Seven perspectives on where IT is or isn't heading this year

Will the government's use of Extensible Markup Language skyrocket this year? What new IT mandates are coming from Congress? Are radio-frequency identification tags all they're cracked up to be? How healthy are e-government projects?

Those were among the questions put to government and industry leaders during a week of live, online forums on last month. The discussions examined issues expected to shape the IT landscape this year.

Guests'including Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the General Services Administration's G. Martin Wagner and the Homeland Security Department's Lawrence C. Hale'provided answers on more than a dozen topics and critical issues.

Others offered tips on ways to work more efficiently. 'Lost password management is one of the easiest ways to show payback and results from identity management projects,' wrote Gordon Eubanks, a former president of Symantec Corp.

Here we offer excerpts from the seven online forums. To read the discussions in full, go to

Gordon Eubanks

Oblix Inc.

TRANSACTIONAL WEB USE: I believe the next step is a move from centralized Web commerce-type applications to composite apps built from functions in multiple domains. This is where Web services begin to come into play. They let someone build a transactional app that is composed of logic within my domain, plus logic in other domains.

WEB AUTHENTICATION: A key characteristic of the government's e-authentication approach is the federated model. We're talking about linking up to 1,000 agencies' applications using dozens of authentication authorities. We believe a federated approach is the only way to go. Because of each agency's need for autonomy, there's no way to centralize the apps and identity data.

BLOOMING BIOMETRICS: We are seeing an uptake for biometrics in certain applications. I believe that in time this will be incorporated into PCs. For example, leading manufacturers have announced that fingerprint readers are on the road map. We see some uptake for fingerprint, voice and facial mapping in some scenarios.

SMART-CARD EVOLUTION: I believe that smart cards will get rolled out on an application basis first. So, government employees and private employees will get these for their own organizations' applications, and then over time the cards will make their way into broad distribution.

Of course, Social Security cards are still paper, and driver licenses are magnetic, so perhaps this functionality will get rolled out at the state level first. Overall, this is not a technology issue as much as a policy issue. Citizens' concerns over privacy outweigh the technical challenges of distributing smart cards.

Before joining Oblix, a maker of identity management products in Cupertino, Calif., Eubanks was president and chief executive officer of Symantec Corp., also of Cupertino, and founder of C&E Software, acquired by Symantec in 1984.

Ross Altman

SeeBeyond Technology Corp.

XML'S ARRIVAL: The rollout of the Extensible Markup Language is going to happen. The questions are: How much will it cost? And how fast will it happen?

The issues that will raise the cost of XML implementation and limit the speed of the conversion are related to the enormous investment that we have in existing systems.

While we can start today to use only XML for all data that is passed between two applications'this isn't going to happen, but if it were to happen'it would be dozens of years before all of our applications could publish and consume XML data.

In the meantime, we have to deal with the fact that most of our applications don't natively publish and consume XML. That means that we have two issues that we have to deal with as we build adapters, connectors or wrappers'pick a term'for our systems.

IT IN GOVERNMENT: Government agencies are between a rock and a hard place.

They have little money to spend on new technology so they have to make do with what they've got. And, what they've got is a mixed bag of very different technologies'the results of a very fair procurement process that ensures that all vendors get a fair shot at each government project.

The result can be piecemeal integration'spend as little as possible to build each cluster of interfaces and hope the problem eventually goes away'or acquire technology that can help reduce the cost of integration of diverse applications built on diverse technologies.

Altman was director of integrated technologies for EDS Corp. before he became chief technology officer of SeeBeyond, an integrator in Monrovia, Calif. He also previously was a vice president and research director focusing on integration middleware at Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn.

Ben Shneiderman

University of Maryland

EYES AND EARS: The future of computing is visual. Speech is appealing but will remain secondary'fine on the phone, important for some users with disabilities, but not overtaking the speed and power of visual displays.

Speech suffers from two problems: habitability'it's hard to know what the computer will accept'and cognitive load'it is cognitively more demanding on your short-term and working memory to use speech than to do hand-eye coordination.

So speech is fine, but the future is visual.

THE RFID PUSH: I think various identification technologies will grow in importance and usage. ... Radio-frequency identification tagging has value but so does the lowly bar code.

As always, my approach is to complement the technology push with a careful analysis of what are the real human needs that can be addressed. Inventory control in stores and warehouses is clearly an opportunity. Other possibilities seem to be in health care and access control security ... but I vote to let needs lead the way.

Don't buy RFID until you know what you are doing with it.

KNOCKING OUT SPAM: Spam is a serious problem. It discourages use and wastes time. I think the software developers of e-mail servers could do more to stop spam, and we need legislative efforts, too. I believe that restrictions on sending unsolicited, bulk, commercial e-mail are needed. The public policy group of the Association for Computing Machinery addresses this and other issues:

Shneiderman is founding director of the university's Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory. He has consulted for many IT companies, including Apple Computer Inc., General Electric Corp., IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp., about human-computer interfaces.

Rep. Tom Davis

House of Representatives

E-GOVERNMENT: There is no political constituency pushing appropriators to allocate money. They see no political benefit for putting money into e-gov and taking it from projects that they see as hometown accolades or campaign contributions.

