent, enterprise-wide E-Government program. The diagram below provides a "before and after" conceptual view of how these streams of work fit together to form a coordinated whole.
As these programs are implemented, the Commonwealth will continue to refine its approach to E-Government, strategically planning and adding new programs, refining existing programs, and continually developing the portal to support the entire E-Government initiative. Depending on how the Commonwealth chooses to proceed with these ongoing activities, additional investment in E-Government may be required.
4.2 Overview of the Portal and Its Elements
The government portal should be the single Internet location where Commonwealth citizens, businesses, and visitors can find information or conduct business with Massachusetts. This section presents Accenture's conceptual framework for the portal, and then addresses each of the portal's seven key portal elements in turn. This discussion will:
1. Provide a basis for understanding what a government portal is
2. Describe the benefits of a robust, fully supported portal infrastructure, and
3. Offer suggestions regarding ways in which the Commonwealth might implement its own portal.
A common understanding of these concepts will provide a clear picture of how the various E‑Government programs proposed in Section Five, along with the existing and "flanking programs" under development, fit into a coordinated portal program. Section Five also provides an analysis of the portal foundation program from an implementation perspective, outlining in detail implementation considerations, costs, and benefits of the portal as the foundation for the whole E-Government program.
4.3 Context for the Portal
4.3.1. Development of the portal must take key policy issues into account
In order to implement the portal, the Commonwealth must not only design and build it; --the Commonwealth must also address multiple E-Government policy issues that relate directly to its development. Throughout the course of the Commonwealth's E-Government initiative, five work groups met under the auspices of the E-Government Task Force to address key policy issues. These work groups and the issues they addressed were the following:
- Accessibility and the Digital Divide: Accessibility of the portal to all citizens
- Policy and Legal: The nature of information available through the portal and the process by which information will be collected, exchanged, and made available
- Marketing and Branding: How the portal will be marketed to the public
- Organizational Support /Governance: Who, or what entities will make decisions about, coordinate and manage the E-Government program.
- Funding and Revenue Generation: How ongoing development and support of this enterprise-wide program will be funded
The recommendations of these groups regarding specific policy issues as they relate to the entire E-Government initiative are summarized in Section Six. The full reports submitted by each group to the E-Government Task Force can be found by searching for the Policy and legal reports.
4.3.2. Market Research indicates that the Commonwealth is "moving in the right direction"
As part of their involvement in the Task Force and Steering Committee, Terra Lycos conducted a consumer survey on Massachusetts E-Government. The survey polled respondents on the types of Commonwealth services that they would consider seeking on the Internet, policy concerns that they may have in response to using the Internet to conduct transactions with the Commonwealth, and aspects of the proposed portal that are most important to them.
The findings of the Terra Lycos market research confirmed that the Commonwealth is moving in the right direction with the E-Government Initiative. The detailed findings of the Terra Lycos market survey will be available at the project web site.
4.4 The conceptual framework for a portal consists of seven distinct elements which combine to support a coordinated E-Government program
A portal is more than a website. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts currently has a website or, more accurately, a loosely-connected set of agency websites. It does not have an integrated portal. The table below illustrates the principal differences between a website and a portal.
Key Differences between a Government Website and a Government Portal
Look & Feel
Integration with IT Systems
Accenture has developed an approach to portal design and development that is based on an integrated system consisting of seven different functional components. These components are:
1. Physical network of personal computers
2. Constituent access channels
3. Virtual agencies
4. Common portal functions
5. Shared services
6. Link to agency IT systems
7. Agency IT systems
A diagram of the portal and its different components appears below.
The Portal and its Elements
The core purpose of the portal is simple: it is to link the personal computers and other web-accessible electronic devices in the homes of citizens and businesses with the IT systems of Commonwealth agencies. This allows users to gain access to necessary information and to complete transactions that automatically populate those systems. Of course, all of this is done within a security framework that provides for authorized access and that safeguards privacy rights.
