Can VARs Save the INS?


The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is under a lot of scrutiny these days. Its little-discussed, but critical, federal database,the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE),is therefore getting a makeover, courtesy of a number of VARs in the government space. El Segundo, Calif.-based-Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) was chosen to provide the INS a new version of SAVE. The agreement is valued at $31 million if all options are exercised during a seven-year period.

The opportunities don't stop with the INS, either: Chantilly, Va.-based GTSI is seeing a significant, widespread need for data-sharing, dissemination, portal technology, storage and overall enterprise architecture in various federal agencies.

All those shortcomings mean a lot of potential income for government VARs.

SAVE-ing the INS

SAVE has served a host of agencies, including the Social Security Administration (SSA). With detailed records of selected immigration status information, SAVE helps federal, state and local government agencies determine eligibility for many public benefits. Now, the SSA is seeking to expand its use of the system to check the legality of nonimmigrant visitors to the United States as they apply for Social Security numbers. Previously, SAVE verified the status for more than 1.5 million immigrants a year. The expansion should greatly increase that number, though there are no hard projections yet.

"We've been doing this for several years, but there are now more concerns raised in recent months about identity theft and fraud," says Mark Lassiter, a spokesman with the SSA. "There are concerns about people coming in here illegally and obtaining Social Security numbers, which is why we're going for 100 percent verification of visitors to this country now, as opposed to only immigrants."

The development demonstrates how information-sharing,one of the most-discussed IT revenue opportunities in government circles today,has also come to a head for VARs. A new study from Chantilly, Va.-based researcher Input indicates a steady growth curve: The federal knowledge-management market is now estimated at $340 million for civilian agencies and $315 million for defense agencies. That's expected to grow by 2007 to $614 million at civilian agencies (12.5 percent compound annual growth) and $542 million at defense agencies (11.5 percent annual growth). Information-sharing will fuel much of that growth.

"We're seeing most of the new activity in the knowledge-management market focusing around homeland security applications, particularly at the Department of State and the Department of Justice," says Input analyst Payton Smith. "However, the ultimate structure of the proposed Department of Homeland Security will be a significant factor in determining exactly how new information-sharing projects will be brought to the vendor and VAR communities."

The new version of SAVE CSC is providing the INS requires a combination of two data systems with different platforms to be unified into a Unix system with an Oracle database. Then, the system will be Web-enabled for the first time, further enhancing the opportunity for myriad agencies to share information.

"We're providing the value-added services here," says Hank DiNunzio, the account executive overseeing Justice Department contracts for CSC. "In the case of the INS, they have a lot of existing tools they've negotiated independently with companies to provide, such as Oracle licensing. We're taking those tools and their licensing, and providing a value-added solution. We're providing [Web-enablement of SAVE, for example, and all of this will be on a fee-for-service basis. The growth opportunity is considerable."

Special Opps

The Feds aren't looking for unique solutions, notes John Spotila, president and COO at GTSI . "Some of the applications may involve more data than anything likely in the commercial world," he says. "This raises a number of challenges in terms of scalability...We're seeing more customers turn to mobile and wireless solutions using the Web, PDAs and e-mail to reach out to their users around the clock...We can significantly help government customers seeking to enhance their ability to track, identify and profile individuals believed to pose a potential threat to security."

VARs can market around this demand. Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys is seeking to meet government customers' information-sharing needs via commercial, off-the-shelf solutions that will mesh within existing legacy data sources,betting that the government customer will prefer a faster, less risky approach. While information-sharing isn't a new concept,the Department of Defense launched such an initiative 10 years ago,the events of Sept. 11 pushed the demand full-throttle. "The president's national strategy for homeland security identifies information-sharing and systems as one of the foundations for homeland security that cuts across all mission areas and all levels of government," says Thomas Conaway, managing principal/defense with the global public-sector group at Unisys. "They will require enterprise-integration technologies that enable [customers to tie together disparate data sources in a controlled and consistent manner. Any technologies that simplify the analysis and mapping of legacy data sources in this process will be beneficial."

Three Key Areas

Three key areas to watch during the next 18 months are the Department of Justice (DOJ), Veterans Affairs and private industry's response to the government's pursuit of sound communications functionality in times of crisis, says Erich Ohngemach, director of government field sales for Clearwater, Fla.-based Tech Data. The DOJ's focal point is finding a standardized, information-sharing system among users at the FBI, CIA, local law enforcement agencies and other government departments. Veteran Affairs recently saw its budget increase 15 percent to develop an information-sharing enterprise to protect against chemical, biological and radiological disasters. And disaster-response is also gaining in importance.

"New York City had difficulty with respect to emergency officials communicating via phone lines, even cell phones," Ohngemach says. "It will be critical for improved solutions that business and government remain connected,to protect against threat and to communicate when threat emerges."

Many analysts say that information-sharing will radically transform the way federal agencies do business, leading to a greater demand for architected solutions, transformation tools, increased search-engine capacity and other needs, says Herbert Quinde, CEO of Pacific Tech Bridge, a Washington D.C.-based government technology consultancy.

"The FBI is a good example of virgin territory," Quinde says. "The vast majority of their information is not even in a database. Most of the information is in flat files, at best...The Pentagon has hundreds of systems that are stovepiped by military service and sector. For the first time, the counterintelligence community is discussing advanced electronic information-sharing among the different services," he says. The Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines have their own systems for gathering and storing information, but have limited means for sharing it.

Maintaining integrity and security of the data, while still making it available systemwide to the various agencies, is one of the biggest challenges with information-sharing, according to Larry Kirsch, senior vice president at CDW-G. "Homeland defense is an example of the need to share information. Once the data is available, then there are concerns of authentication: 'Who is seeking access?' and 'Should they get access?' That's why we have seen increased demand for larger data-storage solutions, like storage-area networks and network-attached storage," he says. "Agencies are also faced with mobile-sharing challenges from notebooks and PDA-type devices. This has created a whole new demand for secured, wireless database-sharing."

Dennis McCafferty can be reached at dmccaff@regiononline.com.

GovernmentVAR, as a regular supplement to VARBusiness, will make its 2003 debut in the February issue. Until then, look for continued government coverage in the pages of VARBusiness.