State taps Accenture for intranet project

The State Department last week awarded a contract to Accenture for a pilot project to modernize its worldwide communications capabilities with e-mail and other high-tech information-sharing tools.

The worldwide intranet project had been on the drawing boards since the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. But after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the State Department sped the development of a network to share information with its embassies and foreign affairs offices.

"We need to build up our international telecommunications network and workforce to support modern business tools, while guarding aggressively against cyberthreats," the department's chief information officer, Fernando Burbano, told Congress Feb. 26.

Burbano said the department was putting in place "networks, systems and desktop tools that our diplomats and analysts need."

"The department is helping to facilitate the creation of common classified and unclassified technology platforms to connect U.S. government personnel overseas with one another, with their local and international counterparts, and with" Washington, D.C., Burbano told the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.

The system, known as the Overseas Presence Interagency Collaboration/ Knowledge Management System, would take advantage of existing information scattered in various databases but not tied together in a single network. Linking those databases would offer embassy officials a wealth of information to consider when doing a background check on a visa applicant or communicating for other purposes.

"It will allow users to have one-stop access to a lot of resources," said Meg McLaughlin, a partner at Accenture.

She said the system would run on an intranet environment and would allow department employees in different parts of the world to "create a collaboration environment."

Technology experts estimate that the intranet project will likely cost less than $200 million.

Congress has appropriated $17 million for the first two phases of the information-sharing initiative to pay for a prototype and the pilot project. State completed the prototype in January, under a contract awarded to Accenture, Science Applications International Corp. and SRA International Inc., with IBM Global Services enlisted to lead the development effort.

Accenture will develop a 20-week pilot project that State will launch in India and Mexico this year, with about 2,400 users testing the system. State plans to fully deploy the collaborative system by fiscal 2003.

"Anything of this scope must be rolled out in phases," said Bruce McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget. "It is good that they are starting with a pilot. Interagency coordination is hard, and it's important to get the bugs worked out in the early stages."


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