Info Builders targets info sharing

Public outrage after Sept. 11 focused as much on the lapses of information systems as it did on human error. With all of the information stored in government databases around the country, Americans asked, why didn't the terrorists' names trigger a warning light on a computer screen somewhere?

The answer is complex, but in large part, the failure stems from the fact that many government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies can't share information. With the March 12 release of a product called Security Exchange, a division of Information Builders Inc. seeks to address that problem.

Security Exchange integrates data from a wide variety of formats and systems and delivers it in real time via the Internet. Information Builders launched iWay Software, the product's developer, in February 2001 to focus on "middleware," or software that enables the swapping of data between disparate systems.

Security Exchange is designed to give government, law enforcement and the intelligence community immediate access to one another's documents, graphics, spreadsheets, messages and other information without compromising the security of any of the systems, according to Michael Corcoran, vice president and chief communications officer for Information Builders.

"We have technology that can access older stovepiped systems, but we also have new technologies that link to the Internet, wireless, handhelds and other emerging platforms," said Corcoran, whose company has customers in all federal agencies. "What makes this unique is that agencies now need to collaborate and use both."

Security Exchange has two components. The iWay Enterprise Integration Suite, which is transaction-oriented, makes it possible to connect existing applications in real time to complete a task and manage a process that must go through several steps at different agencies; and Information Builders' Web.Focus suite, which is access-oriented, connects existing applications to provide real-time information delivery.

In both cases, systems administrators can use the iWay Resource Governor to define the types of queries allowed.

Security Exchange is already being used in test laboratories at several intelligence agencies, according to Jake Freivald, director of marketing for iWay Software.

"The dilemma agencies have these days is how to react automatically to events as they happen now, instead of after the fact," Freivald said. "When indicators [of suspicious activities or data] come up, human judgment is needed to make sense of them and decide on the appropriate action. If people are too busy with repetitive, data-entry tasks, that judgment isn't available."

With Security Exchange, many repetitive tasks — flagging an expired visa, providing the date of a handgun sale, cross-checking a criminal database — can be automated, leaving employees free to concentrate on analyzing and responding to events as they happen, Freivald said.

Collaborative technologies like Security Exchange present several difficult issues, however, according to analysts who have studied them.

"To this point, the problem we've had with interagency information sharing is that it hasn't worked," said Ari Schwartz, an associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "Privacy and security issues are certainly going to be big concerns as the technology starts to work. It's much easier to address them upfront."

In any information-sharing system, it's important to ensure "that the right people get the right amount of information," he added. "You shouldn't be giving every person in an office access to every piece of information."

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies should also exercise extra caution when using shared information to take quick action with respect to individuals, said Judith Droitcour, assistant director of the applied research and methods team at the General Accounting Office and co-author of a widely disseminated 2001 GAO report, "Record Linkage and Privacy."

"I don't think that it always means you can't have information just because you're going to respect privacy," Droitcour said. "Sometimes there are strategies that may cost more or take more effort but allow you to have your cake and eat it, too."Suite spot

Security Exchange operates on two software suites that integrate information systems.IWay Software's Enterprise Integration Suite:

* Connects existing applications to provide documents and respond to queries.

* Provides intelligent message routing and delivery.

* Formats, transforms and adapts graphics, data and messages to distribute them among various organizations.

Information Builders Inc.'s WebFocus information delivery suite:

* Delivers information from a variety of sources — from databases to applications — operating in real time.

* Delivers information to any type of user or device, including Web browsers, wireless devices and desktop computers.

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