Disclaimer:  This paper was formatted as a memo to the Director of my agency in accordance with requirements specified in my course on electronic commerce at the University of Maryland University College.  It is purely an academic exercise.  It has no connection to my official duties and has not been transmitted to the Director.  Additional papers on this and other information resources management (IRM) topics are available on my personal home page at http://www.erols.com/ambur.

October 11, 1998
Memorandum
To: Director, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
From: Owen Ambur, Systems Analyst, Division of Information Resources Management
Subject: External Audit of Factors Affecting the Demand for Electronic Commerce

This memorandum discusses the key external factors affecting the demand for electronic commerce as it applies to the mission of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The objective of such an external audit is to circumscribe opportunities and threats facing an organization, focusing particularly on a finite set of key variables that are subject to actionable response. Such variables may be categorized along five dimensions: 1) economic; 2) social, cultural, demographic, and environmental; 3) political, legal, governmental; 4) technological; and 5) competitive. Clearly delineating and understanding the key factors along each of these dimensions enables an organization to propound a suitably inspirational mission statement, to establish realistic long-term goals together with more immediate objectives, and to devise sound strategies and policies to achieve those goals and objectives. (David, p. 102)

Economic Issues - There are those among the more extreme of our stakeholders who believe that consideration of economic issues has no place in the determination of measures to be taken to preserve our natural resources heritage, especially when it comes to our most critical goal - the protection of species threatened with extinction. For some of our stakeholders, "commerce" is a four-letter word. Although they may welcome use of the Internet to share information and build opposition to development projects, they hardly would welcome the thought that electrons might be used to foster and accelerate consumptive forms of commerce. And to some degree, their position is supported by the legal authorities undergirding our programs and actions. The Endangered Species Act, for example, requires that our decisions be based upon the "best available evidence" - regardless of whether it is conclusive or not. The Act applies no benefit/cost analysis, and the benefit of the doubt goes toward preservation versus development.

On the other hand, the reality is that economic considerations are an implicit, if not explicit, factor in nearly all human endeavors. To the extent that wealth is diminished and the economic needs of individuals and families are unmet, concern and support for environmental values will be reduced as well. Moreover, all but the most extreme of the partisans on both sides of the political continuum may agree that complete, scientifically well supported information is vital in the consideration of any development or preservation activity. Ignorance is not bliss.

Indeed, it is no stretch to suggest that the business in which our agency is truly engaged is not the preservation of fish, wildlife, and the habitats upon which they depend but rather the generation, management, and distribution of the information required to support that goal. That is particularly true in light of the fact that the vast bulk of the lands and waters upon which our natural biological resources occur is privately owned. (Note: According to David, p. 117, failure to recognize precisely what business you are in is the second of seven weaknesses avoided by successful organizations. See Annotated References for a listing of all seven characteristics.) Thus, the only way in which we can truly succeed is by working closely, cooperatively, efficiently, and effectively with landowners, as well as with willing partners in industry, nonprofit organizations, and other Federal, State, and local governmental agencies.

That is an actionable imperative. And since neither the appropriations nor the regulatory authority we can reasonably expect from Congress will never be equal to the task, effectiveness demands efficiency in the allocation and use of our human and financial resources. As the Vice President is so fond of saying, the goal is a "government that costs less and works better." To the degree that our service is information, not only does the production process demand utilization of the tools of electronic commerce but our obligation to the public cries out for it.

Social, Cultural, Demographic, and Environmental Issues - Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that many of our stakeholders, including many of our own employees, are at the stage of toying with technology rather than actually using it to conduct business efficiently. Indeed, many of our stakeholders would much rather be out on a wildlife refuge communing with nature than dealing with paperwork, much less contending with technology at all. Perhaps that is not surprising since our underlying mission is to promote biodiversity, which in an organizational setting might be considered to be the polar opposite of an orderly monoculture of policies, procedures, and technology. Even among those who consider themselves to be quite computer literate, there is a strong disposition toward "personal" computers, informal communications via E-mail, and relatively ill-coordinated and uncontrolled Web pages.

Several of the demographic forces driving interest in our programs include declining rural populations, fewer hunters, and an aging and less active population in general. Countervailing against those trends are growing environmental awareness, increased value placed upon open spaces and recreational opportunities, as well as concern about the loss of biodiversity, most particularly among "charismatic megafauna" (large animal species). In terms of actionable response, these factors suggest an emphasis on: 1) imagery, 2) public use of our refuges, and 3) public involvement in our programs, such as through voluntary conservation activities, particularly those aimed at the young and the elderly. (See David, p. 109 & Kalakota and Whinston, p. 185.)

