Iraq team gets Groove on for collaboration

As the Coalition Provisional Authority works to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure and establish a new government for Iraq, its members must work closely with one another, Iraqi officials and coalition partners. But doing so easily and securely has been a tall order.

An increasing number of coalition officials and others are using a tool developed by Groove Networks Inc. to accomplish their mission.

The authority has no direct access to Defense Department networks. The team needed a secure system to exchange documents and instant messages and to collaborate with one another, said Donald Harrison, special assistant to the principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration. Harrison helped set up the contract with the Beverly, Mass., company.

'The Coalition Provisional Authority has been faced with many challenges since the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the Baath regime in April 2003,' Harrison said.

One of the biggest challenges, he said, is the need for ad hoc, secure communications and information flow among the authority, the Iraqi ministries, Iraqi people, security forces, coalition partners, contractors and suppliers.

The authority began using the Groove software late last year as a prototype with roughly 40 users. Now there are 100 users and the authority expects the user base to grow to more than 1,000 over the next few months.

'Groove lets us achieve horizontal fusion by allowing us to rapidly form cross-organizational teams using the public Internet for secure, encrypted communications,' Harrison said. 'It's military-grade security, ability to support our needs in austere communications situations and ease of use are contributing to our goal of rapidly returning governing authority to the Iraqi people.'

With the peer-to-peer system, users create virtual shared spaces, add software tools and content to use within the spaces, invite others to become members and then interact to solve problems, said Robert Kirkpatrick of Groove's humanitarian systems group.

'When all users are online, each member of a shared space sees the actions of the others,' Kirkpatrick explained in a white paper about the technology. 'The system has built-in instant messaging and contact management, and notification of new content.'

The system also indicates the collaboration spaces where other team members online are currently working, Kirkpatrick said.

Out-of-the-box, the Groove software provides many functions, including shared files, threaded discussions, calendars, whiteboards, customizable forms and project management.

Insecure net, secure comm

The data is secured by password protection and 192-bit encryption, Kirkpatrick said.

'Because encryption occurs at the application layer, Groove may be used for secure communications over insecure physical and wireless networks. Users only enter spaces via explicit invitation from current members,' he added.

The next potential use of the Groove system is for letting users communicate in different languages, Harrison said.

'This would allow coalition members to use a third-party-developed tool inside secure Groove workspaces, supporting our need for conversations to occur in natural languages, with on-the-fly translations,' he said.

In addition, Harrison said, by using Groove, the authority is concentrating on information flow and supporting U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer's five priorities: security, essential services, sovereignty, economy and strategic communications.

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