Homeland Security Focus at PeopleSoft Conference

Two products—PASS and Guardian—are released to assist the government.

At PeopleSoft’s annual user conference in New Orleans, CEO Craig Conway discussed the release of new applications to address the homeland security initiative. Two PeopleSoft products—PASS and Guardian—are being released to assist the government with hiring new personnel and consolidating or connecting various agencies and departments.

"If there was ever a time to use the technology advantage of this country to defend this country, that time is now," said Conway. "The fact is, if you don't have the right people in the right job, there is no homeland security."

A new module for the PeopleSoft student administration application, called PASS (Patriot Act SEVIS Solution), automatically detects and reports changes in administrative information about students to immigration authorities. SEVIS, which stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, is an automated tracking system and data repository developed by EDS for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

The U.S. Patriot Act of 2002 mandates that institutions of higher learning be SEVIS-compliant, or able to track and account for their foreign students, by Jan. 31, 2003. The United States admits some 558,000 foreign national students each year. More than 200,000 are currently unaccounted for. All of the country’s 37,000 colleges and universities will be required to provide SEVIS with information relating to foreign students with F, M or J visas.

"Essentially, the government is saying, ‘We have built the well, you must fill it with water’," says Ron Sullivan, general manager of PeopleSoft’s Federal Government arm. "The burden has been placed on universities to relay information to SEVIS and interface with the system." The government mandates that every college and university in the nation must work out how to supply SEVIS with the required information; PASS is an attempt to simplify the process. Early adopters include the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Duke University; the California State University System; University of Minnesota; and the University of Michigan.

At the University of Wisconsin, for example, 10 percent of enrolled students are foreign nationals. "Reporting to the INS under the terms of SEVIS would be an extremely time-consuming and expensive task if we were only able to use the INS's Web interface," said Dr. Paul W. Barrows, vice chancellor of Student Affairs at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "With PeopleSoft PASS, we will be able to link all student status information and related databases to quickly and easily comply with the new government regulations at a dramatically lower cost."

According to Sullivan, PASS will be made available free to all existing 650 higher education customers of PeopleSoft Student Administration. Non-PeopleSoft users who still need to interface with existing student administration systems can also use PASS for a small installation fee, Sullivan said.

The problem, however, is that while the federal government has the college IT world sweating over the looming January deadline, it hasn’t yet issued its final recommendation as to what data (and in what format) are to be relayed to SEVIS.

"We’re still waiting," said Dr. Benjamin F. Quillian, Vice President of Administration and CFO at California State University, Fresno. "It’s still to be determined who gets what data."

As soon as the final data specifications are released, higher education IT managers around the nation will be scrambling to comply. In all likelihood, though, they probably won’t be required to have everything online and reported by January.

"I expect that only new student visas and changes to existing visa status will have to be reported by Jan. 30," said Ron Yanosky, a senior analyst for higher education at Gartner Inc. "And I believe that many institutions may still be struggling to comply by next summer."

SEVIS may well go a long way to preventing a repeat of last September when seven out of eleven terrorists were here on student visas but not attending classes. It will detect those who fail to register, leave campus residencies or change their student status in some way. But it is far from foolproof.

"If someone registers then disappears, there may not be a lot we can do," said Barrows.

PeopleSoft PASS will be available in the fourth quarter after final SEVIS requirements are available.

PeopleSoft also announced Guardian, a set of applications for government emergency agencies, as well as fire and police departments, to better respond to emergencies in real time. It, too, addresses a homeland security issue—ensuring that the right people are in the right jobs—properly trained and ready to be deployed during any crisis. The Guardian suite includes applications for recruitment, skills assessment and deployment of "first responders."

Guardian's Command Center and First Responder Consoles provide a 360-degree view of personnel information and skills, enabling agencies to respond to a crisis with the right people and resources. Command Center Console manages the information and communication needs of emergency command centers both in times of crisis and in the daily management of workforces. It can monitor emergency alerts, track resources and assess personnel skills, allowing users to manage emergency response from any location.

The First Responder Console is used by those first on the scene of an emergency, or those closest to it. It enables communication from agency to civilian, agency to agency, agency to responders, and responders to responders. It issues emergency alerts, allows first responders to check in and announce their availability in emergencies, distributes communications, contains an enterprise directory, and issues alerts when an employee is due for training.

At its core, Guardian is a suite of real-time integrated applications for the recruitment, assessment, training, and deployment of the nation's first-response communities of firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians.

"Every level in government is struggling with how to handle the tens of thousands of people who must be hired, re-assigned, transferred, retrained and redeployed to new homeland defense roles," said Carol Kelly, vice president, Government Strategies Service, META Group.

The speed and completeness of information afforded by the suite saves time and expense for these agencies. It incorporates real-time applications for human resources, recruiting, services procurement, embedded analytics and learning.

Guardian is based upon PeopleSoft HR applications and gathers up the many thousands of resources and potential resources that could be involved in any disaster. Accurate contact information, skill set and availability data is recorded in a database, available to anyone using the console. As well as responding once an emergency occurs, the application can be used to model various scenarios and drill disasters in order to improve preparedness. Business process and workflow technology is incorporated to streamline response efforts.

The Guardian Command Center and First Responder Consoles will be available in the first quarter of 2003. According to PeopleSoft’s Sullivan, Guardian has been donated to the City of New York where it is currently being piloted.

About the Author

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology reporting.