SAP Makes Homeland Security Play

Software to help agencies collaborate, manage operations, and share information securely

Need to deploy emergency responders or manage your nuclear stockpile? Look no further. SAP AG announced SAP Security Resource Management, a major new product to integrate homeland security agencies and organizations. The software addresses each of the White House’s five major homeland security-related technology initiatives: border security, emergency preparedness and response, countermeasures, information analysis and external coordination. While technology exists to address many of those requirements already, too many of the private companies, local and state governments, and federal agencies involved either don’t have it or don’t have it set up to optimally share information.

“The ability to do this sort of integration is not new, but unfortunately it has not occurred in many government jurisdictions. Some may have bits and pieces, but rarely is there anything close to an enterprise approach, much less a solution that cuts across jurisdictions, as is needed for the internal security of our nation,” says John Kost, a vice president and research director at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

Experts say that private industry is waiting to see what new software the Department of Homeland Security adopts before embarking on any major new homeland-security- related software integration projects. Though heterogeneous systems can work together, one of the White House's mandates is that the department quickly starts collecting security threat and prevention information from companies, then work with those companies to prevent or mitigate attacks. Whichever vendors land homeland security contracts could immediately see private industry follow suit to ensure rapid interoperability.

No surprise then that SAP’s new software could find a large market. “The list of government agencies having some role in internal security of our country is surprisingly large,” he says.

The SAP Security Resource Management software addresses both the technical and functional sides of homeland security. “From the technical side, what we're looking at with homeland security is getting the right information to the right people at the right time,” says Tom Shirk, president of SAP Global Public Services. To do that, SAP uses its NetWeaver suite, with added security technology.

On the functional side, the software includes such things as border security systems, emergency response management software, mobile technology and instant tracking, as well as chemical, nuclear and biological countermeasure management.

The new software must, of course, keep users and collected information secure. To do that, the software includes authentication tools, single sign-on, role-based authorization, central user management, secure information exchange with encryption, public key infrastructure support, and secure document exchange with digital signatures and biometric identification. Those features will work across a range of agencies and organizations.

The software also uses SAP-developed secure mobile technology. "We've also added robust mobile technology, and that's based on work we've done with the U.S. military, as well as the German Army, " says Shirk. Soon "the mobile engine will be deployed with various NATO forces" as well. It allows secure, mobile transactions to be run either online or offline. Don’t expect every user to utilize every feature, however. “It’s not all or nothing,” Shirk explains. “Different agencies [and] different organizations will choose to pick different pieces. Organizations will determine where their biggest pain area is, where do they want to get the fastest rate of return?”

The new software’s overall framework is based on SAP’s e-government technology. Various federal agencies already use that, including NASA, the U.S. Army and Navy, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Los Angeles World Airports, and a variety of state and local governments. Security Resource Management also includes more homeland security-specific tools, such as border security and global trade systems to track and manage people, vessels, aircraft, vehicles and cargo. It can also mine information and generate alerts based on watch or “denied persons” lists.

While the software’s feature set is massive, so too is the task of integrating 180,000 employees and 22 previously disparate domestic agencies, including the Secret Service, Coast Guard, border and transportation security, and citizenship and immigration services, into the new, massive U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which then must work with the private sector.

“The task is enormous,” says Shirk, and hinges upon three critical factors: leadership, change management, and software. “If any of those fail, it won't work.” Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge gets responsibility for the first of those, but SAP is gunning for the latter two.

Selling homeland security software to the U.S. government may be difficult. “The challenge for most agencies, and the vendors that support them, is that Congress rarely provides funding that cuts across organizational silos. Most of all projects are funded within specific departments—the domains of the appropriations subcommittee—not across them,” says Gartner’s Kost.

Yet SAP expects that its software won’t just be adopted domestically, notes Shirk. “Across the world, homeland security isn't the big driver it is in the U.S.; it's asset management technology. Here, it's homeland security, but what are you trying to track? Assets.”

Still, given the agency’s nascent state, judging its technology adoption path is difficult. “It is far too early to know what solutions they ultimately will select to meet the needs of homeland security. The key to success for all vendors ultimately will be scalability and interoperability,” says Kost.

As such, SAP launching a homeland security product may partly be a “first strike” in terms of trying to get government to adopt its wares. “Products, such as those of SAP, have potential because they are designed to handle large amounts of data across large organizations. It is possible these sorts of packaged solutions are appropriate for the kind of data management challenges of homeland security,” says Kost.

About the Author

Mathew Schwartz is a Contributing Editor for Enterprise Systems and is its Security Strategies column, as well as being a long-time contributor to the company's print publications. Mr. Schwartz is also a security and technology freelance writer.