Web gives govt way online

The web plays a key role in all three projects that make the finals of the government category of this year's Computerworld Excellence Awards. And in one case, open source software is also a vital ingredient.

The web plays a key role in all three projects that make the finals of the government category of this year’s Computerworld Excellence Awards. And in one case, open source software is also a vital ingredient.

Another common feature of the projects – submitted by the IRD, Geological and Nuclear Sciences and The Maori Language Commission – is their relatively modest scale, indicative, perhaps, of IT’s maturity.

Inland Revenue’s entry is its web-based GST return filing system, which in October last year was used by more than 20,000 tax payers. The project is part of a broad e-enablement plan begun by the tax department in 2000, which is intended to be complete by 2005.

The GST filing system was designed and built by in-house staff over 75 days, without need of new hardware or software. The system replicates online the paper-based GST return, and electronically submitted forms are batched and uploaded to the department’s offline host overnight. Assessment notices or refund cheques are typically in the hands of GST payers within two days, the IRD says.

The fast turnaround is winning plaudits, according to the IRD, with 18 of 21 pilot users who were surveyed by phone saying the speed and ease of use of the process gave it an advantage over filing paper returns.

The Maori Language Commission is deploying an open source web-based system in the compilation of a Maori dictionary. The Matapuna Dictionary Database System is enabling writers and editors around the country to compile a reference work containing about 20,000 Maori words and definitions, all in Maori. About $40,000 from a total dictionary budget of $3 million has been spent on the software, says project manager Sharon Armstrong.

“Our main goal was to allow our staff to get on with the job of writing a dictionary without having to worry about the underlying IT,” Armstrong says.

The system is accessible from Windows, Mac OS and Linux systems running any of a variety of browsers. It uses Linux, Apache Mod_perl and Postgres and, as an open source application, will be made available to other dictionary writers.

Armstrong says when the commission staged the Polynesian Languages Forum in Wellington last year, a number of the attending nations showed interest in MDDS.

The third finalist for this award is an example of the potential of the web for making publicly funded research findings accessible to a wider audience. Crown research institute Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) has made available four databases that contain fossil records, a bibliography of New Zealand geoscience publications, names and a naming scheme for the layers of rocks that cover the surface of New Zealand and about 90,000 rocks samples from New Zealand and overseas.

But opening up access to the data wasn’t without its challenges. The CRI attempted to run ArcIMS, a tool for displaying maps on a client system, on Red Hat Linux but had to give up, switching to Microsoft 2000 Server. Data is stored in Oracle 9i databases and served by Apache Tomcat.

GNS says since the availability of the data was made known at a conference in December, there’s been steadily increasing user demand.

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