Political, Legal and Governmental Issues - Perhaps nowhere is the need for EC more apparent than in the political and legal guidance under which we carry out our functions. Among our legal mandates are the Federal Records Act (FRA), Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), Electronic Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA), Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA), and soon perhaps the Paperwork Elimination Act (PEA).

The FRA requires Federal agencies to create and preserve adequate records of their activities and the important information they possess. (Kalakota & Whinston, p. 178, note the pervasive "naivete" about record-keeping requirements, notwithstanding the ease with which they can be accommodated using automated tools.) The PRA mandates reductions in the information collection burdens imposed upon the public. ITMRA requires us to take into account potential costs and benefits to other Federal, State, and local governmental agencies in planning our information systems. GPRA specifies that agencies must consult with their stakeholder in establishing their goals and objectives, and then report to them and to Congress on progress toward achievement of the desired results. E-FOIA provides that any record created after October 31, 1996, must be made available in electronic form, upon request, and that we should proactively make available in electronic form any record that is likely to be of interest to more than a few people. Finally, both houses of Congress have overwhelmingly passed the PEA, which would require agencies to make available forms by electronic means and establish procedures for the use of digital signatures by members of the public from whom information is sought.

Each of these authorities demand actionable responses. Indeed, failure to respond appropriately, by definition, constitutes malfeasance. (See Ambur, 1997, September.)

Technological Issues - Although the Internet still has a way to go to prove itself as a business-quality medium, relative to the alternatives it already demonstrates vast advantages. Offsetting those advantages is the fact most Americans do not have access to and/or do not use the Internet to conduct their business affairs. For example, Barr (1998) reports that 95 percent of taxpayer contacts with the Internal Revenue Service are by telephone or by walking into IRS offices. Communications News (1998) reports that almost two-thirds of the Europeans interviewed thought the Internet would complement business conducted over the phone, that only 29 percent used the Internet as a substitute for some of their calls, and that less than 1 percent used it as a substitute for all calls. Moreover, Nielsen (1998) suggests that it will take until 2003 for "the Web to stop feeling unpleasant for high-end users."

On the other hand, tens of millions of American households and office workers do have personal computers and access to the Internet is expanding rapidly. David (p. 121) notes: "At the end of 1996, more than 10 million paying subscribers used online services in the United States... More than 30 million people in more than 100 countries use the Internet... Online services are poised to become as important to our society by the end of the decade as television and newspapers." (See also Mougayar, p. 77.) Moreover, virtually all of our own employees have the opportunity to be connected and there is no reason, technical or otherwise, that they should not be. The only real issue is what applications will be used and how they will be managed and deployed. That is perhaps the most important actionable issue that should be addressed by our leadership.

Competitive Issues - While all Federal agencies are matched against each other in the context of the President's budget and in appropriations from Congress, our primary competitors for tax funding include as the National Marine Fisheries Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management, to name a few. However, in the market of public opinion, which is far more important than the market for Federal funding, we are competing in the currency of information and ideas with industry groups, nongovernmental organizations, and political officials who represent their points of view.

And that too is an actionable imperative that cries out for the effective use of the tools of electronic commerce in the trade of knowledge.

Critical Success Factors - This analysis suggests two critical factors for the success of our agency: 1) the ability to generate and effectively manage high-quality information about natural biological resources, and 2) the procedures, processes, and tools to engage efficiently and effectively in communications with our stakeholders.

Granted, the Internet still has a ways to go to become the business-quality network that it should be, and the large majority of our stakeholders still prefer to communicate the old-fashioned ways - by paper and contemporaneous word of mouth, face-to-face, one-to-one and/or in meetings. On the other hand, it is obvious that such means are inefficient and wholly inadequate to the scope of the task facing us, and commentators such as Schrage (1995) have gone to great lengths to outline the problems with such approaches. (See also Ambur, 1996, May.)

Moreover, our charge is not to administer a "government that costs the same and works the same." We must strive to do better. Without question that means we must learn to employ more productively the tools of automation that are now available and rapidly improving. While some may question whether our agency is engaged in "commerce," there is no point in quibbling over definitions when the benefits of deploying the tools of EC are so readily apparent.

