Agencies ExploitThe Internet FOR BIG RETURNS
The Internet FOR BIG RETURNS
Artwork by: Randy Verugstraete
By Shannon Henry
Innovations in Internet-related technology and the federal government's need to streamline are meeting each other head-to-head in some mutually beneficial business deals that signal a new wave of government spending on Internet services.
And there's a huge amount of money at stake: The federal market for professional services will increase from $5.6 billion in fiscal 1997 to $7.5 billion in fiscal 2001, according to a recent study by market research firm Input in Vienna, Va.
Major factors contributing to that growth include attempts to reduce the federal deficit, increases in information technology spending, a trend toward use of commercial services, pressures to downsize the federal work force and acquisition and infotech management reforms, said the study.
Simultaneously, both the public and private sectors are increasingly using the Internet to boost business productivity and return on investment. Internet electronic commerce revenues will jump exponentially from $12 million in 1996 to $134 billion in 2000, according to the Yankee Group, Boston.
Federal agencies are using the Internet to integrate a variety of communications and computer systems in areas such as security, search and retrieval, sales transactions and training. "We're in the first wave of this," said David Steinberg, director of the federal region for Check Point Software Technologies, Redwood City, Calif. "The cost savings are so compelling."
Indeed, innovative projects now under way at the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Training Support Center, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to name a few, show huge promise for cost savings in the coming years.
And perhaps even more surprising, the federal government is actually ahead of the commercial sector in the Internet and integration world, experts say.
A snapshot of Internet efforts spearheaded by federal agencies, and state and local governments - some of which are already yielding robust returns on investment - are profiled in this two-part feature.
EPA Cuts Paper Trail
The Environmental Protection Agency had since its founding in 1970 managed the information flow among its 18,000 employees and outside contacts with a paper-based system.
Not only was the system outdated and contributed to storage nightmares, but EPA executives realized it was ironic for the agency to be so paper-dependent when its main goal is to preserve the environment.
"A large part of the EPA's culture is to be environmentally correct, and reducing the amount of paper generated at the EPA is part of that culture," said Dave Henderson, a branch chief at the agency.
So the EPA enlisted Lotus Notes, owned by IBM in Armonk, N.Y. Now 6,000 of EPA's staffers are using Lotus Notes to track, access, share and organize information. Warren Beer, chief of systems engineering for EPA, said using Lotus Notes speeds up the application creation process from months to minutes or hours.
One of the most recent projects has been Envirofacts, a World Wide Web site that incorporates information from five EPA databases. The site, which is accessed by employees, state and local agencies as well as environmental groups, was built with Lotus products Notes, InterNotes and Domino. The relational database lets users access a wide range of information from one single point.
The EPA estimates that the site will save the agency $5 million in information dissemination costs in the first year of use and another $2 million every year after.
In the Army
Training army field units is a challenge of size and scope. So the U.S. Army Training Support Center at Ft. Eustis in Virginia turned to Verity Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., to build the Army Training Digital Library, which ties CD-ROM publishing to the Web and uses push technology.
Mark Gregory, project manager for the Standard Army Training System at the ATSC said his main goals were to keep information current, extending the useful life of the information from six months to two or three years; notify users of new updated manuals through push technology; and let soldiers and developers access the library through the Internet to find the most current information.
A large part of the project was digitally converting written data such as mission training plans, soldier training publications, doctrinal field manuals and training circulars. New CD sets containing about 400 documents will be distributed in late July, said Gregory. Each set will contain a search engine. Because of the Web publishing features, Gregory expects the sets to make his goal of having a two- to three-year life span.
"Verity's highly responsive support team has time and time again dropped everything to produce a modification ... to make the CD-ROM suite the top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art product that it is," said Gregory.
Campaign Security Reform
The Democratic National Convention planners were looking for a firewall product to secure their World Wide Web site after a series of hacker break-ins to other government Web sites of the White House and the Justice Department.
The DNC hired Check Point Software Technologies, which promises to secure multimedia transmissions over the Internet.
The plan was to give the public access to up-to-the-minute campaign information. Besides keeping hackers out, the system actually identified the address of a person who tried repeatedly to gain improper access to the site.
Check Point's software was successful in part because of a feature called the Log Viewer, in which millions of lines of information are searched, the routine data is sifted out, and other information is moved to a separate server that one employee can analyze.
Brian Wolfe, vice president of Open Business Systems, Addison, Ill., the integration company that coordinated the use of Check Point's software for the DNC, said without the log viewer, they would have been forced to use five more servers and hire five more people to sort through the information.
In the Internet and integration world, according to Check Point's Steinberg, the federal government is leading the commercial sector. "The commercial groups are stepping their toes in the water but mostly are doing e-mail. The federal government is moving much faster," he said.
The cost savings is great: Steinberg estimates using an Internet backbone, for example, costs a company one-third less than using traditional telecommunications lines. "We see many agencies building this infrastructure," he said.
Testing the Fortress
Another security-related product, NetFortress from Digital Secured Networks Technology, Tampa, Fla., has just gone through a battery of tests by a group of 16 government agencies and 45 companies. Overseeing the group for the government is the National Security Agency.
According to the group's findings, "the results of the tests clearly demonstrated that ... [the] NetFortress can be used to connect enclaves across an unsecured network with a high degree of confidentiality."
The group found that NetFortress prevents hackers from getting any useful information about transmitted data packets; provides access control and moves encrypted traffic at T1 speed.
Help for Internet Searches
ISYS/Odyssey Development Inc., Englewood, Colo., has just begun shipping a new search engine for finding and retrieving documents on the Internet and intranets.
The federal government is already using the technology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is using it through intranets and the U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, is using it on its Web site, www.ca.uscourts.gov.
A main feature of the search engine is what ISYS is calling outline browsing, which conserves bandwidth because it only sends back the parts of documents that include the text search string.
"[That] means we can open a document that may be thousands of pages long and jump straight to the hits without converting or transmitting the whole document," said Ian Davies, chief technical officer of ISYS.
Easing Business Traveling
The Department of Health and Human Services recently tagged Software AG to develop its Travel Management System using the Internet and intranet technologies.
Software AG has been using its iXpress product to make legacy applications usable over the Web. Other projects have included traffic reports and crime updates over the Internet for the city of San Antonio and linking 400,000 licensed building contractors to databases in California.
The Health and Human Services system speeds up the employees' business travel process by letting them sign on to a remote server, enter flight and per diem information, which is then calculated and sent to the appropriate people for approval.
NASA Gets Into the Act
Faced with the familiar cost-cutting requirements of many agencies, officials at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., recently decided to save on operating costs by switching to an Internet protocol-based network.
NASA has chosen Bay Networks for the $1 million project. Bay beat archrival Cisco for the deal, even though Cisco has for several years been NASA's backbone router provider.
Separately, the National Technology Transfer Center at NASA hired Verity to work on its Web site, which has in the past year had a 100 percent growth rate. The goal of the site is to provide access to databases, links to field operations and send leads to the field centers.
And in another project, NASA has recently signed with Electric Press to develop a Web page that will allow users to search indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts. The page will be unveiled gradually, starting with a few agencies by the end of the summer. A search engine will allow users to look for contractors or products.
"Part of the program's success comes from the fact that we try to drive integration across all our projects."
-John A. (Tony) Wening
"We realized this activity allowed people to express their creativity."
Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services