Feb 20, 2007

Bridging the "Air Gap"

I was catching up on some reading over the holiday weekend and found this article, Open-Source Spying, from the New York Times to be very relevant to enterprises today. When you think about the nature of enterprise information today being spread across the organization and repositories, then all organizations are faced with similar challenges that the intelligence agencies in the article face.

Several years ago I had worked on a project for a government agency that was trying to solve the issue of sharing information with outside organizations. The "air gap" was real, enforced by a "sneaker net" and very strict security measures. However, the team I was working with recognized the need to share information and bridge the gap in safe and legal ways. The answer then is the same answer now, although now we have "Web  2.0" technologies and terminology to describe it.

In the project we essentially we used a back-end platform that supported sharing and distribution of content, provided security/authentication services, and delivered content to browsers. We created web-applications that were basically portals that assisted users to access information that was being created 24/7 by different departments. Departmental information was maintained in a sub-portal site that aggregated department content for searching and viewing documents. Each department had their own customized forms for creating compound documents that queried for meta-information regarding the status and purpose of the information. The general concept was that any authorized user could modify status documents, much like a wiki, since status reports were entered/updated at regular intervals throughout a 24 hour period. We also used a structured tagging (or categorization) mechanism that allowed users to classify information. These tags were used to filter information for distribution to different agencies and partners. 

The resulting system altered the way work was done. Gone were the early morning briefings that were plagued with overhead issues and stale information. E-mail traffic (internal and external) was reduced significantly freeing up valuable bandwidth. Information that previously was not available was securely being shared and status reporting was a snap.

What's so interesting about the project isn't the technology that it was built on but rather it used mechanisms that are now part and parcel of "Web 2.0", now called portals, wikis, tags, and blogs.

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