An IT architecture based on Web services is uniquely suited to help meet the five criteria for a coherent, proactive e-government program

The Belgian Federal Govern ment launched a Web-based e-procurement system to re place its paper-based public acquisitions procedures. The Joint Electronic Public Procurement project creates a "network of portals" for a whole-of-government electronic tendering process.

The state of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Health and Human Services deployed a new Web-based system called MassCARES that helps caseworkers and beneficiaries locate resources, determine program eligibility, and coordinate the flow of information between the many agencies acting in shared cases.

The Australian Taxation Office created the Australian Business Register, a company registry interoperating with all federal, state, and local agencies that serve and regulate the business community, making it easier, faster, and less costly for business to deal with government.

By 2005, the UK government expects all its departments to offer their services electronically. They launched a project—Government Gateway—that helps central and local government and devolved administrations get services online faster.

These diverse stories have two things in common:
First, they illustrate an emerging trend. Governments all over the world are actively evolving into e-governments: tech-savvy, service-oriented organizations with all the efficiency and flexibility of the best private enterprises. Central to that evolution is delivering services electronically—both internally, among departments and agencies, and externally, to businesses, citizens, and intermediaries.

E-Government: The Challenges
Consumers take it for granted that businesses will deliver information and services electronically, through a variety of channels, in a personalized, secure way. As citizens, they are beginning to expect the same level of convenience from public agencies.

Today, however, the average citizen or business typically deals with a wide range of separate departments and officials rather than having a single entry point to government-provided services. For instance, a business applying for licenses and permits to open a new location might have to deal with state and local licensing departments, the fire department, police department, etc. The process is daunting and inconvenient.

Not only does this "silo" approach impede and discourage citizen interaction with government, it has high monetary costs, ranging from inefficient use of resources to fraudulent manipulation.

To take one example, an investigation in the U.K. by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) revealed that lack of coordination between the central Government Benefits Agency (responsible for paying out Ј96 billion annually) and the housing benefits paid out by local authorities (a further Ј13.7 billion) resulted in levels of fraud and waste amounting to some Ј840 million per year.

As an example of how e-government might meet these needs, consider pensions. An individual may have a mix of employer, personal, and state pension plans. Imagine a composite Web-based pension system that; enables the individual to move funds from one plan to another; combines the results into a single statement; and uses the consolidated statement to model projections of retirement income. Such a system would assist coordination among multiple agencies, reduce the exchange of paper forms among the individual and agencies, reduce the cost of administering the programs, and provide accurate insights into the pension position of the population, improving governments’ ability to make smarter policy.

The IT Challenge
The world has changed dramatically in recent years, and governments are moving quickly to adapt. Government agencies need to make faster, more informed decisions—communicating and collaborating immediately and effectively no matter where employees are located. They need to better understand and serve their customers: citizens, businesses, and other agencies. They need to seamlessly interact with private sector partners, to encourage and support economic development. They need to be more efficient than ever, doing more with less. In short, they need the same business agility that characterizes successful private sector enterprises.

One key to business agility is IT. Rather than simply a cost center or a limitation on innovation, IT can be a strategic asset. It should enhance, not encumber, the management of public services. It should help governments enhance employee productivity, rationalize operations, streamline inefficiencies, and launch new services. It should enable them to do more with less, and to increase citizen satisfaction and participation in the process.

The move to e-government requires a coherent strategy for addressing the current state of government IT systems.

Governments need economical, flexible IT that offers high returns on investment and that not only meets existing challenges but creates opportunities for new and innovative services and solutions.

Web Services
Across industries, momentum is gathering towards the use of Web services to achieve flexible, scaleable IT systems. Five important facts about Web services:

Web services are discrete units of software that intero–perate, based on industry-standard protocols, across platforms and programming languages.

Web services are based on standard protocols (XML, SOAP, WSDL) developed by industry leaders, including Microsoft, and submitted to independent public standards organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Use of these standards enables interoperability.

Web services interoperate by sending discrete messages; they do not need the continuous network connection that makes traditional systems vulnerable to network downtime.

Web services share data and functionality; unlike the static server-client model that has dominated the Web, where Web pages present "snapshots" of data, the Web service model is dynamic. Large tasks can be distributed over multiple computers interacting and operating in tandem.

An application that is "exposed" (made available for use) as a Web service can be "consumed" (used) by any application that can read XML, no matter what platform or device the application is running on. The same Web service can be used by a PC, a laptop, or a PDA—any "smart client"—so your developers don’t need to program new and separate applications for each device.

Web service solutions can leverage existing investments in desktop software, directory services, and legacy enterprise systems; they can integrate Microsoft products, IBM, Oracle, and Sun products, and agencies’ significant installed base of homegrown applications. This means governments can save they money they would spend connecting their systems with a proprietary solution, or through "ripping and replacing" their systems. Web services enable government agencies to securely expose intra-agency data and applications as "services" to communities of users—private citizens, businesses, intermediaries, or other agencies—that could not previously access them. For instance, the Commerce department could share census database figures for a particular local district with that district’s urban planning board. Law enforcement agencies could share criminal information from disparate local and state systems to aid real-time crime analysis. Local and federal departments from the Post Office to the Social Security Administration could share address information so that citizens, when moving, only need update their address once. Military units could quickly share tactical information across a range of devices.

Web services enable an extraordinary degree of flexibility for government IT departments. An application that is exposed as a Web service does not need any "knowledge" of the applications that use it; it can be consumed (used) by any other Web service–enabled application or device. This means that services can be "loosely coupled," connected on the fly to create composite solutions tailored to specific individual, business, or agency needs.

An IT architecture based on Web services is uniquely suited to help meet the five criteria for a coherent, proactive e-government program:

· Utilization of the basic infrastructure of the Internet. Web services are designed to operate over Internet protocols—primarily HTTP, but also other protocols like FTP and TCP. This means that they can make use of commercially available security technologies designed to protect Internet information sharing.

· Support of open interoperability standards (e.g., XML, SOAP, etc.). Web services are based on industry-standard protocols.

· A unified set of electronic security/privacy standards and practices. Recognizing the need to standardize capabilities that ensure the reliability and security of Web services, Microsoft has joined other industry leaders in submitting specifications for an industry-wide Web service security architecture.

· Provision of a unified interface into the myriad services offered by government, even where behind the scenes those services are administered separately. The interoperability architecture possible with Web services enables governments to "loosely couple" systems and applications into flexible working groups based on service-specific needs. Agencies can connect up their IT systems behind the scenes and offer citizens a single, easy-to-use interface that integrates information and capabilities seamlessly. Thus, the citizen receives services through single points of access, even though the services may still be administered by separate departments or agencies.

· Provision of services through a range of technical and business channels, such as commercial portals and access points in supermarkets, libraries, and other key citizen points of contact. Web services are functional over a wide variety of programming languages and platforms. An application exposed as a Web service can be consumed (used) by any other application capable of reading XML, no matter what platform or device it is running on. The same Web service can be consumed by a server, a personal computer, a public kiosk, or a handheld device. With Web services, governments can offer services to citizens or businesses at a wide range of contact points, based on service needs, not IT limitations.