New York Seeks Better Online System

University of Albany computer experts are trying to figure out a better way for state and local New York governments to work with each other online.

The aim is to let government workers replace the array of computers and programs currently on their desks with one "gateway" system that would shuttle information back and forth electronically, Meghan Cook, the project manager at the University at Albany's Center for Technology in Government said.

It's not uncommon for a local official who does business with six state agencies to have six computers, all with separate systems, Cook told Stateline.org. The project seeks to create a single point of passage known as an Internet Gateway for government-to-government dealings between state and local government agencies throughout New York, she said.

Researchers will test a prototype on three very different transactions that towns, villages, cities and counties have with three state agencies: registering dog licenses, recording property sales and updating rosters of local officials.

Michele N. Hasso, project coordinator at the New York Office of the State Comptroller, said the project could benefit both the state and local governments. "If New York takes advantage of these opportunities, this could lead to not only increased savings, but a more consistent and increased service delivery to its constituent base, the taxpayers," she said.

CTG Director Sharon Dawes called the project "the first in the United States to try and demonstrate and evaluate a completely different way of working across levels of government."

The center will work with three state agencies and 13 local government agencies in New York on the system. In addition to the comptroller's office, the other state agencies involved in the project are: New York State Agriculture and Markets and the New York State Office of Real Property Services.

"While technology can be a double-edged sword - it can be very expensive and complex, thus not returning the investment that was once thought of at the beginning of a project such as this portal, or it can provide overwhelming benefits if planned, analyzed and implemented correctly," Hasso told Stateline.org.

Funding for the project comes from the state, but the project won't have a firm dollar amount until it's completed, said the center's spokesman Mark LaVigne. The center draws from money the state gives the University of Albany. Historically, the center's projects have run in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" not millions, he said.

Three information technology companies involved in the project are providing "staff time and technology" to build and test the prototype. The IT firms that are involved are: CGI Information Systems and Management Consultants; technology consultants Keane, Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

The prototype is slated for testing in October 2003.

"One of the promises of electronic government is that technology will enable different levels of government to operate more seamlessly. This prototype will help us better understand what it really takes for that to happen," Cook said.