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We Can

  • January 01 2002, 1:00am EST

It was late in the day as the young infantry medic dove over the ridge for cover. The bullets were chewing into the ground around him, and he barely made it up the side of the ravine. While fighting his way across Europe he had been through some tough, tight moments, and this ranked up there as one of the most tenuous. His unit was pinned down by heavy fire, but they could hear one of their own calling for help from the streambed that separated them from the enemy.

After a few moments, he gathered his courage. He scampered down the slope, grabbed the wounded soldier and dragged him under a small bridge. While safer than being out in the open, they were on the enemy side of no man's land. He spent the night alternating between keeping his buddy alive and fighting off the enemy patrols.

Forty-five years later, a young sailor stared intensely into the radar screen of his cruiser's missile system. His was the northernmost U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf, and the shooting war had just begun. Located within sight of the coast of Iran, they would have only a few seconds warning if anti-ship Silkworm missiles were launched against their battle group. While commonly referred to as the "radar picket," the sailors on board sometimes considered themselves more canaries in the coal mine. Suddenly, two unknown aircraft appeared on the screen, and an attack was launched against the enemy planes.

In World War II and the Gulf War, my grandfather and my brother both served with valor and distinction. They were both highly trained, proficient warriors who had weapons available that they were called upon to bring to bear against the enemy. They both directly contributed to the defeat of the enemies of our country.

We now find ourselves at war with an unseen enemy. Like most of you, I have no idea how to fire a machine gun, launch a missile, drive a tank or fly a jet. I can't parachute behind enemy lines, intercept radio traffic, decode secret messages, load supplies or navigate a ship. I can't establish an order of battle, direct a small unit action, coordinate a regiment or manage a quartermaster corp.

While inept militarily, I, like most of you, do know how to integrate data; and in this war, that skill is just as important as any level of military or law- enforcement capability. More than any war that has gone before, this is an information war. Information is so critically valuable because our enemies are hiding in open and available information. By integrating and exposing this information to secure access, analysis, data mining and real-time alerts, we can expose and eliminate our terrorist enemies.

Two of the hijackers of 9/11/01 were on the FBI's terrorist watch list. Several had been seen and identified with lieutenants of Osama Bin Laden. One had been seen meeting with a member of Iraq's intelligence organization. Most of them used their own names when they participated in our economy by taking pilot training, taking street fighting courses, joining airline mileage programs, receiving large amounts of cash wired from the Middle East, attempting to rent crop duster planes, buying one-way airline tickets, etc. At this very moment, it is more than likely that additional cells of terrorists are doing the same thing – buying, traveling and living in our society – generating transactions in open and available data.

In addition, each of these people generates transactions and data points in the various systems of government agencies. From visas to ports of entry, to watch lists, to voice and data surveillance systems, they all leave tracks.

If someone with known terrorist connections is obtaining a visa, buying a one-way airline ticket, entering the U.S., consorting or communicating with known terrorists, getting a hazardous materials truck- drivers license, buying chemicals that when combined are lethal, obtaining triggering or timing mechanisms and purchasing or renting a large truck, then I want to know about it. I believe you and the relevant authorities would too.

The challenge is to integrate the key data points across the heterogeneous systems of the public and private sector to allow the detection and identification of our enemies.

Who can integrate this data and prevent further deaths and destruction? We can.

You and I, the practitioners of our craft of business intelligence (data integration, analysis and distribution) are uniquely equipped to contribute to the winning of this war. The technologies and tools we work with every day are the weapons in this information war. They are potentially the most important technology weapons for seeking out and destroying our enemies before they strike again.

Who can implement and operate these information war weapons? We can.

Billions of dollars have been allocated for these efforts and new projects are beginning to gather pertinent data sets in both the public and private sector. Are they likely to succeed? Does the government know how to integrate heterogeneous data sets? Information Week reports that a current project to integrate an FBI database with one from the INS is budgeted for $200 million and scheduled to take five years. Contrast this with a typical one-year, $1 to $10 million commercial data warehouse project. Clearly, left to themselves, the traditional government resources and methodologies are completely inadequate for effectively integrating the hundreds to thousands of data sources and key data elements needed in time to prevent further attacks.

Who can quickly and efficiently integrate these information resources? We can.

