Vendors display wares, innovative technologies

Information technology vendors at last week's FOSE conference in Washington, D.C., displayed a wide array of upcoming or recent product releases, ranging from a data warehouse application tailored for federal agencies to a storage device that measures an inch across. Software firm SAS Institute Inc

Information technology vendors at last week's FOSE conference in Washington, D.C., displayed a wide array of upcoming or recent product releases, ranging from a data warehouse application tailored for federal agencies to a storage device that measures an inch across.

Software firm SAS Institute Inc., Cary, N.C., is expected within the next three months to begin selling to federal customers software that should let agencies track their goals under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA).

The act requires that agencies develop a set of plans to use in setting and measuring specific goals, such as increasing customer satisfaction by a certain percentage or decreasing the average amount of time that it takes to perform a particular government service.

SAS develops software that allows customers access to a diverse amount of information from large pools of data. Such data warehouses or data mining applications are seen as a way to extract more information from data than would normally be possible with a traditional database.

The SAS GPRA software packages will be customized to fit the data requirements of each agency and consist of existing SAS software products, according to Daniel Boyle of SAS's Sales and Marketing Division.

Boyle said agencies can expect to pay from $150,000 for a GPRA product-and-service package. The GPRA tool will be designed to allow agencies to capture data from existing sources, Boyle said. It also will be designed to allow agencies to begin capturing and managing new data that they had not previously collected, he said.

The new GPRA package will be available through SAS' General Services Administration schedule, which is held by Federal Data Corp.

SAS officials said agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Forest Service, the Food and Drug Administration and the Secret Service have already expressed an interest in the new product.

Sources said company chief executive officer James Goodnight also is expected to meet with Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) within the next month to discuss the product and how it might be useful to measure agencies' compliance with GPRA. Faircloth sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

New Tech Percolating

In a FOSE keynote speech, Corel Corp. chairman Michael C.J. Cowpland announced the Open J Sitebuilder tool, which is designed to make it easy to build World Wide Web content by using reusable software components called JavaBeans.

"The Sitebuilder itself is really the first JavaBean assembly tool, and we think this will provide a real leap in productivity and reuse for people building enterprise applications on the Web, electronic business on the Web or even Web site development with much more graphical power and interactivity," Cowpland said.

The advantage of using JavaBeans to build Web content, as opposed to using a full Java applet, Cowpland said, is that users can download JavaBeans quicker. Developers can take JavaBeans and build small applications, he said. The tool is available for downloading from Corel's Web site at www.corel.com.

In a separate interview, Cowpland said the company's flagship WordPerfect product still holds sway in the federal market. In fact, 63 percent of federal users still use WordPerfect, Cowpland said. "They have grown up with it and have stuck with it," he said.

To keep these faithful users in the fold, Corel has worked hard to provide compatibility filters for Microsoft Corp. Word files so that WordPerfect users can share files with Word users easily. The company is also trying to make its office productivity suite more attractive to federal buyers and resellers by cutting the price, Cowpland said.

"We have noticed there is a very big price sensitivity in this market," he said. In response, Corel has cut the price of its suite of products to less than $100.

This will make the suite less expensive than Microsoft Office for federal buyers, even though Microsoft makes Office attractive for resellers by trimming $30 off the price of Windows if they bundle Office with the PC, Cowpland said.

Soon word processors will use the Hypertext Markup Language file format for documents so that all word processors will use the same format and there will be no need for filters, he said.

Thinking Small

Iomega Corp., well-known for its Zip removable hard drive, showed federal users a glimpse of the near future with a preview of the unreleased Clik! Mini-disk storage device.

The Clik! disk is just 1-inch across but holds 40M of data. The disks will cost about $10 each, according to the company, but no price was available yet for the Clik! drive.

Iomega plans a variety of interfaces for the Clik! drive, including PC Card and infrared interfaces that will let the drive share data with notebook computers, personal digital assistants, digital cameras, video games, global positioning systems and cellular phones.

Many of these devices also will incorporate Clik! disk drives into them, said Fred Humbert, Iomega's national sales manager for government. But Iomega will sell stand-alone drives to end users in the second half of the year, he said.

Thinking Low-Cost

On the more traditional PC front, Nexar Technologies Inc. at FOSE showed its new design for its user-upgradable PCs. The new machines are designed to accept upgrades to as many as two Pentium II processors and have two levels of physical security with two lock systems on the machine, said Anthony Colangelo, vice president of the Federal Systems Division.

The emergence of reasonably powerful PCs priced at less than $1,000 has eroded the appeal of upgradable PCs because it is so inexpensive to just buy another PC. Nexar has responded with a guarantee that the company will keep a new PC of theirs current for $500.

Nexar estimates that customers will need to upgrade processors at 18-month intervals and promises to provide a "mainstream" processor, whatever it may be at the time, for around $500, Colangelo said.

Nexar's upgradable design can also help reduce the total cost of ownership by reducing support costs, he said. With its user-swappable parts, help-desk technicians can easily diagnose problems by swapping known good parts into the machine to test the effect. This means problems can be identified more quickly, and the machine can be back in action sooner, Colangelo said.

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