Intelligence agencies need data conversion technology

The future of U.S. government IT systems will include a bigfocus on converting old data into electronic form, two governmentIT leaders said Friday.

The U.S. government’s intelligence agencies are looking heavilyinto technology that can quickly convert typewritten and evenhandwritten text into electronic data, said Greg Pepus, seniordirector of federal outreach at In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firmfunded by U.S. agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA).

Intelligence agents need technology that can quickly convertnotes handwritten in Arabic or in symbols to electronic data thatcan be easily shared and put into a database, he said.

“The problem is the vast majority of data in the world isn’t indatabases,” Pepus said during a panel discussion about the futureof U.S. government IT needs at the Gartner Inc. GovernmentConference 2006 in Washington, D.C.

In addition, In-Q-Tel is looking for better search technologiesthat allow wide-ranging searches across multiple databases in oneinterface, Pepus said. The goal is to produce targeted searchesthat allow intelligence analysts to spend less time searching fordata and more time analyzing it, he said.

The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for thesome of the same technology as In-Q-Tel, but for different reasons,said Kimberlee Mitchel, senior technical advisor for the agency.The SSA has massive amounts of data still in “unstructured” formatssuch as paper, and the agency wants to move that data to electronicform, she said.

The move to electronic form will allow the agency to bettertrack and serve U.S. citizens who are eligible for Social Securityretirement benefits, she said. In the future, U.S. citizensshouldn’t have to file paperwork to receive checks, she said.

“We envision a future where we gather data almosttransparently,” she said. “When you’re eligible for SocialSecurity, the check shows up in your checking account.”

The SSA is also looking at handwriting recognition software, andnew ways to ensure data integrity, as data moves from paper toelectronic form and is shared between U.S. agencies, Mitchel said.”Your data is only as good as where it comes from,” she said.

While the federal government looks into software than canconvert paper data into electronic form, some state governments seeopen-source software as the wave of the future, said Dennis Wells,deputy chief information officer for the Office of InformationServices at the Oregon Department of Human Resources.

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, has fundedopen-source projects and identified open-source development as aneconomic driver for the state, Wells noted. Oregon is also workingwith other states to push open-source technology as a way togenerate the myriad of reports states need to file with the federalgovernment, Wells said.

States are looking at ways to encourage software vendors tooffer open-source packages that could be tailored to each state’sneeds, instead of each state buying its own software to generatereports to the federal government, he said. “We think there’s asmarter way to do it,” he said.

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