OUTSOURCING JOBS: OMB Circular A-76 has been a polarizing issue hyped by both contractors and unions. In fact, it can be a very important managerial tool if used correctly.

I intend to address pieces of this circular in the next session. For example, just as contractors have appeal rights, so should agency organizations have appeal rights. It is also important that the Bush administration not bite off more than it can chew. They should better justify their agency targets for potential cost savings.

UPDATING SARA: There are a few provisions that did not make it into the Services Acquisition Reform Act [passed as an amendment to the fiscal 2004 Defense authorization bill].

My committee shared jurisdiction over the Acquisition Workforce Exchange Program with the Judiciary Committee, which did not have time to approve the bill before it reached the House floor. Judiciary has now approved the provision, so I see no problem with this provision passing shortly.

We had some scoring issues on the share-in-savings provision with the Congressional Budget Office. We are working with CBO and are confident that provision will be passed by the House midyear.

In addition, SARA originally included a provision to establish a more formalized protest process within agencies. The Senate asked that we spend some time working with them on this during the year.

Davis is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which has oversight of how the government conducts its operations, including the procurement and use of IT. Also, the Virginia Republican has authored and co-sponsored several technology-related bills.

G. Martin 'Marty' Wagner

General Services Administration

PROMOTING E-GOV: I think the culture is changing [for funding e-government]. It is changing because we have rough alignment between the Office of Management and Budget and the agencies in what is being done. We have programmatic leadership. We work with the individual agencies that actually have to do all of the work. We listen to the users who have to live with the results. All of this is difficult but has actually worked pretty well, despite the culture change needed.

Making e-government work has depended on a lot of talented and motivated individuals. In other words, process is important, but people matter more.

2004 PRIORITIES: From an IT policy standpoint, the General Services Administration's focus will include:
  • Aligning agency investments to the Federal Enterprise Architecture

  • Implementing OMB's privacy guide

  • Continuing to focus on usability and accessibility

  • Improving software asset management in agencies

  • Bolstering cybersecurity, including identity management

  • Finding more effective ways to work with industry

  • Changing the government business process to do more at the governmentwide level instead of the agency level.

  • E-AUTHENTICATION PLAN: We have adopted a baseline architecture that will implement the new federated approach, and we have begun a pilot with three agencies to prove this model. We will then issue a revised architecture in the spring and be ready to make federated services more broadly available at the end of the summer.

    Wagner is a veteran fed who has spent his career working in IT. As GSA's associate administrator for governmentwide policy, he is responsible for developing and evaluating policies for management of agencies' administrative operations, including IT and e-government efforts.

    Lawrence C. Hale

    Homeland Security Department

    SECURING CYBERSPACE: The White House developed and promulgated the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. Now it is time to implement that strategy. That calls for a more tactical or operational focus, which I think is more appropriately conducted from within the agencies than from the White House.

    In the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate of DHS, Bob Liscouski, the assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, has four divisions that deal with protecting the critical infrastructures of our nation. The National Cyber Security Division, led by Amit Yoran, is charged with coordinating the implementation of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace and with coordinating with its peer organizations to ensure that cybersecurity is appropriately addressed in all of our critical infrastructure protection efforts.

    SECURITY BASICS: The most sophisticated technical security features can be defeated by employees who may not understand the importance of protecting their passwords or access tokens, for example.

    It is also important for agencies to make sure that they are not permitting unnecessary services and access to unneeded ports. By disabling unused ports and services, agencies can help prevent leaving unattended doors open for intruders.

    One important step to improve response to these problems is to correct known vulnerabilities before they become exploited by hacking tools. The vast majority of successful intrusions into government and corporate computers are preventable through improved patch management.

    Hale is director of the new U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team. Previously, he ran the Federal Computer Incident Response Center, was an information assurance action officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and worked at the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center.

    Lawrence E. Brandt

    National Science Foundation

    TOWARD SMOOTHER E-GOVERNMENT: There is a great deal to be done still in the areas of privacy, trust, identity, confidentiality, etc.

    The next great hurdle to conducting government business online is for agencies to know with assurance who is on the other end of the line'to use an inappropriate metaphor for a packet-switched network.

    NSF just announced a $30 million research program in cybertrust. I hope we can find a way to get agencies to participate and partner with researchers on this topic. Government has unique and important applications, which must be included in this research.

    The technologies associated with digital libraries are just becoming mature after six years of research. These technologies will become essential in helping citizens find and use government data.

    DIGITAL GOVERNMENT LEADERS: Many of the most innovative ideas happen at the local government level. Agencies at that level are also closer to their customers. Unfortunately, they are also less likely to have the budgets to implement many of their ideas.

    At the federal level, agencies are large and so often not agile. Plus, federal agencies are subject to a great deal of scrutiny from the executive branch as administrations can turn over every four years, from congressional members who like to make points with their constituents and the press. None of the three have much patience for a detailed answer to questions of failed projects or that progress is slower in government than in business.

    Brandt is in charge of NSF's digital government program, which is exploring R&D opportunities in government information services. A longtime fed, he was a member of the 1984 foundation team that worked on the government's national supercomputer centers program.


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