A piece of the PIIE

Digital Harbor software helps integrate applications

Digital Harbor Inc.


Location: Annandale, Va.

President and CEO: Rohit Agarwal

Products and services: An enterprise software company that developed the Professional Interactive Information Environment, an integration and collaboration platform.

Customer: Department of Defense

Employees: 65

2002 revenue: $6 million

"The idea of an integrated Internet platform makes a lot of sense with respect to the Office of Management and Budget's e-government goals right now." ? Payton Smith, e-government services manager for Input Inc.

Henrik G. de Gyor

A new integration system developed with Defense Department funding can fit the functions of incompatible back-end applications onto a single desktop screen.

The Professional Interactive Information Environment, or PIIE, is in use by several hundred employees at eight agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Naval Research Laboratory and National Security Agency.

Digital Harbor Inc. of Annandale, Va., also is selling PIIE to other agencies. The company has about 65 employees and had $6 million in 2002 revenue. Company officials said they expect revenue to double this year.

The Defense Department asked Digital Harbor five years ago to devise a way to make its alphabet soup of applications, which run under 100 operating systems, available from a single terminal.

"Right now, data is horrendously disorganized," said Scott Elliott, PIIE project manager at the Navy lab. "We have so many different platforms. None of them have any cross-interoperable capability whatsoever."

Although Elliott wouldn't mention specific applications, he gave a generic example of how the lab might use PIIE.

In different corners of his screen, he said, he might open a document about the history of al Qaeda terrorism, a mapping application, a streaming-video archive and a database of terrorist suspects. He then could build links between the different information displays by dragging and dropping.

Next, by clicking on a date in a document, say Sept. 11, the displays would change and bring up a map of Arlington, Va., a video of the burning Pentagon and a list of al Qaeda member backgrounds.

PIIE consists of a component-based smart client that uses Java2 Enterprise Edition and Extensible Markup Language to correlate application functions through what Digital Harbor calls application linking and embedding.

It does so-called optimistic streaming via an inference engine and a set of relationships between application functions and data. One piece of server software acts as middleware for legacy applications. A second piece on the same or another server streams only as much of the application to the desktop system as the user needs at the moment.

Clicking on a word in one application can conjure a digital image from another without refreshing. The single-screen view would replace overlapping windows and, more importantly, the need for users to have multiple desktop systems.

Digital Harbor said the interactive display runs independent of the operating systems -- be they Mac OS, Microsoft Windows or Sun Microsystems Solaris -- that host the different application.

"The user gets all the applications in one frame of reference," said Austin Wells, Digital Harbor's vice president of product marketing.

The Defense Department has bought $30 million worth of PIIE licenses and services over the last five years.

The National Research Laboratory has tried out at least a half-dozen versions of the program, Elliott said.

But because PIIE has been used only by classified agencies, it is little known.

"The idea of an integrated Internet platform makes a lot of sense with respect to the Office of Management and Budget's
e-government goals right now," said Payton Smith, e-government services manager for research firm Input Inc. of Chantilly, Va.

"From a user context, it's an important piece, but I'm not sure it's the sole direction people are going in," said Sandra Rogers, an analyst at International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass. "There are targeted, smaller vendors going after that space."

In 2001, agencies spent $2.2 billion on systems integration, which is Digital Harbor's target market. Spending is expected to grow to $3.9 billion in fiscal 2006, according to Input.

An abridged version of PIIE sells for $50,000, the full version for $150,000. The company plans to sell directly to agencies but also will partner with Boeing Co., General Dynamics Corp., Oracle Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Eventually, Digital Harbor hopes the integration and interface technology will be embedded into existing operating systems and applications.

Vandana Sinha is a staff writer with Government Computer News. She can be reached at vsinha@postnewsweektech.com

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