Department of Homeland Security's Efforts Promise to Be the Biggest Change Management Job of All Time

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The fact that the intelligence agencies remain outside DHS makes information sharing that much more hazy. The FBI, CIA, National Security Agency and others will still be the main gatherers of intelligence information. The plan is that they will pass on intelligence to DHS. That’s not a good model in Colton’s eyes. "If [DHS is] receiving finished analytical reports, they’re a passive customer. That doesn’t work; it doesn’t solve DHS’s needs. When the intelligence community is reformed, DHS needs to become a much more dynamic part of it. Absent that change, I’m not sure the department will fully succeed," he says.

Cooper and Flyzik believe the concept of "capture once, reuse many" (capturing data only one time to eliminate redundancy) will help them confront the specter of too much information. As part of their architecture work, they’re identifying and labeling "databases of record," which will then be designated as official sources of data. Other databases would be cast aside; new ones could be created. "We recognize it’s probably going to take a few years to get where we want to be fully," says Cooper.

In many ways, this is the mother of all knowledge management projects. And there isn’t exactly a font of KM successes in the private sector to use as a model. It’s hard to find people with broad experience in labeling, organizing and retrieving information, notes Woody Hall, CIO of the Customs Service. He also cautions that DHS will need to be careful in its mission to provide information to people anywhere at any time, so that the end result isn’t a push kind of architecture, in which people would be inundated with data and information. "The challenge is to sift and screen it," he says.

Flyzik is adamant that DHS workers won’t suffer from information overload. "If you get the architecture right, the net result is you will get the right information to the right people all of the time," he says.

The Culture Clash. Putting anything together?companies (think AOL Time Warner), people (think Liz Taylor and anybody)?can be difficult. Cobbling together 22 entities would send even the most experienced change management gurus rushing for the beta blockers. It’s making these disparate cultures work together, particularly when it comes to information sharing, that may well be the hardest piece of the homeland security puzzle. "You’re bringing in 22 different families with 22 family histories," says ITAA’s Colton. "Whoever takes the secretary job has a huge managerial challenge to get the disparate corporate cultures to integrate. It may take four to five years to do."

The federal government is a vast collection of agencies and departments whose employees have never had much reason or incentive to think of themselves as part of a larger enterprise. Their interactions in many cases are minimal. And many of the agencies have long histories. Customs, for example, dates back to 1789. "We have our own flag, our own uniform. Same thing with the Coast Guard," Hall says. He raises the issue of whether those entities would keep their own uniforms or adopt new, standard uniforms.

Uniforms may sound like a minor issue, but when it comes to mergers, what’s trivial to one person can be a deal-breaker to another. Multiply that type of decision a thousand or ten thousand times and you get a clearer picture of the mammoth task that lies ahead. IBM’s Wells says flatly, "Overcoming all the barriers created by an accumulation of a thousand years of organizational existence will be the toughest challenge."

What Lies in the Balance

With so many technological and change management hurdles to overcome, it would not be surprising if DHS achieved only partial success in its mission or even failed outright. Yet there are two reasons why DHS might surprise the skeptics. The first is that reorganization of the federal government is a good idea. "I would suggest the world has changed considerably since the 1940s, especially in the use of IT products," Flyzik says. "I think it’s long overdue that somebody take a look at the government from a functional view instead of an agency-by-agency view. And that’s what’s being done here." His voice picks up as he asks, rhetorically, How many agencies at the federal, state and local level are involved with border crossings? More than 40, he announces, which means that if you’re an importer or exporter, you might be required to fill out papers for more than 40 different entities. "I think what the president and governor [Ridge] are doing here is absolutely right on, and in the end, we’ll not only have a more secure country, we’ll have a more efficient government."

The second, and more important, reason that this department can succeed is its mission: to save lives and protect property. That will be incentive enough for many people to discard their agency hats for new, larger-size homeland security headgear. Sept. 11 singed a permanent memory in America’s psyche, and that includes the DHS workers who patrol the border, respond to disasters and analyze intelligence day in and day out. Their commitment to defend the nation will, at a minimum, give the new department a fighting chance.

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Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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