State Department will get SMART

After delays and a management shake-up, a long-awaited awaited State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART) should be fully deployed worldwide by the end of fiscal 2009, State Department officials said.

When completed, the SMART system will combine diplomatic text cables, e-mail, and memos in a single messaging system for classified and unclassified networks. SMART will also provide collaboration tools, such as instant messaging, document management, document search and improved record keeping.
The system will incorporate Microsoft’s Outlook tools and allow users to use Google’s search software to search and retrieve agency records and communications.

State Department said officials hope the new system will offer decision-makers a greater level of detail and comprehensiveness.

“Sometimes the ability to include a graphic [or] a picture — which we can’t do under the current system, which is text only — can completely convey a whole new level of communication,” said Glen Johnson, SMART’s program manager. “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Johnson said integrating e-mail messages into the department’s formal recordkeeping and communications procedures will improve recordkeeping and give context to e-mail messages, which have become a dominant means of communication.

In 2007, the ratio of e-mail messages to cables in the department was about 800 to 1.

“There was a lot of fear, particularly by the senior managers, that a lot of the key information that should be preserved and widely disseminated wasn’t [preserved] because e-mail by itself doesn’t do that,” Johnson said. 

Each cable will be tagged so it can be searched by subject and disseminated to interested communities. Unlike text-based cables, the SMART system will enable the user to send messages to one person, to organizations or to communities of interest. It will also use rules-based access to determine and enforce restrictions on who is able to see what type of data.

State took over the project’s management from contractors in 2006, and since then, it has spent more than $50 million on the project. It plans to spend an additional $75 million through fiscal 2009.  
The department recently completed its first test of the system in Belgrade, Stockholm and Muscat, Oman.

Beginning in September, State will deploy SMART messaging on its classified network at six additional diplomatic posts. In December, State plans to launch a test site at three posts on the department’s unclassified network. After the third test is under way, officials working on the classified network will be able to send unclassified messages, a capability that officials say is needed but lacking under the current system.

SMART will provide much-needed capabilities for managing knowledge, Johnson said. “Every agency has a requirement to be able to access its institutional memory. Every agency needs a way to solve the management of its electronic documents. SMART is a very, very significant product, not only for the State Department but for any number of agencies that are interested in it.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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