We are the only group of people with extensive experience in integrating multiple data sources into accessible and distributable tactical and strategic decision support resources. We have built small, quick tactical solutions for focused challenges and large 100+ terabyte global enterprise systems. We've built systems integrating horrendously unreliable and inaccurate data. We've built systems integrating thousands of data sources from around the world. We've built systems integrating real-time data streams with large historical data sets. We've built systems with data mining and advanced analytics. We've built systems with secure worldwide information distribution across multiple technology platforms. We've built systems for every type of government agency, public and secret, and every type of commercial business, nonprofit and educational institution. We've faced the challenges, figured out the solutions, implemented the technologies and developed the best practices. In short, we are the keys to success in this information war. Our country literally cannot win this battle without our skills and experience.

Clearly we have the capabilities, experience and the tools to win this war, but is this an accomplishable mission? Is the scope of information integration required simply too large to even begin this effort? After all, we're talking about retail transaction UPC scan level data, call detail record level data, airline travel event record level data, etc. This quickly adds up to many petabytes of data from many thousands of source systems. If we attempt to integrate the universe in one fell swoop, yes, we will fail. We must break down this challenge into a series of projects with accomplishable scope, each with measurable value. In the opening stages, we should focus on quick delivery of unique value to build and sustain political will.

What Do We Need to Succeed?

A mandate from the top. Without the specific authority and mandate from the President to his Cabinet to cooperate fully with this initiative, it is doomed to fail. Some government agencies and departments are more than 220 years old. It will be impossible to break down the walls of these well-entrenched and defended data fiefdoms without a clear mandate from above.

A fresh, soft-skills-oriented approach. We need to focus less on technology and more on the pragmatic realism of culture, politics, boundaries and information ownership. Our track record proves we are wonderful at implementing technology but often less successful in overcoming the "soft" challenges inherent in these cross-boundary projects.

Speed. This information war, especially the challenge of quickly providing information interchange between key government agencies, is better left to small-scale SWAT teams comprised of energetic innovators rather than slow moving masses.

A buy, don't build mind-set. Leverage packaged commercial software and minimize or eliminate multi-year custom software development initiatives.

An incremental build approach that delivers measurable value. Resist the traditional approach of more is better. Start small, build on success and don't allow scope creep. The short attention span of the public and the press will not tolerate long development cycles, and the demands of the tactical needs of this information war preclude them. Initial iterations should focus on delivering unique intersections of high-value information, not the same old data in a new user interface.

In order to win this war, each of us who can contribute must contribute. If enough of us choose to sit on the sidelines, others less experienced or less capable will more than likely fail as they make the same mistakes we've already made and from which we have learned valuable lessons. As individuals, we must answer this call to aid our country and win this information war.

What Can We Do?

Make your views known. Write letters or e-mails to your elected representatives. Contact the members of the congressional committees that fund and oversee these initiatives. Your voice can and will be heard, but only if you speak up. You can and will make a difference, but only if you participate.

Monitor the initiatives. There are many wolves circling the massive budgets being allocated for these projects. It is up to us to ensure that these initiatives do not turn into money-wasting boondoggles. Keep an eye on what is being proposed and built.

Champion best practices. Don't allow misinformation to be bandied about. Speak out about our relevant knowledge and insist that the various projects adopt and implement the best practices of our industry.

Champion pragmatism. Don't let these initiatives devolve into religious wars about data architecture or technology platforms. Insist that our tax dollars are spent on projects committed to pragmatic, incremental delivery of value.

Several senators and the leader of the newly formed Office of Homeland Security, Governor Tom Ridge, have stated that we need new thinking, new approaches, new tools and a new collaboration of government and the private sector in order to be successful. I agree wholeheartedly. I am working with the BI thought-leaders, the vendor community and the pertinent legislative committees to ensure our voices will be heard. It is my goal to establish a vendor, architecture and technology-neutral oversight board of BI practitioners who can review and provide oversight for the billions of dollars that will soon be spent on these projects. If you would like to become involved in and support this initiative, please contact me at

Unlike my grandfather and brother who fought in prior wars, it is unlikely we will be rewarded with medals and ribbons for our bravery under fire. However, just as my grandfather and brother gave their time, skills and abilities to their country in its time of need, we must answer the call and rise up to give of ourselves. An incredibly diverse world of data needs to be integrated and analyzed to reveal our enemies, prevent further tragedies and win this war. We have the experience, skills and abilities it will take to win this information war.

More than 4,000 people were murdered on September 11 because the information that existed was not available to the people who could have taken action to prevent their deaths. It is incumbent upon each of us to ensure that they did not die in vain. Please join me in using our unique skills and capabilities to defeat those who wish to destroy our country, our families and our way of life.

Who can win this war? We can.

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