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Proposal would bring agencies together on Web

Plan could mean that customers could pay bills online or research public information

Jeremy Browning

Now that the Beanpole Project has wired the Yampa Valley to the Internet backbone, government and non-profit agencies in the valley are looking to capitalize on the increased connectivity and add to the services they offer on the Web.

According to Kent Morrison, the information systems manager for the city of Steamboat, the valley’s decade-long effort to plug into the Internet was a “visionary step” that put Northwest Colorado on the map statewide for having the determination to put something on the table — to get something moving.

“The regional efforts we made here set the tone for telecommunications improvements across the state,” Morrison said.



And now Morrison is pitching a concept called the “Open eGov Project” that he envisions will give government, law enforcement and non-profit entities a toolkit for adding professional Web services at a relatively low cost.

He speaks of a range of Web services — from interfaces for residents to pay their water bills online to Web cams that show real-time weather conditions at valley airports.



He’s asking government and non-profit entities in Northwest Colorado to form a partnership to get the project off of the ground.

It’s getting a lot of local support.

The Yampa Valley Economic Development Council has agreed to back the project. Audrey Danner, director of Yampa Valley Partners, endorsed it this week when Morrison presented the idea to an enthusiastic group of officials at a joint meeting of the Craig City Council and the Moffat County Commission.

“If we don’t do things like this, we wasted the Beanpole,” said Mayor Dave DeRose.

“We wanted to move in this direction but it was difficult to go it alone,” said Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos. “This is the most inexpensive way to provide (Web services).”

At the core of Morrison’s plan is the use of open source software, which is essentially free. Across the world, software developers have coordinated their efforts to make very cheap and robust software that rivals giants such as Microsoft.

Studies have shown that a majority of the Web servers across the world are run by a free software package called Apache.

Users of open source software have access to the actual source code that runs it. And Morrison suggests the partners in the valley contract with a software development firm to build a suite of tools in an open source platform. All the agencies could freely share them and would actually own the source code. They wouldn’t be slaves to expensive licenses and version upgrades from software giants.

The demand for more online services is a reality that will only grow in time. As everyday life becomes ever more busy and complicated, the younger citizenry expect alternate methods to do business online, Morrison said.

“There is a demand to access data in other than a walk-in-the-door fashion,” Morrison said.

The project will develop modules that can plug into the existing look and feel of city, county and law-enforcement Web sites already in place, Morrison said. He’s adamant that the services cannot add more labor cost to the way entities do business now. And he says they can be administered by people who aren’t Web gurus.

The next steps involve identifying the key personnel in the interested agencies, such as clerks, billing agents and those who handle walk-in traffic at city and county governments, for example. Those are the people who know first-hand how the entities operate now — who will have valuable advice about how to extend the services to the Web.

That will be the first in a series of manageable steps the Open eGov Project will undertake.

“Incremental success is the way we’ve gotten things done in this part of the state,” Morrison said.

In the coming weeks Morrison plans to meet with staff from Moffat County and the city of Craig to continue to discuss the feasibility of the Open eGov Project.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.


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