Getting the green light
With the economy looking up, where will government agencies spend their IT dollars? This hype you can believe Online Extra: ERP and utility computing -- Who is ready for prime time?
- By Brad Grimes
- Jan 08, 2004
In December, Microsoft Corp. announced it would no longer support several of its older products, including Windows 98. That means no more security patches, which, as everyone in the business knows, are some of the most important pieces of software that Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft develops.
So consider this among the safest technology-related prognostications for 2004: Government offices still running Windows 98 or other phased-out Microsoft products will ? or should ? be in the market for new software, new systems or both.
Of course, agencies also will be evaluating other technologies in the coming year, especially as budgets begin to thaw. Voice over IP, Web services and biometrics are among the technologies that are on government agencies' radar. Will 2004 be the year that integrators help launch these new technologies?Washington Technology
spoke to analysts, integrators and vendors to find out what they thought government would be deploying in the coming year. Which technologies will get the green light? Which will get stuck on red? SMART CARDS: green lightUpside:
The Defense Department has been issuing 10,000 to 14,000 smart cards per day. Everyone from the Patent and Trademark Office to the IRS to the Agriculture Department is using smart cards. It's an established technology that continues making inroads among agencies.Downside:
Agencies need standards that let authorized personnel access more than one facility or system.Outlook:
Smart cards will continue to permeate government agencies for a variety of purposes, including building and computer system access. And there may be opportunities for systems integrators to help build interoperable smart-card systems. The Defense Department is working with Anteon International Corp., BearingPoint Inc., Electronic Data Systems Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and SRA International Inc. to pilot an identity management system that will allow smart-card authentication across several agencies and vendors.
Smart-card vendors are also making it easier to pull together complete solutions. Dave Ludin, vice president of Horsham, Pa.-based smart-card maker Gemplus Corp., said his company partnered with London-based Bell ID so it would have smart-card management software to sell along with its own hardware.
"Government agencies are looking for an integrated, interoperable package," Ludin said.
Just don't count on a broad, smart-card-based national ID system. Americans still find the idea too Orwellian.WEB SERVICES: green lightUpside:
Integration is high on agencies' to-do lists, especially with the Federal Enterprise Architecture initiative moving forward. Web services were invented to help integrate disparate systems. Now that the standards have settled down and Web services have become more scalable, the technology is ready for widespread deployment.Downside:
There's still no clear winner in Web-services development. Should integrators use Java? Microsoft's .NET? Various flavors will have to co-exist. Cross-agency integration also looks like a challenge.Outlook:
One of the biggest challenges of the enterprise architecture initiative is establishing standards for systems integration, analysts said. Web services can help government agencies move beyond the standards conversation because they're designed to interoperate with any legacy application.
Still, Web services may be more concentrated within agencies than between them in 2004 or until the architecture takes hold and enables cross-agency data exchange.
"The idea that systems integration is separate from Web services is no longer true," said Scott Opitz, senior vice president at Fairfax, Va.-based WebMethods Inc., which has supplied integration technology to the Defense Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. "The government may sometimes be slower to adopt new technologies, but in this case they're closing the gap pretty dramatically," he said.VOICE OVER IP: yellow lightUpside:
Technology for placing phone calls over data networks instead of via separate, circuit-switched phone networks got a shot in the arm when AT&T Corp. of Bedminster, N.J., in December announced plans to enter the VOIP fray. Some government agencies have rolled out VOIP systems to help simplify their infrastructures and save money on phone lines. Interest in business continuity, keeping the lines open in the event of a disaster, makes VOIP even more attractive.Downside:
Conventional phone service is cheap, and callers get a dial tone nearly 100 percent of the time. VOIP requires IT installation and support. And as calls travel across networks, they can run into snags when switches and gateways fail to interoperate.
Currently, VOIP is largely unregulated, but that may change this year as the Federal Communications Commission looks into the technology.Outlook:
When phone companies that dominate the switched-circuit business announce that they will offer VOIP services, you know the technology has arrived. End-to-end VOIP, such as placing an IP call from a phone on one network and having it answered by an IP phone on another network, may be a long way off because of technical hurdles and regulatory questions. But VOIP at the office or department level is ready now.
Agencies opening new offices or rewiring current ones are good candidates for VOIP. The Commerce Department has deployed its own VOIP system using hardware from San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc.
"Voice over IP is inevitable," said Scott Spehar, vice president of Cisco's federal business, "When companies like AT&T get involved, it only adds to the credibility pool." RADIO FREQUENCY IDENTIFICATION: yellow lightUpside:
Radio frequency identification technology is maturing, and it's got the attention of the Defense Department, which wants RFID tags on a wide range of supplies. RFID vendors say costs are coming down, making the technology attractive to agencies with large supply chains. And with several pilots in the field, integrators will be able to get the kinks out before taking the technology to a wider customer base.Downside:
Outside of the Defense Department, analysts don't see much traction for RFID technology just yet. One reason is that RFID standards need to be worked out. Another is cost. Although the price tag for an RFID deployment is coming down, it is still unclear how much agencies will have to pay for the infrastructure.Outlook:
"2004 has been dubbed the Year of the Pilot," said Mike Willis, vice president at Everett, Wash.-based Intermec Technologies Corp., which supplies RFID technology to the government. Willis predicted that 2005 will be a bigger year for RFID adoption.
The Defense Department is working with EPCglobal Inc., a joint venture between EAN International and the Uniform Code Council, to develop standards that can be incorporated into ISO standards. Such standards may accelerate adoption and make it easier on contractors who supply both government and commercial customers, which might use different RFID standards.