The following sections explain each of the portal elements in turn, describes what they are and how they work, and offers suggestions regarding development of the Commonwealth's portal.
Element 1: A physical network of personal computers
The first element of the portal is the physical network of computers and other devices with access to the Internet and the network of access itself. Citizens must have a way to connect to the portal and access its offerings. Challenges to accessibility include both availability of Internet access (although public libraries are beginning to address this accessibility gap) and ability to access content, some of which is inaccessible to visually impaired citizens, or to otherwise challenged citizens. Issues of Internet access are a serious concern and were a focus of the Accessibility and Digital Divide Workgroup.
For the purpose of "implementing the portal" the physical network and network operations is assumed to exist already. For the purpose of policy, it is clear that this network exists for some constituents, but not for all.
Element 2: Constituent access channels
The next portal element is the constituent access channel. This comprises the Commonwealth homepage and the initial layers leading to the portal content and transactions. The access channel is really the system of navigation that will guide users through the site to the information and services they are seeking.
Constituent Access Channels
Many people mistake the access channel for the homepage and see its design as principally an aesthetic issue. In truth, however, access channels serve as a critical first level navigation system, upon which users depend in order to access the rest of the portal's content and transactional capability. To be effective, access channels must correlate with the intentions of users. Users must be able to either recognize themselves-or recognize information regarding a task or category of tasks that they intend to complete-in order to know "where to go" within the portal to do what they need to do. In other words, the design of the portal should be based on the intentions of the user.
In order to guide visitors to the new portal through a user-friendly navigation system, the portal should be organized around the needs of key customer groups. Analysis of 1,308 individual web "pages" of the current Commonwealth website, indicates that the site is currently geared toward six principle "customer" groupings. The table below lists these customer groupings and indicates the percentage of total pages targeted to each group. An understanding of how the content of the current website is organized provides a first step in envisioning the high-level constituent access channels for the new portal design.
% of Pages Directed at Group
Towns & Cities
In addition to well-conceived constituent access channels that are intentions-based, a second important component of the portal navigation system is a consistent link back to the portal home page. For this purpose, some states have considered the development of an icon or logo that serves a dual purpose. First, it appears on every page of the Commonwealth site and serves as a reminder that the user is still on the official site of the Commonwealth. Second, clicking on it would take the user back to the Commonwealth homepage. User studies in other states have shown that people want to know when they are on the State site and when they have been connected to a private vendor site.
Element 3: Virtual agencies
Government, and by extension, public services, are organized around multiple public agencies. For example, constituents seeking to incorporate a business must interact with a variety of agencies, such as the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, possibly the Board of Licensure, and the Department of Revenue. In general, how these services are organized and where they are located within the government organization structure matters little to these constituents-they just want to understand how to incorporate their business.
A well-designed portal anticipates the needs of citizens to conduct groups of related tasks that are "located" in different agencies. By grouping information and on-line transactions according to task groups, an effective portal builds "virtual agencies" that are centered on the needs of citizens as opposed to the organization structure of government. Effective use of "virtual agencies" saves constituents from the cumbersome task of figuring out which agencies have jurisdiction over the different items of business they need to conduct with the Commonwealth. It also saves time and promotes a positive customer service experience by providing the citizen with a "one stop shop" for all their related needs.
Virtual agencies provide links to all services and transactions that may be relevant to a particular intention. Properly designed, they are one method of achieving true cross-agency, and in some cases cross-branch, coordination of services on behalf of citizen needs.
The Virtual Agencies
Over the course of the E-Government initiative, policy interviews and working group meetings generated several virtual agency concepts that inform a high-level portal design. The table below outlines these preliminary ideas and provides high-level information on links to existing content that is relevant on the current Commonwealth website, as well as on other related government web sites. Certainly, a systematic review of all current content may result in the addition of new "existing entities" to which virtual agencies must connect.
