Coach2100 offers new twist on information sharing

Collaboration tool could aid homeland security efforts

A Web-based collaboration system initially developed as a tool to help train high-level company executives in negotiations could provide the secure communications and information-sharing capabilities needed by federal and state government agencies.

The system, Coach2100, was developed several years ago by the Dublin, Ohio-based company of the same name. However, company officials announced a partnership last December with Sun Microsystems to help promote and demonstrate the system to homeland security and law enforcement agencies in federal, tribal, state and local governments in the United States and abroad.

“I think there is an absolute critical need for this type of a solution that can [share information] in real time to allow secure collaborative efforts going across an extremely broad spectrum of potential users,” said Barry Sheldon, head of Sun’s federal homeland security and law enforcement practice.

Right now, representatives from both companies said a three-letter federal agency — which often refers to a federal law enforcement, defense or intelligence organization — is using the system in some capacity. It was also deployed about a month ago in O’Fallon, Ill., which will use it to encourage collaboration among city agencies.

The Coach2100 system — based on a service-oriented architecture — runs on Sun’s Solaris platform, provides two-way, 128-bit (or more) encrypted communications and is scalable. Users don’t need to install unique software, and they only need an ID and password to access the system.

“The only thing an operator needs is a browser to get to the Web, and we push the data and applications out,” said Phil Kabealo, Coach2100’s chief operating officer. He developed the system with Dick Glenn, the company’s chief information officer.

“All the data and all the programs are inside virtual, secure firewalls…and there’s nothing transacted in the open,” Kabealo said. The company or a government agency can host the system.

He said the system can support voice, video and instant messaging, but its real strength is as a collaboration tool. Users can work synchronously or asynchronously on specific projects by posting documents and sending messages to one another, all of which leaves a detailed audit trail, he said.

The system also facilitates rapid data communication, said Jim Camp, the company’s president and chief executive officer. He pursued the system’s development in 1998 because he needed a way to securely communicate and train international corporate clients.

Along the Gulf Coast, where Hurricane Katrina destroyed the telecommunications infrastructure, emergency responders could have accessed the system by establishing a secure Internet connection on a battery-powered computer via a satellite connection, Camp said. It takes less than a minute to start communicating, he added.

The role-based system authenticates users’ identities, and it grants or denies access to data based on users’ privileges. It keeps a log of each user’s activity, including amount of time on the system, services used and amount of data transferred during a session.

Kabealo said an organization’s leaders have the ability to look at individual events and communicate with other users on the system, a function he calls collaboration, command, control and influence.

If a breach occurs, the systems administrator or an organization’s leaders can terminate a user’s access from any location. They can also monitor a user’s IP address and revoke access if the address doesn’t match where a user should be located.

The system offers a customizable training and event simulation module through which users can gain proficiency in certain exercises or programs. For example, Kabealo said the Air Force could develop a training program for fighting fires on planes that would include a checklist and action plan.

“You make a simulation to make sure they’re able to get, not necessarily the event, but the planning and structure of the event,” he said.

Sheldon, whose federal practice includes the Homeland Security, Justice and State departments, said the company is demonstrating the technology to senior management officials throughout those agencies. However, he said, the company is still in the early stages of distributing it strategically.

“If we certainly do it right, which we are trying to do to make sure we have all of our ducks in a row, I think it could truly have a dramatic impact on the way the community and the marketplace pass information among themselves,” he said.

Collaborating in Illinois

Walter Denton, city administrator for O’Fallon, Ill., said the Coach2100 system, which the city deployed Feb. 10, will be used for two main purposes.

First, it will be a backup system for emergency communications if public safety radio and phone systems go down.

Second, it will support project management among city employees. They can access the secure Web-based system anywhere, anytime. Employees, contractors and consultants can use it for a variety of projects involving multiple stakeholders.

The city, located in southwest Illinois, is a suburb of St. Louis. O’Fallon used the system for union negotiations years ago and was approached by Coach2100 company executives to test the system on a citywide basis.

“It’s a piece of software [that is] proven. We’re just reconfiguring the human interface on it,” said Phil Kabealo, the company’s chief operating officer.

Denton said department heads are being trained on the system, which will be put into use slowly. Although the system can support voice and video, he said, officials are just using its e-mail function to communicate. The city has a population of 25,000 and 165 full-time employees.

— Dibya Sarkar

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