A window to agency knowledge
In what was only a few years back but now seems almost too long ago to remember,
Yahoo revolutionized the Internet by providing rhyme and reason to the reams
of information on the World Wide Web. Now, enterprise information portals
(EIPs) promise to do the same for federal agencies grappling with too much
enterprise data located in too many different data sources.
"EIP is really the killer application for knowledge management," said
Larry Hawes, a senior analyst for the Delphi Group, a consulting firm in
Boston. "It provides a way for people within an organization to find each
other, to find information that they need and to solve real business problems."
Government agencies, chock full of disparate data sources ranging from
mainframes to e-mail systems, are quickly proving to be a perfect fit for
EIPs. Many agencies are getting into the act, including the Navy, the Census
Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service. Building an EIP is usually a tricky
integration job involving many technologies and types of information, but
the benefits in personnel and organizational productivity can be well worth
An EIP offers a simple Web-based front end or gateway to internally and
externally located information and online services. EIPs combine several
technologies to cut through "infoglut" and provide employees, partners
and citizens with customized access to the most pertinent and appropriate
Some of the technologies used include personalization engines, push technology,
search engines, content management, message querying, data warehousing,
Extensible Markup Language and enterprise application integration.
"In the past, when organizations have had several different types of
data sources, users were forced to learn a different tool to access each
one of those different data sources," said Steve Dille, vice president of
marketing for Viador Inc., a San Mateo, Calif.-based developer of enterprise
portals for federal agencies. "The portal integrates all of this information
in one place and gives a consolidated view and search capability across
all those sources."
That's exactly what the Navy is doing with its EIPs. Among the projects
already under way are:
* Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet Knowledge Home Port, a navigational
portal that allows users to access more than 250 databases from one site.
* MarineOnLine, an intranet that is custom-tailored to the unique needs
of Marine Corps families, providing local and top-level military news, notification
of events occurring on and off base, information on family benefits and
services, and the ability to perform administrative processes such as leave
and personnel action requests.
* One Touch Supply, which allows users to access Navy supply and maintenance
systems to identify the location of parts and input requisitions, perform
technical screening and check on requisition status.
One Touch Supply is a far cry from the previous system, in which sailors
had to access up to three computers to access necessary databases that could
locate, requisition and track assets, said Alex Bennet, the Navy's deputy
chief information officer for enterprise integration.
"Sailors often spent several days on the phone to expedite and obtain the
status of critical requisitions prior to deployment," she said.
One Touch, by contrast, provides a seamless and transparent location
and retrieval capability that enables Navy personnel throughout the service
to access a variety of databases using only one password contained in their
public-key infrastructure digital certificate. "Sailors have options for
putting information to work for them, such as telling them to send them
an e-mail at 6:30 every morning showing the status of their requisitions,"
In general, the types of resources users can access from an EIP usually
depend on their job responsibilities. A high- level employee would have
more secure links and information pushed out on their personal screen than
an administrative assistant or a private citizen, for example. The system
would automatically recognize the user and develop a profile, pulling together
relevant information and making it immediately available upon sign-on.
An EIP can be extremely simple, offering an easy-to-use interface into
one data source, such as a data warehouse, or it can be extremely complex,
cutting across numerous databases, including those located in different
departments or agencies.
The Internal Revenue Service has built an EIP to search several databases
that contain tax returns that need to be analyzed for compliance. The Census
Bureau's American FactFinder will provide users with easy access to any
and all demographic and statistical information held by the government.
"The user no longer needs to worry about whether that information is
held by the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Census Bureau," said Enrique
Gomez, program manager for the Data Analysis and Dissemination System, which
includes the American FactFinder system. "They just go to the site, search
for the information they need, and everything is right there. There's no
major learning curve required or clicking around all over the place."
A number of factors are driving the use of portals, including the increased
ubiquitous nature of the Internet and e-business applications. Another important
factor is the growing — but not always effective — use of intranets within
"The intranets were often specialized rather than companywide, which
only created these silos of information that weren't available to other
people in the organization, not unlike what happened when we put PCs on
people's desktops and they kept information locked away on their hard drives,"
Many agencies are hoping that EIPs become the key to unlock that data.
— Hayes is a freelance writer based in Stuart's Draft, Va. She can be reached