It should be noted that this analysis expresses (within the specified 4-page limit) one person's view of the most important external opportunities and threats facing our agency. David (p. 104) points out that the process of conducting external audits should involve as many managers and employees as possible, not only to improve the quality of the output but also to build understanding and buy-in. While many, perhaps most of our employees and managers might be more comfortable conducting such analyses the old-fashioned ways, perhaps the analysis itself might be a good place to start to employ the tools of EC - by using electronic forms (E-forms) and workflow automation to facilitate the process. (See David, p. 115; Ambur, 1997, May; and Ambur, 1998, April.) Since it is likely that we will be required by law to make E-forms and digital signature capabilities available to the public within five years, it would be wise for us to hone such skills in a well-coordinated fashion on our internal processes first.

Kalakota and Whinston (p. 413) conclude their guidance to managers on electronic commerce with an indirect reference to the continuous improvement principle of Total Quality Management:

Mougayar (pp. 247 & 248) concludes his discussion of digital markets in a similar vein: Of that can there be any doubt?


Annotated References

Ambur, O. (1996, May). Critical Success Factors for a Collaborative Database in a Large, Geographically Dispersed Organization. Available at: http://www.erols.com/ambur/Discuss.html

Ambur, O. (1996, November). Needles in Haystacks: Getting to the Point of Federal Records with Document Metadata and Electronic Document Management Systems. Available at: http://www.erols.com/ambur/Needles.html

Ambur, O. (1997, May). Automated Forms: Putting the Customer First Through Intelligent Object-Oriented Chunking of Information and Technology. May 1997. Available at: http://www.erols.com/ambur/Eforms.html

Ambur, O. (1997, September). Metadata or Malfeasance: Which Will It Be? Available at:
http://computer.org/conferen/proceed/meta97/papers/oambur/malfea1.html

Ambur, O. (1998, April). Monitoring Contractor Performance. Available at: http://www.erols.com/ambur/MonConPerf.html

Animal Health Institute (AHI). Guide to Using the HIN. Available at: http://www.pdainc.com/ahi/guidglos.htm Glossary of terms relating to EDI and ANSI X12 transaction sets of interest to the animal heath industry.

Amend, S.R., Team Leader, Management Assistance Team, Division of Federal Aid, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (1997, October 16). "Preparing For The 21st Century: The Need To Become More Effective Fish And Wildlife Professionals." Keynote address at the 1997 annual meeting of the Mississippi Chapter of The Wildlife Society. Available at: http://www.fws.gov/r9mat/publications/prepare-sa.html Amend concludes:

Peter Arzberger, P., Stockwell, D. & Helly, J. (1997, April 25). "Supercomputer Center Collaborations with the Natural History Community: US-OBI and other examples." Delivered at Association of Systematic Collections: Session on Informatics and Networking - The World Outside the Biological Collections Community, Atlanta. Available at: http://biod.sdsc.edu/Doc/talk2.html It is somewhat ironic that in this context "OBI" stands for the "open biodiversity informatics infrastructure." See also http://www.keil.ukans.edu/usobi/obiagen.html  OBI also stands for the Open Buying on the Internet. See, for example: http://www.supplyworks.com/obi/default.htm http://cobra.commerce.net/ http://www.openbuy.org/obi/events/action98.html http://www.internetnews.com/ec-news/1998/05/0103-obi.html

Association for Enterprise Integration (formerly U.S. CALS Industry Steering Group). (1998, October 26-29). "21st Century Commerce 1998: Global Business Solutions for the New Millennium." Final registration brochure for the conference. In describing Track 4 of the conference, entitled "Lessons Learned: Big EC - Actual, Not Imaginary," AEI says:

Association for Information and Image Management. (1998, July). "New Study Groups." inform. p. 58. AIIM has formed a Forms Processing Interface Standards Committee to develop standards for interoperability among the components of forms processing systems. AIIM-sponsored groups are already developing standards for interoperability among electronic document management systems (Document Management Alliance, DMA) and workflow automation systems (Workflow Management Coalition, WfMC). AIIM's standards page is at: http://www.aiim.org/standards

Barr, S. (1998, October 2). "IRS Will Seek to Improve Customer Service Quality: 24-Hour, Toll-Free Line to Be Introduced." The Washington Post. p. A25.

Carlin, J., Archivist of the United States. (1998, September 21). Statement on the Report of the Electronic Records Work Group. Available at: http://www.nara.gov/records/grs20/state921.html NARA is "working with the archives of seven other nations to begin research on how to preserve authentic records in electronic systems."

Clark, T., Editor. (1998, October). "Editor's Notebook." Government Executive. p. 5. Clark discusses the results of a survey of attendees conducted at the annual IRMCO technology conference sponsored by the General Services Administration. Seventy percent were pessimistic that their agencies will be able to maintain their core institutional skills and knowledge over the next five years, with 56 percent saying they were "not at all confident." Nearly three-quarters believe their agencies' work will be harmed by shortages of IT professionals. Clark observes:

Communication News. (1998, August). "Internet no threat - yet." p. 10.

