Annual E-Gov conference highlights the shift toward online procurement.
Crammed into an area the size of several football fields, the fourth annual International Electronic Government Conference and Exposition featured dozens of companies and government agencies during its recent four-day run in Washington, D.C.
Participants ranged from company powerhouses such as Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, and Palm Inc. – which recently signed a purchasing agreement with the U.S. Navy for wireless services – to smaller firms offering software services that facilitate document filing over the Internet.
The e-commerce shift to the federal government reflects a new mindset among many companies. With the Internet bubble having burst and corporate technology spending on the decline, many companies are finding that government agencies are a reliable source of business and revenue, particularly as the private sector tightens its belt.
"The [federal] government is not going to pull up stakes and shut down. That's where the money is right now," said a conference attendee, one of the 15,000 participants in what conference organizers said was a 40 percent jump in registration from last year. The event took place at the Washington Convention Center.
More than 50 federal and state government agencies participated in E-Gov 2001, including the U.S. Department of Defense (the largest participant in federal contracting) and the State of New York. The Bavaria (Germany) Department of Interior was just one of several foreign interests represented at the conference.
The Bush administration is keen on e-government, not only increasing services through the Internet for the average citizen, but making available a greater number of contracting opportunities for businesses as government agencies out-source services to help cut costs.
E-commerce with the federal government is often portrayed as slow, tedious, and awash in paperwork. The Bush administration is attempting to change that mindset, streamlining many procedures and overhauling sites into "one-stop-shopping" links that make the government more accessible via the Internet.
This year's conference focused on bringing participants up to speed on some of those services, including "how-tos" on procurement procedures, securing information stored on the Internet, and translating large amounts of raw data into readily available information.
The "Government Solutions Center" at the conference highlighted programs selected for excellence in streamlining operations and improving government services. Among them were the Federal Technology Service at the General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation's "50 Percent E-Business" program.
The conference featured several keynote speakers, including Larry Ellison, chairman of Oracle Corp., who told the gathering that the consolidation of information was the key to success in the information technology sector and on the Internet. Managing information in the unlimited amount of space on the Internet is time-consuming and costly, Mr. Ellison observed. He said a single, large database, replacing the numerous databases currently in operation, could be the wave of the future.
While the E-Gov 2001 conference was taking place, nearly 300 minority business owners and corporate representatives met a short distance from AOL headquarters in suburban Washington to discuss networking opportunities and access to capital in the region. The three-day "Emerging Business Forum" was sponsored by the State of Virginia and a local county economic development agency. Company sponsors included AOL Time Warner and KPMG LLC.
Government figures show that the Washington area has one of the highest concentrations of minority-owned businesses and that it continues to grow, with government serving as an economic buffer. Moreover, the area's high-tech corridor, unlike the West Coast, has been spared the worst effects of the Internet slump.
As at the E-Gov conference, participants in the Northern Virginia gathering focused on opportunities for small businesses amid the economic slowdown. Companies undergoing cutbacks tend to farm out some services to small businesses as a cost-saving measure.
Minority entrepreneurs account for a huge percentage of U.S. small businesses. And recent Census figures show that Hispanics own more "micro-businesses" (firms with revenues of $10,000 or less) than any other ethnic group except African Americans.
Despite their numbers, however, many minority-owned businesses have difficulty drawing the attention of companies and agencies looking for subcontractors. Organizers hope events such as the E-Gov conference and the Emerging Business Forum will provide a remedy.
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