"RFID hasn't been picked up much outside the DoD, but there are tremendous opportunities for the technology," said John Kost, a vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Research. "Veteran Affairs, with all its hospitals, could certainly benefit from RFID."
Another candidate for RFID technology: cattle. In the wake of the first instance of mad cow disease on U.S. soil, the agricultural industry is in the market for a better electronic livestock ID system. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the government would accelerate development of the U.S. Animal Identification Plan, which will use RFID to track livestock from birth to slaughter.WIRELESS NETWORKING: yellow lightUpside:
It works, and the sky's the limit when it comes to possible benefits. And wireless solutions fit a wide variety of applications, from short-range WiFi networks to wide-area cellular networks.Downside:
Security, security, security. Agency decision-makers still aren't convinced that their data will be secure on wireless networks. Moreover, good, usable wireless networking devices are few and far between. Analysts, integrators and wireless vendors agree that few agencies have the money for wireless projects. Outlook:
Wireless networking technology is increasingly mature and showing productivity gains in the commercial market. According to Gartner's Hype Chart for Government Technology (see sidebar), WiFi is a mature technology, but experts say that won't be enough to spur widespread deployment in 2004.
"The take-up rate for wireless solutions has been a huge disappointment," Kost said, "especially considering that opportunities for wireless networking in the field are so tremendous."
"Governments are very security-conscious and cautious about wireless technology," said Thom Rubel, a vice president at Meta Group. "And the devices haven't come far enough along so people can use them. Widespread use is pretty far down the road." BIOMETRICS: red lightUpside:
Security re-mains a top priority at government agencies, and biometrics technologies are likely to play an important role someday. Pockets of biometrics use exist, so at least people are using the technology and learning from it.Downside:
Biometrics technologies are still at a nascent stage, and they're all over the map. It's unclear which solution will be most effective. "People are trying to figure out which biometrics technology is VHS and which is Betamax," one analyst said.Outlook:
Agencies, particularly defense, intelligence and law enforcement, may continue to test drive biometrics solutions, especially as they pertain to security. But the technology isn't yet ready for heavy-duty use, analysts said. The more security you want, the less adequate current biometrics solutions become.
"At a basic level, say for drivers licenses, fingerprint biometrics are good for authentication," Rubel said.
But he cited the Tampa, Fla., Police Department's abandonment of facial recognition biometrics as evidence that not all the technology is ready for prime time. "It just didn't work," he said.
Staff Writer Brad Grimes can be reached at email@example.com.
Since 1995, Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner Research has been creating Hype Cycle charts to track emerging technology through various stages of maturity. According to Gartner, most technologies go from overhyped to virtually shunned before gradually gaining adoption and becoming useful.
This chart shows Gartner's Hype Cycle for government-related information technologies as 2004 begins. Gartner researchers said open-source applications are at the Peak of Inflated Expectations, which means too much hype has created overenthusiasm in the market. From there it's into the Trough of Disillusionment, where technologies go after they fail to meet unreasonable expectations and gradually lose their luster.
According to Gartner, agencies continue to explore technologies that have the most potential, such as smart cards and wireless networking. These technologies ascend the Slope of Enlightenment through pilot programs and isolated deployments. By the time they reach the Plateau of Productivity, they are mature technologies with demonstrated benefits.Enterprise resource planning: Green light
Upside: For government agencies looking to save money and improve productivity, enterprise resource planning software is high on their lists of priorities, analysts said. Better yet, agencies are growing comfortable with off-the-shelf solutions from companies such as PeopleSoft Inc., SAP AG and Siebel Systems Inc., which can be easier and faster to deploy than custom-written applications.
Downside: Very little. But anyone looking to integrate an ERP system at a federal agency may have to consider how it fits into the federal enterprise architecture.
Outlook: It may seem odd to list something as well established as ERP in an emerging technology forecast. But when a chorus of analysts and integrators insists ERP is gaining momentum, we can't ignore it. ERP is hot as federal, state and local agencies look for efficient, cost-effective ways of improving their operations.
"There was a lot of talk about ERP in 2002. But especially at the state level, budget problems and new governors pushed back ERP projects," Santenello said. "With things turning around, 2004 will be a big year for ERP."Utility computing: Red light
Upside: Big hitters have thrown resources behind utility computing, the concept that information technology should be used and paid for on demand, like electricity or gas. Computer Associates International Inc., EDS, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. all have utility computing programs. And with government agencies looking to simplify infrastructures and better manage costs, they'll be exploring some form of utility computing.
Downside: Not everyone is convinced the idea can work. Definitions of utility computing vary, and no clear pricing structure has emerged for pay-as-you-go computing services.
Outlook: Tech heavyweights such as Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. and Microsoft are sitting out this round of utility computing hype before deciding whether to enter the nascent, often confusing market.
Some companies consider grid computing, a method of pooling together networked resources, part of utility computing. Others lump application service providers ? those that host software on their own servers and rent it to agencies on a monthly basis ? under the utility computing umbrella. The confusion may hold back adoption.
Until utility computing vendors can clearly articulate what they're selling and for how much, experts say the technology will be relegated to niche applications.
Ultimately agencies may not purchase on-demand computing resources from outside firms, but they may look to deploy internal utility computing-like systems. Computer Associates promotes the idea of "delivering IT as a service" to describe centralized management and provisioning of technology to meet the needs of an organization.
In this model, the IT department is the service provider and agency offices or departments get the applications and network resources they need when they need them.