Across the Digital Nation: Homeland Security--What a difference a day makes

Rishi Sood

It only takes one day to change the nature of government. With the outcome of the elections Nov. 5, there is a new political reality at the federal level: One party now controls the executive office and both houses of Congress.

In contrast to the previous years of a divided government, the ability of Congress to craft, pass and implement legislation looks very bright. Several key issues likely will be addressed over the short term, from homeland security to prescription drug benefits to permanent tax cuts.

This political change will have profound impact on state and local governments. In particular, the founding of the Department of Homeland Security is almost inevitable and likely will be resolved over the short term. This will provide an enormous lift to rolling out the national strategy, establishing key technology requirements and spurring the funding process through matching grants.

The formal creation of the Department of Homeland Security will help jump-start the previously stalled initiatives within fiscally constrained state and local government. However, vendors targeting homeland security opportunities within this sector must remain very focused.

Over the next six to 12 months, vendors should concentrate short-term sales activities around two core areas of development: health and public safety. These two segments are fundamental parts of the homeland security objectives and, in some respects, technology initiatives in these areas already have begun.

In the health arena, vendors should see growing opportunities to address bioterrorism-related initiatives. Key solution areas in this market segment will include alert networks, data networks, electronic lab reporting and electronic disease surveillance and reporting. Health organizations also will use horizontally oriented applications, such as knowledge management tools, to match experts and advisory services with crisis situations and events.

In the public safety arena, vendors should capture new initiatives aimed at first responders. The main technology priorities in this market segment include integration of systems within the public sector, such as police, fire and emergency response; improving data sharing across jurisdictions; and developing multijurisdictional communications infrastructures.

Increased use of mobile and wireless devices is also expected by first responders as vital information is broadcast more rapidly and to a wider array of personnel.

Over the long term, however, the vendor community must develop a framework for how newer homeland security opportunities are expected to evolve, and when these initiatives will receive appropriate funding for state and local government organizations. As the core opportunity emerges, vendors must also begin to prepare for the next major phases of development: expansion into other agency segments and core business processes, integration of key opportunities across jurisdictions and the new management requirements needed to effectively use the evolving technology initiatives.

Despite the expected uptick in market opportunity, there are still some major, unresolved issues for state and local government organizations. Given the fiscal crisis in the marketplace, one of the most important issues is how these new technology initiatives will be funded.

Although the Republican majority at the federal level will likely spur into being the Department of Homeland Security and associated spending, the size and scope of matching grants to state and local governments is still uncertain -- and may even be smaller than initially thought.

Consequently, vendors must be attuned to the funding processes within government organizations and keep a fine eye on following the money trail from the budget, to allocation, to procurement. *

Rishi Sood is a principal analyst with Gartner Dataquest in Mountain View, Calif. His e-mail address is rishi.sood@gartner.com.

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