Corporate homeland security a win-win

There are three benefits to companies taking the lead on homeland security strategies that don't just meet the letter of the law, but do so in a synergistic way.

Many corporations have been less than enthusiastic about new homeland security responsibilities, which they see as threatening to disrupt just-in-time manufacturing strategies, impose new costs and introduce yet another set of regulations. There were similar complaints when environmental regulations were imposed in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, by the early 1990s, companies such as DuPont and 3M had gained a competitive advantage by adopting waste-reduction strategies that were good for the environment and the bottom line.

I believe a similar paradigm shift, from viewing homeland security as a costly burden to seeing it as a competitive advantage, is possible. There are three benefits to companies taking the lead on homeland security strategies that don't just meet the letter of the law, but do so in a synergistic way:

Increased collaboration. Sept. 11 dramatically reminded us of the consequences for security of not "connecting the dots." However, companies already were paying a high price for lack of coordination, especially in logistics and supply-chain management, which made it nearly impossible for everyone in the supply chain to know on a real-time basis where a container was and what it held. Now 65 companies in the shipping and logistics field have formed the Smart and Secure Trade Lanes Initiative (SST) to create an end-to-end, supply-chain security system. The collaboration will integrate data flow that will help homeland security agencies collaborate to reduce container risks. Equally important from the commercial standpoint, it will allow sharing of data to overcome the lack of integration in the shipping and logistics industry.

Error reduction. Dual-use technologies can reduce both the chance that a terrorist will slip into the country and that vital cargo will get lost on a railroad siding somewhere. The SST system exceeds the new U.S. Customs requirement that manifests for cargo from foreign ports be reported a full day before departure. It also lets participating companies get chain-of-custody audit trails of the containers' history that can be used to improve supply chains' structure and efficiency.

Employee empowerment. Both homeland security and smart companies need empowered individuals who can get the information they need to act intelligently. Subsets of XML are critical to global business and emergency response, letting those who need information from diverse sources access them on a real-time basis, seamlessly. EmXML, the emergency notification standard that is under development, will let first responders, security officials, public health agency officials and others immediately share critical information during an emergency. EbXML, the business standard, will streamline business operations, setting global standards for exchanging business messages, establishing trading relationships, communicating data in common terms, and defining and registering business processes. The more extensive the adoption of both schemas, the more valuable each will be.

Both economic globalization and the war on terror require that we adopt new technologies and attitudes. Creative companies will get beyond their frustrations with new regulations and responsibilities to gain a competitive advantage through strategies that cut risk and pay economic dividends.

Stephenson is a strategic communication consultant specializing in homeland security. He can be reached at D.Stephenson@Stephensonstrategies.com.

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