Business intelligence and analytics are transforming private industry. But the US Department of Homeland Security didn't get the memo, and in an object lesson for all enterprises, the agency apparently bungled its golden chance to lead by example.
According to an excoriating report released this week, a bipartisan Senate subcommittee has found that the DHS has little to show in spite of spending an estimated $289 million to $1.4 billion on equipping 77 so-called fusion centers for nationwide intelligence gathering.
The fusion centers, which gather representatives of various agencies into single physical locations for intelligence-sharing purposes, were created between 2003 and 2007.
Indeed, instead of focusing on setting up analytics and training staff to deploy the tools required, the fusion centers "used funds for shifting information technology needs." In other words, staffers ordered technology for the the fusion centers; after receiving the funding, they changed the paperwork surrounding big IT expenses. As a result, money supposedly intended for fusion center IT allegedly wasn't spent that way. This led to a lack of capability that the Senate subcommittee found disgraceful. The report states:
DHS's lack of training and technology offerings was itself responsible for fusion centers' inability to achieve five of the attributes DHS considered essential to have minimal operational capability... To remedy the situation, DHS cut those five attributes from its list... Even with its more limited review, DHS still found weaknesses at state and local fusion centers. More than half lacked a strategic plan, and nearly as many lacked a communications plan. Nearly a third had no analytic production plan.
It isn't that the DHS lacked input about what technology the 77 fusion centers might deploy to help make the nation more secure. A range of IT vendor documents and whitepapers accessible online attest to that. But instead of setting up data mining and business intelligence and using these as suggested, the centers depended on news reports (as in cable TV news shows) for intelligence "tips" that mostly led nowhere -- and, according to the investigators, interfered with citizens' constitutional rights (as in right to privacy).
Various lawmakers have sharply criticized the recent report as out of date and misinformed. They say the fusion centers were in fact the source of valuable counterterrorism information.
This sad story will no doubt continue to unfold in the news and in Congress. But back in the datacenter, its lesson is clear: Any enterprise that can't make use of the tools at hand stands to fail not only to deliver value, but also to alleviate risk.
— Mary Jander , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution