Portal X links foreign service

State Department officials are extending the department's reach worldwide with a new software system known as Portal X, exclusively designed to share information with foreign service officers.

For the first time, State is able to deliver information in virtual time to diplomats worldwide — from Kazakhstan to Cairo and posts much closer — without the obstacles of faulty telephone lines or inadequate delivery systems.

"We asked for a tool to be developed that would permit us to publish information to share broadly and which could be searched efficiently," said James Holmes, the State Department's chief knowledge officer and the deputy chief information officer.

Turning to a small Arlington, Va., company, State officials asked AlphaInsight Corp. to develop the software that would begin to change the way State reports information to its 260 embassies and consuls.

"This was a home-grown product developed within the IRM business center," said Holmes. "We described what our needs are. It was sort of a word-of-mouth kind of project."

Until now, State was operating under an antiquated system with rigid requirements for who got information and how. Telegrams, for example, were selectively sent under a bureaucratic system that left more people out than in.

Holmes said State's communications network will move from a cable- and telegram-based messaging system to one that is Web-based and resembles e-mail.

"Portal X is a complement to the way we have been doing business in the past," said Holmes. "It is a forerunner of what we will be moving into in a complete change to our messaging system."

Kwang Ho Kim, president of AlphaInsight, said the concept was developed as a portal maintained by each post.

"There is no bureaucratic or slow process," Kim said. "It is a rapid availability of updated information."

The software allows embassies to share and update information as quickly as they want to. "It is a great way to look at information about what's going on at different embassies," Kim said.

For AlphaInsight, the project is another example of its growing federal government presence. It already has contracts with the Defense Department, the Army, the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency. The company is also working with the Homeland Security Department, which took over a Commerce Department contract in which it developed a system for critical infrastructure protection analysis.

Deborah Kent, the program manager for the project, said Portal X is limited only by its customers' imagination.

"Some bureaus use it to announce job vacancies or be interactive with other employees," Kent said. "Some organizations use Portal X for an internal threat level sight so department employees can go there to get information on threat levels."

Holmes said some posts are using it to post their official calendar. If an undersecretary wants to visit Amman, Jordan, for example, the undersecretary can check the embassy calendar to make sure the visit does not coincide with another dignitary's visit.

In the next year, Holmes said, State hopes to have all classified connectivity e-mail sites up and operating.

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