Homeland defense steals the show

As expected, homeland security dominated last week's FOSE trade show, which to a lesser extent also reflected a federal surge in customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Rather than a showcase for a slew of new products, FOSE was mostly a forum for leading vendors to play up their role as potential agency partners and pro.viders of enterprise solutions.

"The products are just not as important," said Steven Cooperman, Oracle Corp.'s director of homeland security solutions. "Homeland-security-in-a-box does not exist."

Cooperman and others stressed that technology now takes a backseat to organization and policy issues in the information technology war against terrorism. "At least at Oracle, we are not scrambling to come up with homeland security products," he said. "Those products already exist."

Instead, companies such as Oracle maintain they are fielding interest in existing products that have hit the government radar since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, executives said.

Products in hand, those vendors are scrambling to team on homeland security opportunities. For example, Oracle last week unveiled work with EDS, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sun Microsystems Inc. and others on a county-level physical infrastructure deal in Florida to help emergency response and law enforcement track and respond to emergencies.

NEC Corp. was another company at FOSE looking to pitch technology it has spent years grooming. Specifically, NEC has bundled its automated fingerprint identification system technology — which dates back 20 years — with its new line of fault-tolerant servers, which can continue working when a hardware failure occurs.

"Primarily law enforcement and [the] FBI have used these capabilities on proprietary systems. They have not been generally available," said Mike Mitsch, NEC director of business development for enterprise server products.

NEC officials also hope to carve a place for the company's new "fault-tolerant biometrics" offering in high-end airport infrastructure initiatives.

Hewlett-Packard Co. was also touting its involvement in airport security, underscoring a series of research agreements it has with the Transportation Department's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

Among other things, Volpe is now working with the Transportation Security Administration on incorporating biometrics and smart cards in airport security.

Naturally, homeland security extends far beyond airports.

As outlined by Vance Coffman, chairman and chief executive officer at Lockheed Martin Corp., the federal IT community should seek activity in several distinct sectors.

There will be an emphasis on information management through technologies such as data mining and data fusion, harnessed to networking initiatives.

Along with emphasizing border control and emergency response, agencies also will have a sharp focus on critical infrastructure protection, Coffman said.

"The fusion of information is now just as important as a radio on the battlefield," he said.

Coffman described the "best practices" movement of the 1990s as relevant to the current homeland security push. "But the assumption then was that government could learn from industry, but had very little to offer industry. Homeland security has changed all that," he said.

Particularly, government is moving ahead in security-related areas, such as infrastructure protection. However, it trails industry on the CRM front, many officials said. But more than ever, federal agencies are embracing gains to be had from improved customer service.

"We are trying very hard to keep our customer service representatives up-to-date," said Nancy Radosta, a program analyst at the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Companies such as Siebel Systems Inc., along with SAP AG, PeopleSoft Inc. and Oracle, all have their sights on federal agencies looking to make CRM inroads.

Most will rely on systems integrators or consulting firms as a way into the market, predicted Ira Kirsch, vice president and general manager of Unisys Corp.'s federal government group.

Unisys, for instance, is readying a CRM offer that will bundle assessment and business case development functions on top of solutions offered by CRM leaders, Kirsch added.

"But we are still in the early stages — no question about that," Kirsch said of the push for federal CRM.

Jones is a freelance writer based in Vienna, Va.


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