Proposed Virtual Agency
Motor Vehicles (e.g. "My Car")
Cities and Towns
Commuter & Traveler
Home & Housing
Finally, in order to capture the full benefits of E-Government for the Commonwealth, virtual agencies must be populated with actual services. Virtual agencies are most effective if they are populated with interactional and transactional web applications. These applications, called "eApplications" are what bring the virtual agencies to life. The eApplications are the very core of the portal. This eStrategy proposes the development of 12 new eApplications, each of which is analyzed in-depth in Section Five. In addition, existing applications as well as a series of "flanking programs" that are under development must be coordinated into the overall portal structure.
Element 4: Common portal functions
Government portals have a series of common functions that do not directly support individual functions, but that contribute value-added content and capability. Some of these functions, such as a viable search engine, are crucial. The value of other common portal functions, such as a personalization function or value-added content (e.g. weather reports), is more questionable. Common portal functions should only be added if they enhance use.
Common Portal Functions
Search engines are heavily used, but vary greatly in their effectiveness. The Accenture 50 State Benchmarking Study discovered that all search engines are not created equal. Given the significance of this function, a thorough assessment of search engines is required before implementing this portal function.
By contrast, personalization has so far proved less significant than imagined. As a function that allows users to customize sites, vendors touted personalization as the next wave of portal and web development. A recent Accenture study of users of private sites, however, indicated that personalization is a relatively low-priority option for users. Personalization is only valuable to heavy web users, termed "Netizens." In the case of the Commonwealth, "Netizens" may be large businesses with frequent interactions with the State.
eMail is yet another common portal function. Most state sites have eMail functions, although they are often different from agency to agency. eMail must be handled and answered, which is a function of customer relationship management (CRM), a shared service which is described in Section Five.
Element 5: Shared services
Shared services are a critical component of the enterprise-wide E-Government solution, as they provide a common infrastructure upon which various eApplications run. Building on a common infrastructure enables rapid scalability and economies of scale and prevents the need to repeat the development of common applications across multiple programs. Also, because common applications must be built and maintained centrally, they represent an opportunity to consolidate scarce IT skills to a single location.
The E-Government Steering Committee selected four major shared IT services for further analysis. Each of these shared services is analyzed in depth in Section Five. To illustrate the concept of shared services, a brief description of each is provided below.
- ePayments. Numerous functions will require taking credit cards or other types of payments- renewing a business license, or paying for an environmental permit. It is inefficient for each of these agencies to develop its own ePayment application, as they will not necessarily be compatible with one another. This variation among agency applications can be detrimental when the Commonwealth tries to create intentions-based sites across agency boundaries. Additionally, the Commonwealth may wish to create something like a commercial "shopping cart" which allows one payment for a variety of transactions. This is not possible without a standardized ePayment function.
- Security. Many agencies wish to provide a whole new round of services specific to individual users that draw on confidential or private data (e.g. driving record, tax history, child support payment). Web applications using this information are not possible without a system of security, including password or PIN system. An integrated portal should have a single identifier and password for each user or business, regardless of the agency information system from which they are accessing data. This prevents the need for multiple user identification names and numbers in using the various eApplications.
- Customer Relationship Management. CRM makes the portal effective because it provides a channel of communication with the State and encourages the use of the portal. For instance, e-mail is an important common portal functions, but it is often not thought through how e-mail should be handled. A Jupiter Communications study in March of 2000 showed that of the 81 government sites surveyed, all had e-mail functions but 52% never responded to e-mail sent to the State site! This is an example of a portal function, without the supporting customer relationship program.
- Geographic Information System. Mapping can assist both companies wishing to locate in the Commonwealth as well as families seeking communities that offer the amenities they need. A single geographic information system that is scalable to multiple applications will enable interoperability between different systems, allowing users to "layer" geographic information relevant to one application with information from another system. For example, an individual seeking to establish a day care center may wish to check to see both the location of other existing day care centers and the location of known hazardous waste sites.
