Strategic Plans and Reports
PANPLAN: A Strategic Vision for the City of Seattle Public Access Network
by Rona Zevin, PAN Director, July, 1996
To achieve this mission requires a variety of applications, ranging from the simple, which can be implemented almost as soon as they are requested, to the more complex, which require planning and additional resources. Below is a discussion of the following:
- What is on PAN currently and planned next steps for those applications,
- Considerations regarding additional applications and recommendations on how they might be addressed,
- Some public access issues that impact PAN,
- And issues regarding PAN's status in the City.
Most of the information currently on PAN and other government web sites is static. It is information about City programs and services that can include graphics, links to related information, and the capability for citizens to send E-mail directly to the department whose information is being viewed. Some static information has been developed specifically for presentation on PAN, and cannot be found elsewhere. However, most information comes from documents also available in printed form, such as the budget. Almost all City departments have some basic information on PAN, although the quantity and quality vary considerably. A detailed list of the current contents on PAN can be found in Appendix D.
PAN also contains a substantial amount of regularly updated information. It has been set up so that information that is shown on PAN, but that is stored on departmental LANs, is automatically updated on PAN when the LAN is updated. .In addition to the Fire Department example mentioned above, the Department of Construction and Land Use (DCLU) posts Land Use Notices or General Mailed Releases (GMR) that contain DCLU's weekly publication of Master Use Permits, Land Use Decisions and other notices related to property development in Seattle.
Next steps: PAN staff need to continue working with departments to add additional information to the system as well as to improve the quality and timeliness of information. We recommend that departments begin modifying their publishing procedures so that all output is ready for publication on PAN in addition to printing or other distribution mechanisms. In short, the Web should be integrated into the publishing processes of departments, not added on to the end at extra expense as is the case now.
Data Base Queries
Making City data bases accessible via PAN is the first step in enabling citizens to carry out individual transactions with the City. Such accessibility is balanced against the need to protect the integrity of City computer systems. Therefore, data bases must be placed on a computer located outside the secure firewall. PAN is one of the very few government access systems in the country to have the infrastructure in place to do this, and has implemented several projects. The most complex project to date has been the Municipal Directory, which involved combining two separate data bases (phone numbers and E-mail addresses). Other examples of data bases on PAN include the calendar of events, which can be searched by type of event and date, a data base of activities for children and youth, which can be searched by neighborhood and type of activity, and the City business license database, shown below. The first two examples were developed specifically for PAN, while the business license information is extracted from an existing database.
Next steps: PAN staff and DCLU are working on a major application that will give access through PAN to the information in DCLU's Permit Tracking System. Another large application combines the use of maps and a data base to provide information by neighborhood. The maps have been completed and data is being entered into the data base. This will be expanded in the future to accommodate information from many City departments. Another major data base application is a Web interface for the City Council legislative database, which is only now available through the BBS; this project is underway and will be completed in the next few months. Additional data base applications need to be identified and prioritized (see criteria in next section).
E-Mail and E-Forms
E-Mail and E-Forms represent the first stages of facilitating citizen communication to City government. All City employees with internal e-mail addresses can now send and receive Internet e-mail, and addresses are available through the on-line City directory. PAN has also asked that e-mail addresses for feedback be included on all departmental sections of PAN. This has been done only in some cases.
Many City government sites include one general comment form, usually directed to the Webmaster (person who runs the web site) and focused on the site itself rather than on general government information. PAN currently makes some, but limited, use of E-forms. PAN has conducted two user surveys on its Web site, focused on the site itself, a survey about interest in access to DCLU information, and has recently posted a general survey about City government. The Fire Department has included forms for ordering various materials.
Next steps: Additional simple forms will be added in the near future. E-Forms could also be used to enable people to submit more complex information to the City, such as grant applications.
List Servers could be very useful to any City department that distributes wide mailings. We are not aware of any local governments that run this feature on their Web servers at this time.
Next steps: PAN has just implemented this feature. Two mailing lists have been established, one for PAN information, and one for information about Boiler Inspections. Since the City Council is already looking distributing its agendas electronically, this could be a logical large application. Other departments have been notified and we anticipate adding more lists in the near future.
Many, if not most, transactions involve payments. There is a huge potential not only to make these transactions easier for citizens, but to save City resources by handling such transactions electronically. In some cases, such as the sale of publications or maps, the potential market can be expanded greatly by making these items available over the Internet to a world-wide audience.
There has been a great deal of publicity about the lack of security of financial transactions over the Internet. However, electronic commerce is being conducted successfully by many businesses, as we mentioned in the previous section. Companies with millions of dollars at stake are working intensely to improve the encryption of financial transactions with web browsers. Public confidence in the security of these transactions should increase with software improvements expected in the next year or so.
At this time, we are not aware of any government sites that currently handle these types of transactions, although many cities are interested in doing so and at least a couple of states (Massachusetts and Georgia) plan to do so beginning this summer.
Next steps: Transactions turn PAN from a purely informational medium to a system that facilitates meeting the business needs of the City. PAN should work with departments to identify transactions that could be carried out electronically, and begin to implement those applications. One significant opportunity will be available in conjunction with an IVR application that is being developed for the Municipal Court; DAS staff will include a web interface in the RFP to procure the IVR, so that PAN will be able to include parking ticket payments and municipal court hearing scheduling. This should be possible in early 1997. The Parks Department is interested in selling one of its publications on the Web; this could be a good test application for credit card sales. PAN should get the infrastructure in place to handle financial transactions, and being developing some small applications to get experience.