The World Wide Web has become an increasingly important way for people and organizations to communicate. The Internet Technology Testbed project examined the value of the Web for information seekers and information providers. CTG tested the feasibility of using the Web to deliver government services to citizens and conduct business among government agencies. The project team included government, academic, and corporate partners who together conducted a wide range of reviews and experiments within four service areas: information dissemination, business applications, group collaboration, and education and training. This project report describes the results of the research and includes case studies that show how the Web can be used for a national employment database, a Web-based purchasing system, online group collaboration meetings, and university coursework.
In addition to the full report, you can also download an Overview in pdf.
Employing the World Wide Web as a universal interface to government services offers a number of advantages over traditional methods of service delivery. These include more immediate and convenient citizen access to information and services, opportunities for increased collaboration among government entities, reduced learning curves as new applications are employed with a common interface, and the ability to integrate diverse and distributed systems.
Enthusiasm for the opportunities offered by Web-based systems must be tempered with an understanding of the challenges and limitations imposed by this rapidly changing technology. Staff skills for implementing Internet systems need to be constantly updated. Perhaps even more importantly, users have varying degrees of access to the Web including a wide range of connection speeds and significant differences in Web browsers, computer platforms and technological comfort level. Often, a balance needs to be struck between taking advantage of the "latest and greatest" that this technology has to offer and creating a system that is maintainable by sufficient numbers of staff and accessible by the widest possible audience.
As each of four service areas was investigated, it became evident that the Web offered unique advantages to each type of application. In some cases, these advantages were in the very early stages of realization while in other cases the benefits were well established. A brief summary of these advantages is outlined below while a more thorough discussion can be found in the Project Report.
- Personalized presentation of data: Information can be delivered in a selective way to each individual based on his or her unique needs and preferences.
- Integration of multimedia: Text, voice, video, graphics, and virtual reality can be combined to provide information in a more complete and understandable format.
- Concept searching: Information searching can be based on intended meaning rather than simply on exact word matching.
- Client-side processing: Immediate feedback is made achievable by porting some of the processing to the client's machine instead of relying solely on interaction between the client and a remote server.
- Integration of broadcasting, telephony, and other forms of communication: A common digital format combined with deregulation of the communications industry is blurring the lines among previously separate forms of information delivery.
- Improved access at reduced cost: The Internet offers access to those working at home, collaborators from other organizations, staff who travel, and the general public. In addition, cost for Internet access is far less expensive than that offered by private networks and leased lines.
- User-friendly interface: The Web interface is graphical, intuitive, and already understood by a large number of people who may be participating in a business process.
- Ability to streamline processes: The middle layers of a business process can be eliminated as end-users have direct access to the systems and information they need.
- Ability to integrate diverse systems: Open protocols allow for the integration of diverse back-end systems which can be unified by Web middleware and a single Web presentation.
- Increased longevity for legacy systems: Portions of the processing can be shifted away from expensive and outdated legacy systems. The user interface to legacy systems can be modernized without completely rewriting the back-end system.
- Greater participation in the decision-making process: Internet tools allow people to work together independent of time and place, allow for increased input by staff at all levels within an organization, and allow for increased feedback from the public.
- More opportunity to generate ideas: Web-based collaboration tools can be used to generate ideas over a longer span of time than is possible using traditional face-to-face meetings.
- Cost savings: a reduction in face-to-face meetings can result in considerable savings in both time and money.
- Greater access to courses: Courses can be taken "anytime" and "anywhere." Courses that would otherwise be difficult to offer at some campuses because of limited enrollment or lack of faculty in a specialized area are now possible.
- Greater opportunity for collaboration and sharing: Online discussions give those who are less likely to participate in a typical classroom discussion greater opportunity to share their thoughts and to respond to others. Shared access to manuscripts, virtually immediate feedback on ideas and ongoing discussions liberated from the cost of long distance ease the challenges of remote collaboration.
- Lower costs: Course work and training materials for students and staff can be delivered at lower cost than traditional paper-based methods.
- Improved research and reference services: Indexes of current journals, full text of articles, electronic references, and extensive search facilities are available over the Internet.