Element 6: Link to agency legacy systems
"Back-end integration" is critical in order to capture the full benefits of E-Government. That is, inputs from users of web applications must flow electronically into the existing agency IT systems. This is done through a link often called "the cooperation bus."
The Link to Agency Systems
The cooperation bus operates over the network infrastructure to provide the common communication services that enable the exchange of information, documents, and messages between the web-based applications and the existing agencies. For example, it provides the capability to enable a customer who is requesting a special license plate to inquire on the availability of that plate by looking at the records held in the agency RMV system. The user does not have direct entry into the RMV mainframe. Instead, the cooperation bus extracts and installs information as required and prompted. The cooperation bus maximizes the value of investment in existing systems and enables rapid, cost-effective deployment of new electronic government capabilities.
Effective delivery of electronic government services requires seamless integration between Web-based and existing systems. This integration must also be secure and reliable-transactions cannot be "lost" simply because the legacy system is undergoing scheduled maintenance when a request is sent to it. This integration can be complex and expensive if done the wrong way. Many systems development initiatives grind to a halt when faced with interfacing to existing legacy systems. These interfaces are often complex to build and require extensive programming in legacy systems. Therefore, to be effective, integration must not only be seamless to the user, it must also be delivered in a cost effective, manageable and supportable manner.
CommBridge has the potential to serve as an effective cooperation bus
In Massachusetts, CommBridge has the potential to serve as an effective cooperation bus. The Commonwealth should enhance the existing CommBridge messaging and queuing network functionality by encapsulating it in a flexible network solution capable of multiple levels of service. Such encapsulation can be custom-built around CommBridge and would serve as a cooperation bus, creating a seamless interface among existing agency IT systems and between agency IT systems and the portal.
This encapsulation simplifies the complex nature of interfacing in one place and makes this capability available to all applications. This is the guiding philosophy of the cooperation bus. It is in stark contrast to the development of "point-to-point" interfaces between Web-based and legacy applications. Using the ePayments example, point-to-point solutions duplicate common functionality and result in a growing tangle of customized and inconsistently implemented system interfaces which will eventually bring the virtual agencies to a standstill-this is "the wall." Some states have headed down this path and, if they are to continue to attempt to provide improved customer service, will be faced with expensive re-engineering projects to correct this error.
Element 7: Agency legacy systems
Electronic government does not replace the need to perform traditional transaction processing with the Commonwealth's existing legacy systems. Instead, it simply provides a direct conduit for customers to conduct transactions without interfacing with agency personnel. The agency IT systems are the foundation of the portal: it is within these IT systems that transactions take place and it is where the Commonwealth's financial and administrative functions operate.
Agency Legacy Systems
The portal architecture, through its virtual agency applications and standardized cooperation bus, is designed to minimize changes to, and maximize investment in the current agency IT systems. It achieves this by encapsulating the capability required to support the new Web-based customer access channel and virtual agencies and acting as the new intermediary between the customer and the on-line service.
This intermediary function is a critical aspect of the portal. Solutions that simply extend the capability of existing systems to the Web propagate existing agency silos, cement the agency structure into the Commonwealth's face to the world, and prevent the delivery of intentions-based services which truly support Web-based customers needs and meet their growing expectations.
4.5 Conclusions on the Portal
The portal is not simply the homepage, but a holistically crafted and integrated government Web presence. Most importantly, an effectively designed portal enables citizens and businesses to complete transactions with multiple Commonwealth entities in a seamless manner.
All the elements of the portal are designed to capture the core benefits of the Internet for government. The portal must empower citizens through an easy-to-navigate design, converting them to processors of their own transactions by populating the site with user-friendly eApplications. These eApplications should employ shared services that are linked properly to the legacy systems so that the Commonwealth can transfer even more business to the Web. This will allow redeployment of human resources from the back end operations to the front-end or to positions where they are serving customers with the greatest need. When all of these elements are in place, the Commonwealth can begin to harvest the efficiencies and savings the web offers. Designed properly, the portal is a powerful tool for transforming government services.