Communication News. (1998, October). "U.S. firms lead world in online status." p. 8. The magazine reports:

David, F. (1997). Concepts of Strategic Management. Prentice Hall. Available at: http://www.amazon.com/ Additional points pertinent to this analysis include: Dorobek, C. (1998, August 24). "GSA sets up Office of Smart Card Initiatives." Government Computer News. p. 71. Dorobek reports that the General Services Administration will first create a "common access card" for applications such as entering buildings and logging onto networks. GSA's conceptual plan establishes the following vision: Ferris, N. (1998, October). "The Big IT Handoff: Using the 'seat management' approach, some agency quarterbacks are opting to pass their desktop computing operations to private contractors." Government Executive. pp. 25 - 30. Ferris notes: "Very few agencies have accurate information about how many computers and related equipment they have, what kinds of general-purpose software are in use, or what they're spending today on basic computing." (p. 26) If agencies don't even know what their resources are, it will be difficult for them to ensure those resources are most productively employed toward accomplishment of their missions. If they cannot even manage their own resources, how can they expect to conduct electronic commerce efficiently and effectively with others? One might think that the best place for agencies to start their EC efforts would be among their own employees. Of course, many, if not all agencies are taking steps toward that end. However, one wonders whether their focus might not be sharpened if all of their IT support functions were outsourced - so that decision-makers could attend more directly to the information requirements instead of being dazzled by the technology.

Guynn, D.E. & Landry, M.K. (1998, January 15). "Citizen Participation and Innovation: A case study of citizen participation as a success model for innovative solutions for natural resource problems." Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Available at: http://www.fws.gov/r9mat/publications/twsbull.html

This paper references a legislative resolution directing the Citizen's Advisory Council to involve the public and form local groups or use existing local groups of citizens around the State to discuss problems/solutions with the State-wide council. Operating policies for the council included: a) Attendance was mandatory at all council meetings to insure representation of ideas. b) Establishment of five local groups around the State. c) Locations for council meetings were on neutral ground (hotel meeting rooms, etc.). d) The citizen's council did not meet at FWP buildings in order to avoid the potential impression that FWP was influencing their efforts. It is noteworthy that the "technology" discussed in this paper includes: a) facilitated meetings, b) a paper flip chart hung on the wall, c) telephones, d) letters, and e) mailing lists for (paper) progress reports and meeting summaries. Guynn and Landry note, "Innovation was a hallmark of the advisory council's group efforts" and that is a commentary on the real-world state of technology among the bulk of our stakeholders.

Hays, R.L., Vice Chair, Information Management Committee, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. (1997, March 25) Memorandum containing notes on the "IMC meeting of March 15, 1997, and ExComm action March 16."  Available at: http://www.conservation.state.mo.us/iafwa/minutes/19970325.htm

Hays, R.L. (1997, March). Management Assistance Team (MAT) Update. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Available at: http://www.fws.gov/r9mat/update/update3-97.html Quoting Bob Dylan, Bob Hays notes: "The times they are a-changin', and agencies must change with them if they are to survive."

Hays, R.L. (1997, September 2). Notes on "Visit with IAFWA staff, 8/13/97." Available at: http://www.conservation.state.mo.us/iafwa/other/19970902.htm

Hurley, H. (1998, October). "EDI Takes to the Internet: EDI leaders are fending off Internet EDI start-ups to ensure they get their share of the lucrative business-to-business market." Network Magazine. pp. 36 - 40. Hurley reports that Zona Research forecasts a 34 percent increase in the number of businesses planning to conduct Internet-based sales. She also notes that International Data Corporation estimates that Web-based EC will rise from $2.6 billion in 1996 to $220 billion in 2001.

International Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA). Home Page: http://www.teaming.com/iafwa.htm Information Management Committee (IMC): http://www.conservation.state.mo.us/iafwa/index.htm About the IMC: http://www.conservation.state.mo.us/iafwa/about.htm Automated Sportsman's Data System: http://www.iafwa-asds.com/ The "About IMC" page was last updated June 16, 1998, and contains no information.

Jenkins, K. (1998, September 21). "Government CIOs have what it takes." Government Computer News. p. 22. Ms. Jenkins is executive director of Highway 1, a nonprofit corporation that fosters communications between government and the IT industry. When asked to identify government's major IT needs and shortcomings, she replied:

GCN noted that government has been promoting EC and asked how well government is doing in implementing it. Jenkins responded: The caution is well taken. However, it should also be noted that the point is not how government can use EC for its own sake; it is how can EC support agency missions. IT folks do a disservice to their cause when they forget that IT is a means to an end, not an end unto itself.

