Weather Information Takes World Wide Web By Storm
Company making gradual shift from defense dollars to commercial markets.
Letting people know whether to expect rain, sleet or snow for tomorrow morning’s commute may not seem to have much in common with providing technological expertise for the Trident submarine, Minuteman missile or the space shuttle, but Evan Hineman has a way of pulling it all together.
As head of TASC Incorporated, a wholly owned subsidiary of Litton Industries Incorporated, Hineman runs a technology services company that is perhaps best known for decades of federal procurement work in support of defense and national security. However, this former ranking official of the Central Intelligence Agency is one of the nation’s most influential weather moguls.
Headquartered in Reading, Massachusetts, TASC operates WSI, a subsidiary that is a dominant player in the weather industry, serving such markets as aviation, broadcast media and cable television. The subsidiary focuses on weather and weather-related information, mission-critical systems and presentation services.
However, as Hineman quickly points out in a recent SIGNAL interview, WSI delivers local weather information to consumers and businesses worldwide through its Itellicast.com World Wide Web site. And, whether it is a trend or just a fad, demand for weather information through the Internet is helping Hineman transform TASC. In the past, the company focused almost exclusively on federal contracts, but it is now pursuing a broader base of customers among state and local governments, agriculture, land management concerns and, of course, the general corporate world.
Building on its twin expertise in gathering information and managing it, WSI developed Intellicast.com into one of the most popular web sites. According to Media Metrix, a forecasting firm that rates web site performance, Intellicast.com recently ranked 26th in the news, information and entertainment category, itself one of the most popular areas on the web.
Weather is one of the web’s biggest draws, according to Pew Research Center, a leading authority on Internet trends. Pew analysts say the fascination with weather illustrates how quickly the Internet has become an essential part of mainstream America. Forty-one percent of U.S. adults are now online, and their most popular online news attraction is the weather, Pew Research recently found.
Two years ago, technology stories dominated online news. At the time, however, only 23 percent of U.S. adults were online. With the changing Internet demographics, weather and entertainment news are growing much more rapidly than politics or international news, according to Pew. For example, Intellicast.com receives approximately 35 million visitors a month. Of those, between three million and four million are “unique” impressions. “That’s more than one new customer a second,” Hineman says.
But Intellicast.com is not TASC’s only excursion into state-of-the-art Internet services. The company also has a web-related unit that provides land management services to agriculture, forestry and government.
One subsidiary, Emerge, builds on TASC’s background in using complex sensors to obtain precise topographical data for national security surveillance. These data are used in conjunction with global positioning system technology. The result is a service that enables U.S. farmers to combine local weather information with highly specific details about their own land. The farmer tracks the information via Emerge’s web site and determines which sections of the land should be watered and where to best apply herbicide or pesticide to control pests.
Emerge helps fine-tune farm operations. Farmers save money by watering or applying pesticide to only those areas that really need it rather than treating thousands of acres that are in perfect health.
Emerge leases several multispectral-sensor-equipped airplanes that operate during summer daylight hours and then as needed during other parts of the year. So far, Emerge covers approximately 500,000 acres, and company officials expect that number to more than double by the end of this year.
Emerge also is diversifying from agriculture. Clients include the National Park Service, which needs information about drought conditions to evaluate the possibility of fires as well as the effects of previous burns. Next, Emerge may begin collecting data for a Southern California county to determine the location of communications lines for various utilities in the area, Hineman says. The unit already has performed work for Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Fairfax County, Virginia.
TASC offers other Internet services through its Adesso Software subsidiary, which provides bill report and statement presentation solutions that integrate with payment and self-service applications. The idea is to help clients cut costs by obtaining exact statements, reports, image viewing and printing over the Internet or from a call center. Adesso also supplies electronic archiving. Clients include such corporate titans as PaineWebber Incorporated, Chase Manhattan Bank, AT&T and NationsBanc.
Founded in 1966, TASC has 25 offices throughout the United States and the United Kingdom and has a work force of roughly 2,700 people. Hineman continues to redirect the operations of TASC to reduce reliance on federal procurement dollars. Currently, TASC derives nearly 90 percent of its revenue from government agencies and the remainder from corporate clients.
In terms of revenue, TASC’s work with state and local governments is minuscule. Of the 90 percent of revenue that stems from government work, only about 1 percent comes from state and local governments. However, Hineman projects that figure will rise to between 3 and 5 percent over the next three to five years as more state and local agencies devote dollars to the type of information technology that can streamline costs while improving government service.
For instance, last fall the city of Chicago awarded TASC four contracts as part of a $17.5 million overhaul of its municipal computer systems. One of those contracts includes support for Chicago’s 311 call information system that allows local residents to reach city personnel on a nonemergency basis through a single telephone number. TASC also is helping the city design compatible databases so information gathered by any city department is available to all others.
Hineman hopes for more contracts like this as he moves to reposition TASC to have 20 to 25 percent of its revenue come from the commercial world. In the interim, he says, the federal procurement market is headed in his direction. In the modern battlefield, sensors, real-time intelligence, troop tracking, communications, accurate information management and, of course, reliable data about the weather will prove to be decisive factors.
“The world today is more complicated than it was 10 years ago when we knew who the adversary was [the Soviet Union] and we knew his intentions,” Hineman explains. “When you look in the future, you will see continued ethnic and religious struggles around the world.
“As long as the United States is looked upon as the superpower, the world will turn to the United States for solutions. We have to be prepared to provide information to our national security customers that will allow us, if it comes to a shooting crisis, to operate with minimal casualties.”
Hineman’s view of the nation’s changing national security climate and philosophy is drawn from a 33-year career in the U.S. government prior to joining TASC. He won the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) Distinguished Intelligence Medal and two National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medals.
After a stint in the U.S. Army and the Ordinance Technical Intelligence Agency, Hineman joined the CIA in 1964 to lead the trajectory analysis efforts in the newly formed Foreign Missile and Space Analysis Center. He became chief of its systems division three years later.
In 1976, he was appointed director of weapons intelligence. From 1979 to 1982, Hineman served as associate deputy director of intelligence. He became the CIA’s deputy director for science and technology in 1982 and held that position until he retired from the agency and joined TASC in 1989.
Hineman understands the importance of obtaining and interpolating accurate data that can save the lives of U.S. soldiers, even in peacetime. Under his guidance, TASC is helping the Pentagon reduce the cost and improve the safety of “war games” because they are an integral part of an alert armed forces.
Simulation architecture developed by TASC allows officers and troops to sample battlefields of various terrains under a variety of conditions. These virtual war games give troops the experience of fighting in an arid desert, a rain-soaked jungle or urban environment without jeopardizing lives.
TASC also has developed software and related technology for unmanned aerial vehicles. These small airplanes provide real-time digital video over secure networks or closed-circuit television to battlefield troops, artillery teams and Pentagon planners.
In addition, the company is using its expertise to help fight technological crime, a growing area of concern as huge computer databases become susceptible to tampering and as software pirates, drug traffickers and child pornographers use the Internet for illicit trade. In cooperation with the U.S. Air Force, TASC is developing a computer toolkit that directs investigators to those files most likely to yield evidence.