Census taps IBM for Net delivery system

Embracing the Internet as a primary delivery vehicle for government data the Census Bureau last week awarded IBM Corp. a potential $35 million contract to develop a system that will allow users to access and manipulate census data over the Internet.

The interactive system called the Data Access and Dissemination System (DADS) will for the first time give Census employees and the public the ability to create customized reports and maps on-line based on a combination of census data.

"DADS will serve as the primary vehicle for access and dissemination of 2000 census data and economic censuses data " said Enrique Gomez the DADS implementation manager. "We're trying to automate the way the Census Bureau creates data products and provide an easy way to disseminate them via the Internet. What's really different [with DADS] is we'll have interactive data for users."

The interactive nature of the program raises security concerns. Gomez said the bureau will keep sensitive census data separate from the data that is available to the public and the agency will work with IBM to ensure that transactions are encrypted and the server is protected from hackers.

DADS will rely heavily on geographic information system technology to allow users to create a thematic map or a graphical representation of particular data sets. For example the number of senior citizens living in a particular city making a certain income can be represented by different colors overlaid on a map. That service is not available to users today Gomez said.

Census will take an incremental approach to developing DADS and get feedback from users along the way. It developed the first prototype of the system in-house and with IBM plans to build two more prototype systems then a final production system.

Users will be able to try DADS next year when the third prototype of the system will be used to disseminate data for the census 2000 dress rehearsal. The final system will be ready in time to disseminate 2000 census data.

Although this is the first Census contract awarded to IBM the company has experience with projects of this scale according to Dion Rudnicki client executive with IBM Global Government Industry. He said IBM plans to use the same reduced instruction-set computing parallel processing technology for DADS that it used in the highly publicized Deep Blue vs. Kasparov chess match.

"We will get a lot of Internet hits that will ask [DADS] a wide variety of questions " Rudnicki said. "The configuration system and system architecture [are] key to the performance of the program."He added that IBM's Cryptolope product will allow users to conduct secure transactions over the Internet such as credit card usage to pay for data.

Gerry Clancy program manager at Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. a subcontractor to IBM said the company is working with Census to develop a user interface and back-end engine that will help users "interact with census data via geography. The intent is to use geography as the underlying tool to connect to census data " Clancy said.

Using the Internet for GIS is a "cutting-edge way to provide access to data. It's about how you get information to the public at different levels " he said.

GIS applications over the Internet are not that common said Fred Corle executive director of the Interoperability Advisory Group. This is due primarily to the lack of interoperability between different data sets and applications - an issue the Open GIS Consortium is wrestling with now - and limited bandwidth. Adequate security also is critical if the Internet is to be used more widely. "Security is a critical element. Protecting GIS data is no different from protecting any other data " he said.

IBM subcontractors on DADS include ANSTEC Inc. Public Data Queries Inc. and Dynamic Software and Integrated Solutions Inc.

Other bidders on the contract were CACI with subcontractor Lockheed Martin Corp.

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