By Renae Merle, Washington Post
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A.,
08 Feb 2002, 8:00 AM CST
Days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Washington called on the private sector for anti-terrorism ideas. This week, Siebel Systems Inc. arrived armed with its version of a homeland security tool.
The San Mateo, Calif.-based software company began revamping its "customer relationship management" program, which it spent $1 billion and eight years developing, days after the attacks. It is now deployed in large corporations to manage customer information, including creating profiles and tracking buying habits. Now, the software can be used by the FBI and CIA to track terrorists, the company said.
"We have been heads-down since September" revising the software, said Thomas M. Siebel, the company's chairman and chief executive.
Siebel kicked off what is likely to be a lengthy campaign - sure to be matched by many other technology firms - pitching homeland-security solutions. The company had already launched a national advertising campaign in December touting its new software. There are no specific proposals in sight, Siebel said, but the company hopes potential customers will include the FBI and Department of Transportation as well as state and local entities.
The company's efforts illustrate the technology community's recent focus on Washington and the growing federal information-technology budget.
The Office of Homeland Security welcomes the suggestions, said spokesman Gordan Johndroe. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge "and his staff have met with dozens of companies that have suggestions for improving homeland security," Johndroe said. "Information sharing is an important part of the homeland-security strategy."
The Siebel software would allow FBI agents tracking a terrorist, for example, to pull together information gathered by the CIA about the person's background, and the Federal Aviation Administration about their movements, Siebel said in a demonstration to Washington Post reporters and editors.
Siebel acknowledged some limitations, including the difficulty of linking the entire federal government. "If we looked at it from the perspective of the whole federal government ... I don't think they could deal with it, honestly," he said. "It's too big to even think about."
Siebel is not the only company pitching technology to connect disparate databases. Several years ago, KPMG Consulting Inc. implemented a system in Pennsylvania that connects the state's police departments with an FBI database. The program was used on Sept. 11 to identify terrorists aboard the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, the company said.
Since the attacks, McLean-based KPMG has held discussions with more than a dozen states about implementing its software, said managing director Larry Herman. It has also briefed the Department of Justice and U.S. Customs Service officials about applying the software on a federal level, he said.
Federal aviation authorities are planning to test similar technology to form a security screening system that would compile personal information about passengers before they board a plane. That plan would establish a computer network linking every reservation system in the country to private and government databases.
But all of these efforts face a similar challenge: While federal officials have shown interest in the technology, they have yet to tackle the privacy concerns and policy issues about the sharing of information by different federal agencies.
"They are doing a lot of looking now, trying to see what's there," Herman said. But "the federal government hasn't established the guidelines for developing this."
Adds Siebel: "These are public policy issues that ... require people of much greater depth and intellect" to address.
The homeland security market is still ill-defined, Siebel added. The company is educating potential customers about its software's capabilities before trying to sell it, he said.
"I don't think there are going to be projects imminent," he said.
Reported By Washingtonpost.com, http://www.washingtonpost.com
© 2002 The Washington Post Company