High-tech to the forefront

Interest in such topics as knowledge management, cybersecurity and communications obviously predate the events of Sept. 11. But observers say the political environment intensified that interest at the tail end of the buying season and will be a factor in the months and years ahead.

Good intelligence information, for example, plays a vital role in helping the government identify and squelch a terrorist attack. Agencies might have information that could help but may not know it. That's where knowledge management comes in.

Knowledge management generally describes the use of technology to help an organization understand what information is in their databases and how to find it.

"Any technologies, software or capabilities [related] to knowledge management generate a high level of interest," said Gary Krump, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and materiel management at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said the concept of knowledge management is evolving much as e-commerce did. Its spin-offs included e-business, e-procurement and e-contracting. He added that knowledge management is drawing the type of interest public-key infrastructure did last year, when agencies bought it first and figured out whether they needed it, and how it would work, afterward.

Other best-selling products this season were wireless devices, especially BlackBerry handhelds from Research In Motion Ltd., and ruggedized computers, said Terri Allen, senior vice president of sales at GTSI Corp. After Sept. 11, demand went up even more. GTSI is the government's exclusive pro.vider of Panasonic's ruggedized laptops and has seen interest in those machines heat up since the attacks.

Allen said the creation of the Office of Homeland Security should put information security and cybersecurity in high demand.

Krump agreed and added that reliable communication devices also are now at the top of many agencies' wish lists.

Cybersecurity was a hot topic this season before Sept. 11, and it has become even hotter since, Krump said, adding that the VA is upgrading its cybersecurity efforts "every other day," and technologies related to that area are in high demand.

Like many people in the New York City and Washington, D.C., areas on Sept. 11, Krump had tremendous difficulty making calls from wireless and landline phones, as well as two-way radios and satellite phones. "One of the things we found that did work was the BlackBerry."

"There was almost an instantaneous need for wireless communication" after the attacks, Allen said. "For customers who embraced wireless before the crisis, they had no other way to communicate other than BlackBerries."

On an agency-by-agency basis, officials were given credit card authority to buy telecommunications devices in the wake of the attacks, said a federal chief information officer speaking on condition of anonymity. "BlackBerries were the only things that worked on Sept. 11, the only way you could communicate because e-mail and phones did not work."

Krump said the Federal Communications Commission's requirements for a combined BlackBerry, personal digital assistant and cell phone should be out by the end of the year, and whichever company is the first to produce one is "going to make a boatload of money."

"I'm on call 24/7, and I've got the BlackBerry on one side and a cell phone on the other. Any more stuff and I'll feel like Batman with his utility belt," he said. "We need better communication that is IT-enabled."

Harry Heisler, executive vice president and general manager of MicronPC LLC, said industry stands ready to serve. "As budgets get done, priorities sink in and people get deployed, there will be infrastructure to build, and industry will be there to support those requirements."

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