Up until a year or so ago, predictions of a utopian future of uninterrupted growth brought by information technology were routine. But many of the analysts who predicted such earth-shattering results backtracked from their positions about as fast and as sharply as the Nasdaq has fallen.

Not Grady Means.

Means is the managing partner of the Arlington-based government consulting practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has helped develop trading exchanges for private industry that he believes have sweeping implications for the economy.

Now he's applying the same theories to the public sector, trying to encourage government agencies to use technology to offer dramatically improved services at much lower cost to taxpayers.

Means is something of a walking contradiction. His re{acute}sume{acute} and appearance are eminently mainstream. He worked in the Ford administration as an assistant to Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, the quintessential political centrist. He wears thick black-framed glasses and starched white shirts and speaks slowly and deliberately.

Yet he rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and speaks with zeal when describing a vision for technology's role in changing government and the economy.

"Internet-based trade exchanges," he said in an interview, "are probably the most exciting thing to happen to American business ever. It's as transformative as the move from hunting to farming. For every dot-com millionaire, there's going to be a hundred [business-to-business] millionaires."

Patricia McGinnis, a longtime friend, is president of the Council for Excellence in Government, of which Means is a member. "Grady's a big thinker," she said. "He is, I think, often pushing the limits, testing the limits, and trying out what occasionally seem like wild ideas."

The shift Means describes goes beyond mere technological advances. Businesses now reap the benefits of a decades-long process of increasing free trade, improved access to capital markets and deregulation. Combined with the Internet, those trends make it possible for companies to assemble massive productive capacity without actually owning any factories.

He cites Porsche as an example of this revolution in productivity aided by the Internet. Its Boxster model is made by dozens of suppliers, assembled and delivered without Porsche owning anywhere near the factory space traditionally needed to make a car.

The result, Means argues, is higher quality and much lower price than a Porsche made by traditional means. Before taking over PricewaterhouseCoopers' government consulting practice, he advised U.S. carmakers trying to tap the same kinds of efficiencies by setting up Covisint, an online exchange for auto-parts suppliers backed by the Big Three automakers.

Covisint is one of several trade exchanges that Means helped create in his former job, as a global leader in the firm's strategy consulting group. Others include Trade-Ranger for the energy business and Transora for packaged goods.

Means isn't too concerned that many of the companies launched in recent years using those theories are now ailing. "The fact that the Nasdaq's cratering doesn't worry me very much," he explained, calling the tech fallout only a short-term response to such firms getting ahead of themselves.

In April, Means took over PricewaterhouseCoopers's 2,500-person government consulting business. His penchant for ambitious use of technology has not waned.

Means argues that just as a business-to-business exchange can connect companies with their suppliers so that they can execute transactions more efficiently, the Internet lets government bodies connect with each other to exchange information more effectively.

The theory comes in part, he said, from work he did in the Nixon administration as an aide to Elliot L. Richardson, who was secretary of what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The agency was working to implement the vast network of welfare programs that had been established during the preceding decade, but it saw how onerous it was for individuals to sign up for so many different programs.

The same is true today, Means argues. And the answer is government agencies sharing information across the Internet.

For example, instead of needy people going to separate agencies to receive housing assistance, food stamps, medical care and other services, Means suggests that agencies establish a single Web site. Low-income people could access the site at government offices in their neighborhood, and it would determine a person's eligibility for all sorts of aid with a single process.

He argues that aid recipients would get what they're entitled to more easily and fairly and that the government would save money by simplifying record-keeping and paperwork. It also would be able to track such programs more efficiently.

He estimates it would save the nation 25 percent -- about $200 billion a year. The same approach could be taken with almost every government service.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that consulting firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers would be likely to reap millions of dollars in fees from government efforts to use the technology that Means advocates.

He acknowledges his firm's incentive to push for big new government technology investments, though he says that the firm's practice is doing fine even without such bold new projects.

"To take what everyone's thinking and leap way ahead and think about what it could mean is important," said McGinnis, of the Council for Excellence in Government. "His estimates on when this stuff might happen might be a little ambitious, but he forces you to think hard about 'Why not?' "Grady Means of PricewaterhouseCoopers is trying to encourage government agencies to use Internet-based exchanges to offer dramatically improved services at much lower cost.