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Return to: 2001 Feature Stories


AUGUST 2001: CE News


Companies deeply rooted in traditional civil engineering and municipal management functions may seem far removed from the world of Internet transactions and 24 x 7 instant service. But there is a growing need for faster, streamlined and more cost-effective services.

The solution is e-Government, a relatively new term for many in our profession. There is substantial evidence that e-Government is having a significant impact on how the engineering industry will define and provide its services, and how our governments will, in turn, serve their constituents.

In brief, e-Government is electronic government that is easy to use and efficient, allowing citizens to be online, not in line. e-Government is fast evolving into a more accessible and efficient operation and citizens are discovering that local governments are now offering an increasing array of services that can be completed online. e-Government is providing an opportunity to modernize government through strategic partnerships with local government, technology providers and architectural/engineering firms.

By next year, 34 percent of citizens will use the Internet as a principal access point to obtain government services, according to a recent Deloitte Research survey of 250 senior managers of global government agencies.

The percentage of engineering firms utilizing e-Government and Internet transactions is much lower, despite the need in our industry to provide our clients with the latest tools to better serve their customers.

But engineering firms will have to embrace e-Government in order to remain competitive. Some firms, for instance, may simply track developments and partner with technology providers that can add their services to the traditional engineering practice. Others will provide advanced technology and Web-enabled services for their clients, who, in turn can seamlessly offer them to their constituents. The latter example will best serve government clients as a number of cities, counties and states tried pre-packaged software products that were insufficient because the IT vendors lacked engineering and municipal management experience. This latter approach will also provide a greater return on investment because these firms will better meet their needs.

A clear win-win model for offering e-Government services is the Hosted Services Option model. Smaller municipalities, for instance, are finding that they can improve services and achieve a greater savings of time and money by utilizing this model in delivering online e-Government applications, some of which may include:

  • Online building and public works permits
  • Online requests for services and information
  • Internal management systems for permitting, planning/zoning and code enforcement
  • Internal management and tracking of work orders
  • Secure online payments (for permits, citations, utility bills, etc.)
  • Online license applications
  • Online facilities and class reservations and payment

With a Hosted Services Option model, these applications are connected seamlessly to a municipality's Web site. Specific e-Government applications are "rented," avoiding large up-front expenses associated with hiring and training new employees to maintain the system, software license fees and major hardware costs. And if you're a municipal government official, there is some expectation on the part of your constituents to raise the level of service and to make it easier for them to conduct business with you. Via this approach, the infrastructure can be deployed quickly and efficiently.

e-Government is also changing city hall. The city hall of the future is going to be dramatically different from what we have today. As more government services become available online, the need for larger, elaborate city halls will be greatly reduced.

Not only will we see a greater preponderance of city staffers working from their homes or spending more time out in the community, but also engineers will be providing services from remote locations and engineering firms can offer more services by pooling resources nationwide. This enables firms to provide even more expertise to a government client via the Internet.

This is already becoming prevalent as mobile communications continues to improve. Code enforcement officers who may normally spend half their time at city hall checking records and other tasks will be more productive in the field when equipped with a mobile personal digital assistant (PDA). They can instantly check to see if a person has any outstanding code violations rather than have to manually transcribe the data and either phone in for the information or return to city hall.

e-Government will make local government more accessible - and accountable - to its constituents. The City of Sunnyvale, CA, for example, allows its constituents to apply for, pay for and receive building permits online.

e-Government is changing the way engineers provide services, as well as how governments utilize these services who in turn serve the public. Engineering firms can better serve their clients. Governments save time, money and increase speed and accuracy of service. And the public can access a wide variety of government services online.

Ultimately, all parties are empowered because e-Government offers a new way of doing business that places an emphasis on a customer-friendly approach and adopts the elements of private sector business practices to improve delivery of services.

Return to: 2001 Feature Stories