Tool integrates disparate apps on a single display

A new integration system developed with Defense Department funding can fit the functions of incompatible back-end applications onto a single desktop screen.

The Professional Interactive Information Environment, or PiiE, is in use by several hundred employees at eight agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Naval Research Laboratory and National Security Agency.

Digital Harbor Inc. of Annandale, Va., has begun selling PiiE to other agencies.

DOD asked Digital Harbor five years ago to devise a way to make its alphabet soup of applications, which run under 100 operating systems, available from a single terminal.

'Right now, data is horrendously disorganized,' said Scott Elliott, PiiE project manager at the Navy lab. 'We have so many different platforms. None of them have any cross-interoperable capability whatsoever.'

Although Elliott wouldn't mention specific apps, he gave a generic example of how the lab might use PiiE.

In different corners of his screen, he said, he might open a document about the history of al-Qaida terrorism, a mapping application, a streaming-video archive and a database of terrorist suspects.

He then could build links between the different information displays by dragging and dropping. Next, by clicking on a date in a document, say Sept. 11, the displays would change and bring up a map of Arlington, a video of the burning Pentagon, and a list of al-Qaida member backgrounds.

Slice of PiiE and Java2

PiiE consists of a component-based smart client that uses Java2 Enterprise Edition and Extensible Markup Language to correlate application functions through what Digital Harbor calls application linking and embedding.

It does so-called optimistic streaming via an inference engine and a set of relationships between application functions and data. One piece of server software acts as middleware for legacy apps. A second piece on the same or another server streams only as much of the apps to the desktop system as the user needs at the moment.

Clicking on a word in one app can conjure a digital image from another without refreshing. The single-screen view would replace overlapping windows and, more importantly, the need for users to have multiple desktop systems.

Digital Harbor said the interactive display runs independent of the operating systems'be they Mac OS, Microsoft Windows or Sun Microsystems Solaris'that host the different apps.

'The user gets all the applications in one frame of reference,' said Austin Wells, Digital Harbor's vice president of product marketing.

DOD has bought $30 million worth of PiiE licenses and services over the last five years.

Good for Quicksilver

The National Research Laboratory has tried at least a half-dozen versions of the program, Elliott said. But because PiiE has been used only by classified agencies, it is little known.

'The idea of an integrated Internet platform makes a lot of sense with respect to the Office of Management and Budget's e-government goals right now,' said Payton Smith, e-government services manager for the research firm Input of Chantilly, Va.

'From a user context, it's an important piece, but I'm not sure it's the sole direction people are going in,' said Sandra Rogers, an analyst at International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass. 'There are targeted, smaller vendors going after that space.'

Digital Harbor wants to capture a chunk of the $3.9 billion that Input predicts the government will spend on systems integration in fiscal 2006. In 2001, agencies jointly spent $2.2 billion on systems integration. Eleven percent of the growth is expected in Defense agencies, Input said.

An abridged version of PiiE sells for $50,000, the full version $150,000. The company plans to sell directly to agencies but also will partner with Boeing Co., General Dynamics Corp., Oracle Corp. and TRW Inc.

Eventually, Digital Harbor hopes the integration and interface technology will be embedded into existing operating systems and applications.

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