Piggybacking speeds payback

The events of Sept. 11 brought a major change in security procedures at the Army's Fort Belvoir in Virginia. In the past, visitors just had to check in briefly at the entrance. With the new procedures, guards carefully check visitors' identification cards and make sure that the person they intend to see is expecting them.

Those new procedures called for a portal solution that could be used to share alerts; list names of expected visitors and people who often visit the base, such as salespeople or relatives of people living on the base; and broadcast new security requirements.

The responsibility for determining what kind of technology might be used to automate the process fell to Pete Johnson, chief information officer of the U.S. Army Program Executive Office (PEO) for Enterprise Information Systems, the Army's primary organization for developing information systems.

Implementing a new portal quickly would have been a problem. But Johnson decided he didn't need to build one from scratch. The Army already had the PEO's knowledge management portal, so Johnson decided to write a small application that piggybacks on the current portal.

Johnson spent only one month writing a "portlet" that is part of the PEO portal, which was developed using Oracle Corp. DB and Oracle9i Application Server. Technologically, the portlet is just a section of the PEO portal that is limited to those who are involved with base security.

Because the Army portal enabled Johnson to create separate authorizations for each portal resource, he was able to segment the new features and limit them to the new set of users. "There was very little to it in terms of technology," Johnson said. "The real job was to decide how the display would look and what information would be posted."

To develop the workflow and business logic, Johnson and others interviewed people who manned the guard stations to understand how they worked. For example, guards said they'd like to be able to type in the name of a visitor and see all the times that visitor came to the base during any period of time.

The system runs on a wireless local-area network because most guard stations have no electricity except for a gas generator. Guards access the system from personal digital assistants. The system can also be used to print passes at visitor centers.

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