Tech Success: Synergy, Booz Allen help donors to Iraq
- By Brad Grimes
- May 06, 2004
Web-based system tracks money and projects as the country rebuilds
Harnessing information during Iraq's reconstruction is "a challenging, multidimensional task," said Ashot Hovanesian, Synergy's CEO.
As fighting continues in Iraq, it's easy to forget there's more going on than most people see on TV.
Amid clashes between coalition forces and insurgents, Synergy International Systems Inc. is helping smooth the way toward peace with a system that tracks money and projects for the country's reconstruction effort.
With several billions of dollars in donor aid, the Iraqis "need the ability to absorb and understand where this money is going and how they are going to spend it," said Ashot Hovanesian, Synergy's chief executive officer. "It's a challenging, multidimensional task."
But it's not a task that Synergy hasn't tackled before. After the war in Afghanistan, the State Department and the United Nations were looking for a way to monitor 1,700 grant programs and more than 65 donor agencies.
Using its Intelligent Data Manager software, Synergy built a system to track funds as they entered the country and went toward reconstruction projects. The system, Synergy's Donor Assistance Database, was up and running in just three months.
Last year, as similar reconstruction efforts began in Iraq, the State Department recommended Synergy to its counterparts at the Defense Department as a way of harnessing information for Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority.
Prime contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. had been working with the Naval Air Systems Command to build the CPA's information management unit, a complex system of interconnected data sources used to oversee operations in Iraq. Part of that system was a project management module that tracked efforts led by the United States and its contractors.
However, there was no tool to monitor foreign aid and provide an overall picture of ongoing projects.
"At the beginning, you had projects being done and not funded, and you had people paying for projects that were already done," said Don Harrison, special assistant to the acting assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration.
Last December, Booz Allen brought in Synergy to do for Iraq what it had done for Afghanistan and 11 other post-crisis countries around the world.
"We looked at some of their capabilities and felt that Synergy's tools could be deployed quickly and adapted to users' needs," said Jimmy Walters, Booz Allen's task manager in charge of the project.
Today, Iraq's Donor Assistance Database is hosted on servers at Synergy's Vienna, Va., headquarters while the team finishes putting the system together. Parts of the database are already functional, and Walters said the system will be fully deployed and running on servers in Iraq this month.
Although the basic building blocks are the same as in Afghanistan, Iraq's Donor Assistance Database was built from the ground up for that country's needs. Perhaps most important, it is accessible in English and Arabic to minimize training and to speed adoption.
The system is a tiered Web application with an Oracle database in back and a Synergy-based Web portal in front. The server component uses extensible markup language in order to communicate with various CPA data sources and pull information together in a central location.
This Web-services approach allows parties to get the most up-to-date status of reconstruction efforts. Eventually, it will integrate geographic information system technology, so users can plot funded and unfunded projects on a map of Iraq.
"Since it's Web-based, some of this information can be made public while more sensitive information can still be restricted," Hovanesian said.
Synergy's underlying software integrates a variety of business functions, including project and workflow management, business intelligence, data visualization and reporting.
This level of integration makes the Donor Assistance Database easy to set up and use, Hovanesian said, because it pulls together what are usually separate and complex applications without requiring extensive programming.
Matt Durkin, a systems engineer at Navair, said ease of use was important, because the information management unit was designed as a "leave-behind system" that Iraq's Ministry of Planning and Development would take over after CPA left.
"The ministry is looking to use this tool to formulate budgets, understand their needs and projects and to interface with the international community," Walters said.
Even in its current form, the Donor Assistance Database has improved the reconstruction process, Harrison said. Non-government organizations, which have limited resources, now can pinpoint where to concentrate their efforts. And groups can search the database for projects similar to theirs in order to glean best practices.
Hovanesian said not every deployment of Synergy's Intelligent Data Manager tools takes the form of a donor database.
For example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva uses Synergy software for its proposals and grants management system. But he is clearly hopeful the Iraqi project will improve the lives of the Iraqi people.
"The most important outcome of this project is to have hard data so Iraqis can show that all these billions have had a real impact on the economy and social life," he said.
If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Brad Grimes at firstname.lastname@example.org.