Technology fuels information sharing

The call for agencies to share counterterrorism information is one that can only be heeded if the right technology is available to facilitate the data exchange.

To that end, Groove Networks Inc. officials have recently upgraded Workspace, the collaboration software that allows officials from the Homeland Security Department and state agencies to share information through the Joint Regional Information Exchange System (JRIES). The new tool, now called Groove Virtual Office, is a significant improvement over earlier versions, said Peter O'Kelly, a senior analyst covering collaboration technologies at the Burton Group (see "The Pipeline," Page 50).

"The previous release did what [it was] supposed to do," but the new one shows that Groove's executives have learned a great deal about the governtment's needs, he said.

Agency managers "have to deal with a lot of challenges, like communicating and information sharing, that other organizations don't have to deal with," O'Kelly said. "Every organization has their own [information technology] infrastructure and sometimes crossing those boundaries can be difficult. Crossing them with adequate security can be extremely challenging."

About 40 percent of Groove's business comes from the government, said Richard Eckel, the company's vice president of marketing communications. To meet the market's needs, he said, company officials have designed the product to communicate across firewalls so that users at different agencies can share a work space while keeping the data transmission secure.

"Post [Sept. 11, 2001] the problem that's been identified is the need for cross-agency communication and collaboration," he said. "What we've seen is that a lot of the government agencies have been focused on intra-agency collaboration and communication."

Groove officials have worked to get the product certified under various standards, most recently the DOD directive 8100.2, which sets Defense Department requirements for the identification and authentication of users, and for data encryption.

The result is that Groove can offer an off-the-shelf system that complies with requirements for voice or data messaging and file sharing across a network, according to David Fowler, the company's senior vice president of marketing and business development.

The Defense Intelligence Agency launched a pilot test of JRIES in late 2002, along with the New York City Police Department Counter Terrorism Division and the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, said Patrick Duecy, who was director of the Joint Intelligence Task Force at DIA at the time. He left in the fall of 2003 to become a partner at Homeland Solutions LLC, a consulting firm. Also in late 2003, DIA officials handed JRIES off to the Homeland Security Operations Center.

Earlier this year, DHS officials announced that they are building a broader network, called the Homeland Security Information Network, using JRIES as a foundation. The initial idea for JRIES came from force-protection efforts overseas, Duecy said.

"We really had never thought about it seriously inside [the United States], so we couldn't get threat information inside" the United States, he said. "The FBI just wasn't able to deliver."

Duecy led a DIA-wide effort to develop a reciprocal system where local law enforcement officials would provide information, and DIA officials would analyze the data and send their analyses back to the local level.

"We just tried it and it worked," he said. "People loved the collaboration environment. They started telling other cops, and other cops started lining up to get into the system. It started to grow fast."

Many law enforcement agencies had to get information from TV news broadcasts during the terrorist attacks, said Ed Manavian, chief of the criminal intelligence bureau at the California Justice Department. A network such as JRIES eliminates that dependency, he said. No single agency controls the network, he added.

"We can reach out and touch a small police department that might have a piece of information we need or that needs to get in touch with us," Manavian said. "The big thing we tell people at conferences is that this is their system. It doesn't belong to the federal government. It doesn't belong to the state of California."

The structure allows information to flow through intermediate layers of analysis before reaching the federal level, he added.

Agencies using the system will have to develop policies to govern what information can be shared and to make sure data gets to those organizations that need it, Manavian said.

"I've been in law enforcement for 29 years and this is the first project where the actual users are building the system," he said. "The users define what their needs are."

The main user need is for a flow of real-time interaction, Duecy said.

"That's the key part of it," he said. "Previously, cops had e-mail."

Duecy cautioned that the technology is not a cure-all. JRIES is not connected to every other law enforcement network, so people who need or supply information will have to make sure important data gets sent to places that need it.

"In an ideal world, you would push one button and search all databases," he said. "In reality, I think we're still a long way away from that."

***

TECHNOLOGY BASE

Two major commercial products underlie the Joint Regional Information Exchange System, which allows Homeland Security Department officials to share information with law enforcement officials at state and local agencies.

The products are:

Microsoft Corp.'s SharePoint, which provides basic portal capabilities.

Groove Networks Inc.'s Workspace — now called Virtual Office — which adds real-time collaboration tools such as shared work spaces and instant messaging.

Source: Homeland Security Department

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