State tackles worldwide collaboration

State tackles worldwide collaboration

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  • John Cabral, State Department deputy chief knowledge officer, has designed a system that will work in some locations where broadband links aren't available and federal workers must rely on 9.6-Kbps modems.

    The State Department plans to choose a contractor this month to build a pilot version of a knowledge management environment that eventually could weave together the activities of thousands of federal workers at dozens of domestic and overseas locations.

    State is taking the lead for the prototype of the Overseas Presence Interagency Collaboration, which Congress has funded at $17 million.

    'We are creating a virtual workspace that will allow the [nine] participating agencies to communicate with each other more effectively and share information,' said John Cabral, State's deputy chief knowledge officer.

    'It's a secure area,' he added. 'What we are creating is classified up to the sensitive but unclassified level'it's a little higher than unclassified, and it allows us to share information of a personal nature,' Cabral said.

    So far, State has awarded contracts worth $130,000 to three vendor teams to build the prototypes. The teams are led by Accenture LLP of Chicago, Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego and SRA International Inc. of Fairfax, Va.

    State has provided each team with content for their versions of the Web portal, within which the knowledge management applications reside.

    Officials at State will use the system to combine information with data from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Justice and Treasury, and the Agency for International Development and Peace Corps.

    Put that in your stovepipe

    Convincing the agencies to abandon their stovepipe systems and pool their knowledge is an ambitious goal.

    'Not to minimize the technical challenge we have, but our real challenge is going to be tearing down' the institutional stovepipe policies and procedures to bring about cultural change, Cabral said.

    The initial database to be fielded in the knowledge management system will include State information about HIV/AIDS policy, administrative services and crisis management.

    Overseas Presence will also make participating agencies' e-mail systems interoperable and include collaboration and work tools.

    The applications that reside in the Overseas Presence portal form what Cabral calls a collaboration zone within which federal employees will share their agencies' information resources.

    'You can access the collaboration zone by one of two ways,' Cabral said. 'You can go in through the Department of State's network'we have direct connections to it'or if you have an Internet connection, you can connect through the Internet.

    'We envision that we will support the local user,' he said. 'John Cabral from home will be able to use my Internet service provider to access the collaboration zone from anywhere I have the Internet.'

    If the pilot succeeds, State officials will ask the Office of Management and Budget for the $100 million needed to roll out the system worldwide.

    Cabral said the project could extend to the private sector, international organizations and other countries.

    For the pilot, State will field the system at 19 locations in India, Mexico and Washington for use by 2,400 federal workers.

    Each employee will access the system by using a public-key infrastructure card reader to establish his or her identity, said Joseph Gueron, of AID's Information Policy and Administration Division.

    AID is participating in the design requirements, development prototype and pilot stages of the project as well as in the evaluation of the vendors, Gueron said.

    After State chooses the contractor, an eight-week final integration period will begin. Then, between April and September, 1,000 users each in India and Mexico and 400 in Washington will use and evaluate the system. If the project moves to worldwide implementation, global rollout is expected to take 18 months to two years.

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