Countys Web Portal Nearing Its Launch

May 28, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — It is said counties originally were structured according to how far people could travel roundtrip in a day by horse to transact business at the county seat.

Soon, that distance will mean even less than it did with the invention of the car — and without parking problems, too.

In fact, spokesmen indicate that by late June or more likely early July, one will be able to do direct business with some county departments at the speed of light.

Kent County is approaching launch time for what’s called a comprehensive e-Government Internet portal.

Putting together the site is NIC (Nasdaq: EGOV), which stands for National Information Consortium and Michigan Local Interactive, a wholly-owned, locally based subsidiary of NIC.

According to their local general manager, JoAnn Acand, the county has had an excellent Web site for some time. What NIC is doing, she explained, is taking it to the next generation and making it interactive with the taxpaying public.

She said the Web site will be able to deliver frequently used government services such as accident reports and official court record requests to citizens of the county. The Web site will be a 24/7 on-line government service for businesses and consumers. Other information likely available through the site will be dog license renewals, property history reports and vital record requests.

Kent County entered into a three-year, sole-source portal management agreement with NIC in March. The county itself started work on the platform in late 1999 after lengthy research into assembling best portal practices. It settled on NIC as its partner in December 2000.

NIC’s local subsidiary will support the development and management of the portal with a subsidy of almost $500,000 over the contract’s life.

Under the arrangement, the county will retain ownership of the content, data and any statutory fees required for government services. NIC provides the infrastructure and expertise to develop, maintain and host the services.

According to NIC, the project is intended over time to become self-funding. To reach that point and to enable the eventual expansion of the site, it’s likely the county will assess fees for some of the services the portal offers.

The county’s chief information officer, Dave Boehm, said that most of the county government’s offices “intend to have a presence on our new Web site and we look forward to offering our constituents a single access point for government services.”

NIC says that Kent County is the eighth local government with which it has become a Web site partner.

Through local subsidiaries such as Michigan Local Interactive, NIC manages official local governmental portals and pilot projects for the City of Indianapolis; the City and County of San Francisco; Dallas County, Texas; the New City of Ottawa, Ontario; and the City of Tampa, Fla.

Through these smaller partnerships, NIC claims to manage portals for agencies that, all told, serve 44 million people in this country and Canada.

And typically, NIC says, this is done with a great deal of local input. Acand, for instance, answers the phone by referring both to NIC and Michigan Local Interactive. But she explains she is a local person and an employee of the subsidiary that NIC establishes in each community so as to work with rather than against local culture.

And in that connection, NIC advises, the county will establish a local board to set policy for portal services.

“The board will include leaders from various segments of the community who will provide feedback to NIC and assist in determining priorities for the portal. Using local leadership for direction of portal services is a hallmark of the NIC business model used across the country.”

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