Kalakota, R. and Whinston, A. (1997). Electronic Commerce: A Manager's Guide. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley. The following points are pertinent to this analysis:

Management Assistance Team (MAT), Division of Federal Aid, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Home page: http://www.fws.gov/r9mat/index.html

Management Assistance Team (MAT). (1997, August). "An Informal Query: Major Issues Facing Fish and Wildlife Agency Management." Executive Summary at: http://www.fws.gov/r9mat/publications/execsumm.html Among the issues included in the survey was a general category entitled "System Management". With respect to that category, the executive summary says:

It is noteworthy that this broad category ranked the lowest of eight issues identified, with "funding" ranking highest among the eight.

Mercer, J. (1998, July 27). "Performance plans must become routine." Government Computer News. p. 22. John Mercer was counsel to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee when the Government Performance and Results Act was passed. When asked by GCN whether the information systems used by most Federal agencies are adequate to comply with GPRA, he replied:

Mougayar, W. (1998). Opening Digital Markets: Battle Plans and Business Strategies for Internet Commerce. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. The following information (p. 77) is also pertinent to this analysis: National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII). Home page: http://www.nbii.gov/ The NBII is an electronic gateway to biological data and information maintained by federal, state, and local government agencies; private sector organizations; and other partners around the nation and the world.

Nielsen, J. (1998, September 28). "The Web won't wait for long: Jakob Nielsen says sooner is better for building agency sites." Government Computer News. p. 49.

O'Hara, C. (1998, October 5). "Online window shopping: Agencies boost sales and efficiency with online catalogs and electronic malls." Federal Computer Week. pp. 32 & 34. O'Hara reports:

Organization of Wildlife Planners. Home Page: http://www.id.blm.gov/owpweb.html
OWP notes: Perry, D.G. (1998, September/October). "Technology Trends & Electronic Commerce." e-gov: The National Journal for Electronic Government. p. 27. Dr. Perry, who is president of technology for Orkand Corporation, says: Raisinghani, M. (1998, August). "E-commerce is capitalism's next phase." Communication News. p. 8. Dr. Raisinghani avers: Schrage, M. (1995). No More Teams! Mastering the Dynamics of Creative Collaboration. New York, NY: Currency Doubleday. (See especially pp. 117 - 135.)

Selbre Associates. (1998, September/October). "Cataloging and the Internet." e-gov: The National Journal for Electronic Government. pp. 28 & 30. Selbre Associates note:

Note: For many U.S. federal agencies, public information is a primary product and such statutes as the Federal Records Act, Paperwork Reduction Act, and the Electronic Freedom of Information Act set forth fairly explicit guidance on its production and distribution. Indeed, the PRA requires all agencies to participate in the Government Information Locator Service (GILS), which in effect is a catalog for public information. The GILS Core specifies the elements that should be applied to all significant sources of public information for query and retrieval purposes. Unfortunately, few, if any agencies have adequately performed their obligation both to create as well as to effectively manage and provide access to their public records. However, the emergence of the Web has demonstrated that public access can be provided at relatively low cost. Perhaps ease of public access can become a driving force for the more effective creation and management of public information within the agencies themselves.

Watson, J. & Harty, J. (1998, October). "Major vendors pushing KM infrastructures." KMWorld. p. 18. Watson and Harty report: "Whereas Lotus' strategy is to focus on collaboration and knowledge management, Microsoft's strategy is to focus on the Internet and E-commerce." There is some irony in the fact that a subsidiary of "Big Blue" is hanging its hat on the fuzzy concept of "groupware" while the company whose motto is "where do you want to go today?" is aiming at more clear-cut exchanges of value online. The crossover will become most apparent when the values to be exchanged are purely and simply knowledge. In that context, it seems likely that "groupware" will eventually be defined in terms of what people are willing to pay for, rather than the reverse - that groupware will come to define EC.

In short, groupware seems to be a concept in pursuit of a mission, whereas commerce is the means by which people exchange value. Automating the exchange of values through EC inevitably will bring the focus to bear directly on the actual values to be exchanged. Bit by bit and byte by byte, the fluff, hype, blue sky, blue smoke, and haze will be stripped away. At that point perhaps we will have a workable definition of groupware in terms of actual values to be exchanged among multiple parties, as opposed to simpler exchanges between two parties.