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Gov't Adopts Enterprise's IT Approach

With mandates to improve security and share data, government agencies are looking at long-term value rather than near-term pricing when making IT purchasing decisions, according to Sage Research.

"The government sector is generally price sensitive," said Dr. Yardena Rand, research director for the Natick, Mass., firm. "But many of them are talking more like large enterprises, looking for value."

Rand recently conducted a roundtable discussion with IT decision makers from the local, state and federal levels. Sage holds a different forum each month focusing on an aspect of the technology market.

Managers are eager for wireless local area networks (WLANS) and virtual private networks (VPNs). Cost, security, and bandwidth concerns, however, are barriers to widespread adoption of these technologies.

"There is the recognition that we are, as a culture, moving to wireless technology," Rand said. "It can help productivity and there are pockets of deployment, especially in new offices."

In addition to the return on investment approach, another surprise out of the research was the fact that some of the representatives are well-versed in Web services, and the languages, namely SOAP and XML, on which they are based.

Some, especially in the military and other federal-level organizations, have already begun deployments.

Broadly defined, Web services allow different applications from different sources to communicate with each other without time-consuming custom coding. And because all communication is in XML , Web services are not tied to any one operating system or programming language. For example, Java can talk with Perl, Windows applications can talk with UNIX applications.

This automatic updating could help save time and effort when it comes to information sharing, which needs to occur not only between the FBI and CIA, but all the way down the criminal justice chain to country district attorneys' offices.

Other areas being budgeted for are e-government initiatives such as electronic funds transfers and payment and broadband connectivity for PCs and laptops.

Large vendors have the best shot of snapping up government business, for a couple of reasons.

"If you put a project out to bid, it can take from three to six months before purchasing can start," Rand said.

Many agencies find it faster to choose off a list of governement-approved vendors (on the federal level this is done through the General Services Administration). In addition to being vetted, choosing a product on the list increases the chances of compatibility with other agencies.

Along the same lines, the systems being chosen are standards-based to improve security and ease of communication.

While the quick shift toward enterprise methods is surprising, especially given the listless economy, it "makes sense when you think about the critical tasks (agencies) have to deal with," Rand concluded.