Challenge No. 1: Mesh disparate databases and apps

The proposed Homeland Security Department's IT architecture must accommodate disparate databases and legacy applications, linking communities within and outside government via standards-based technology.

That was the consensus of a panel of government and industry officials at the AFCEA TechNet International Conference in Washington last week.

'We're fundamentally talking about enterprise integration,' said Donald Zimmerman, chief executive officer of Synergy Inc. of Washington.

Zimmerman said it is a 'fatal conceit' to expect that everyone in an enterprise as broad as the proposed department would use the same products.

Stem the tide

'The problem isn't that we don't have enough information, it's that we have too much,' said Ronald Richard, former chief operating officer of In-Q-Tel, the CIA's private venture capital firm. 'The need to integrate separate repositories of data is more important than ever.'

Unfortunately, 'we haven't made much progress in getting that integration done,' said Alan Harbitter, chief technology officer of PEC Solutions Inc. of Fairfax, Va., partly because much of the needed information exists outside federal databases. 'There is a wealth of intelligence at the grassroots state and local levels,' he said.

Enterprise integration, using common application programming interfaces to integrate systems, can provide data translation and offer rules- and content-based routing for commercial apps already in use, he said. Data standardization with Extensible Markup Language also is a powerful integration tool.

With everyone from the Secret Service to local health departments accessing the information, deciding who gets access to what and in which form will be a big headache.

'The organizational problems may be more of a challenge than the technology problems, and we need to solve those first,' Harbitter said.

In-Q-Tel has become a model for leveraging emerging commercial IT in government.
The company has invested $30 million in 20 companies that make products that seem promising to the CIA, Richard said.

Several In-Q-Tel-funded products proved themselves after Sept. 11, he said.
Technologies now being sought by In-Q-Tel include data-mining and data-linking tools, geospatial applications and foreign language translators.

Because much raw intelligence is in foreign languages, sometimes multiple languages within the same document or conversation, 'you really need machines to ferret it out,' Richard said

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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