Indian Affairs launches new web site, updates technology

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has launched a new web site to better serve constituents, and is at work on an internal portal to enhance collaboration among BIA employees as well as with other government agencies.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has launched a new Web site to better serve constituents, and is at work on an internal portal to enhance collaboration among BIA employees as well as with other government agencies.

The new site, www.IndianAffairs.gov, was launched Oct. 19, and the internal portal is slated to debut in December, according to BIA officials speaking at the Oracle Federal Forum in Washington.

BIA, which is part of the Interior Department, reconnected to the Internet last summer after being off the global network from 2001 to 2008 due to a legal case.

Members of BIA’s development team were “working like maniacs before last summer to get ready to be back on the Internet,” said Al Foster, acting chief information officer at BIA. Foster and his team members spoke during a session titled “Engaging Citizens” that focused on how to create communications with users inside and people outside of organizations.

BIA had an older site prior to being ordered by a federal judge to shut it down. The development team set up a site quickly after being reconnected using the Hypertext Markup Language. They found that there were all of these “other little sites that had popped up over the years,” said Chaeny Emanavin, usability design lead at BIA. “We had all of these sites that were wandering around that needed to be integrated,” which required pulling legacy data into the new environment, he said.

However, for the most part, the development team could start from scratch and not be hampered by a lot of legacy systems because the agency had been off the Internet for seven years, Emanavin said. BIA wanted to develop a portal that was built on a standard platform and flexible, had a robust enterprise search engine and could support secure single sign-on capabilities.

With the help of consultants from systems integrator Mythics, an Oracle partner, BIA’s team implemented Oracle’s Fusion Middleware to build the external and forthcoming internal Web portal. Fusion consists of a suite of Oracle software tools including Oracle Universal Content Management (UCM), Oracle Identity Management, Oracle WebCenter Spaces and Oracle Secure Enterprise Search.

BIA chose Oracle because at the core the agency is an Oracle shop using the company’s databases and data modeling tools. However, the Fusion suite is also integrated and lets developers use standard programs and languages such as Java, Java Script, HTML and CSS, Emanavin said.

With Oracle UCM, BIA has a single, data repository that can securely provide information to the external web site and to the intranet. When the agency has the ability to launch an extranet, it will let people securely see internal applications, for example, the status of their applications to bring land into the Indian Trust Fund, Emanavin explained.

On the Internet side, BIA is using Oracle Web Content Management, which has a tool named Site Studio, because it has a built-in content management system. Content managers have an easy interface to change text on the site. They click on a button, a text editor pops up and they can quickly change content, he added.

For the internal portal, BIA is using Oracle WebCenter Spaces because it is much more flexible and lets developers integrate legacy and new applications.

The agency is using the Dublin Core metadata implementation, which is being suggested by agencies such as the Library of Congress as a standard, uniform way to tag content. “So if you plug into another agency, bureau or department then you can find your information easily as well,” Emanavin said. Together Dublin Core and Oracle Secure Enterprise Search offers “a very powerful natural language search and machine readable [solution that] really satisfies the computer and human need,” he said.

The Fusion tools will give BIA the ability to deploy better communication tools such as dashboards, blogs and wikis to set up a knowledge sharing community. Such a community will connect help people find experts in given areas and preserve knowledge as people retire, he said.

Technology Revolution

“We [at BIA] are really in the midst of a technology revolution,” Foster said. He noted that technology change has been quietly underway at the agency for two years.

In addition to the reconnection to the Internet, BIA’s network has undergone massive upgrades and security improvements, he said.

Also, BIA is overhauling the IT infrastructure in all the Bureau of Indian Education schools located in 23 states. “They don’t have standard e-mail and desktop configurations.”

BIA is also undergoing an e-mail system migration from IBM’s Lotus Notes to Microsoft’s Exchange Server. After that migration is completed BIA will host the e-mail system for the Office of the Secretary of the Interior Department, Foster said.

BIA has 10,000 employees who handle issues ranging from education, financial management, health, law enforcement, and management of dams. There are 40,000 students in BIA's school system, more than 560 tribal organizations to interact with and two million Indians who are members of registered tribes. Add to this the 70,000 employees of Interior and you can see that the agency has a very substantial base of individuals it has to provide services to and with whom it must communicate, Foster said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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