Information is power for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, but unless that information is secure, fully searchable, and easily and instantly available to just the right people, it isn't helping to solve crimes.
That was a problem experienced byInterPort Police, a global law enforcement association made up of security agencies for airports, seaports, and other transportation systems in 87 countries. InterPortPolice members receive and review lots of information daily about terrorist activities, crimes, and ongoing investigations. To cope with it all, they shared such information using multiple databases that were sent back and forth via email.
But that crude method had problems, including a lack of data security, limitations on discussions that could take place, and a lack of speed and real-time data analysis, said Jay Grant, the general secretary of Los Angeles-based InterPortPolice.
"Collaboration, authentication, and moving information around in a secure platform were big challenges," said Grant. "We knew we had to move beyond databases and stop using email to not only push information out but to share information with subject matter experts, in secure ways, where they could talk back and forth."
Much of the group's work was made even more important following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Staying ahead of and preventing new terrorist acts is one of the key responsibilities of the group's members as they conduct their work.
And old-fashioned email had other problems for the often-sensitive information they were generating, said Grant. "You don't know where it's been and who is looking at it," he said. "And some of our email threads are involving 200 to 600 people, so it just became unmanageable."
About two years ago, the agency beganlooking at possible fixes for its information, security and collaboration problems.
To better manage all the incoming information, it was determined that what was needed was a collaborative, interoperable system that could be easily accessed by members around the globe in real-time using a myriad of devices including Android and iOS smartphones, BlackBerry devices,tablets, laptops, and desktop machines, said Grant.
The group's leaders looked at products from some 30 vendors, including Yammer and Socialtext, to find an answer. They even experimented with some free and open source applications.
"Disseminating information through a mobile device was key," said Grant.
What tibbr has done for the members of InterPortPolice, said Grant, is to allow true information sharing in real time instantly around the globe, while maintaining security, privacy and system management in the fight against terrorism and other criminal activity.
"Tibbr is role-based so different people can get the information that they are allowed to have based on their roles in their organizations," said Grant. "It can be controlled."
Inside InterPortPolice the system, which can be accessed through mobile apps, Web browsers or desktop clients, is called the Secure Resource Member Exchange (SRMX).
So far, about 500 people in about 227 jurisdictions among the agency's members are using it in their work and the numbers are growing, said Grant. Another group of 328 additional jurisdictions is being added, with more to come.
"We can push information out to them and they also can add information, whether it's a daily report, a briefing or other communications," said Grant. The information on tibbr is unclassified, but is kept secure. "The system could handle classified information, but it is not shared here because of regulatory aspects."
The move to a secure, managed enterprise social network is a huge boon to the members of InterPortPolice, said Grant. "The whole idea with security people is that having information without sharing it is not a good thing. That's exactly what happened" and contributed to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when multiple federal agencies received information and terrorist "chatter" about what was to come, but it wasn't shared in time to prevent the tragedy.
Using tibbr, InterPortPolice "went from databases and emails to a much more controllable and sustainable system," said Grant. "We know over a period of time it will grow and grow."
In the past, it was difficult to manage the old database system, he said. "The more people we added to the system, the more complicated it got."
Another benefit of using the enterprise social network today is that it can be integrated with other external law enforcement programs being used by member agencies, which could extend the system's capabilities, according to Grant. "We are looking at an intelligence investigative tool that could be used inside by members. We found that possibility extremely attractive."
Other social networks, including Twitter, can be used and managed inside tibbr. That's a big benefit, he said, because it means that users don't have to switch back and forth between social networks but can use others while they are in the tibbr interface.
"If you want to put out details of crimes inside your community, you can manage the information from a central point and you don't have to leave it," said Grant. "This is the wave of the future."