CIOs are key to security, says US government

Private-sector chief information officers will play a key role in US security, said Lee Holcomb, director of infrastructure at...

Private-sector chief information officers will play a key role in US security, said Lee Holcomb, director of infrastructure at the White House Office of Homeland Security.

Holcomb, who delivered the keynote address yesterday at the Homeland Security 2002 conference, heads the IT side of the effort to merge 22 federal agencies into the one new department.

About 80% of the country's "critical infrastructure" - industries including transportation, healthcare, power supply and financial services - lies in the corporate world, Holcomb said. His office is assessing the technologies that are used most commonly among the agencies.

"The first thing we're doing with CIOs is trying to identify where are those common technologies and, where we can, seek enterprise licences," so that the department is using the same systems, he said.

The department purchased a 250,000-seat licence for Autonomy knowledge management software after finding that it was popular among companies.

"The other thing we're looking to CIOs to do is advise us on best practices," he said. Holcomb and other federal CIOs involved in the creation of Homeland Security spent the summer consulting with companies including Hewlett-Packard, Exxon Mobil.

"One of the common themes is that they all had a fairly large integration team when dealing with mergers," he said. "Communication is essential. The things all of them put in place by day one had to do with communication."

Holcomb intended to ensure that a department-wide directory, secure e-mail and a set of informational Web portals are all operational by 25 January, the day the department becomes operational.

His goal is to develop an "enterprise architecture" for the department, a continuation of work he did while CIO of NASA from 1997 until earlier this year. As Holcomb saw it, a successful integration of systems starts with understanding the business needs of the entity - in this case, the Department of Homeland Security - and then finding the right technologies to address those needs.

Holcomb's task is to take 22 separate information systems and merge them into one, or possibly two if the agency decided to maintain separate military and civil systems. The job challenges him to create a single "trusted database of record" starting with inconsistent information stored in different locations.

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