Combining forces to protect computer networks

Stephen Robinson and Pascale Carayon

Stephen Robinson and Pascale Carayon (26K JPG)

A TEAM OF UW-MADISON ENGINEERS and scientists has made a unique contribution to a $4.2 million, U.S. Department of Defense project aimed at protecting critical national infrastructure, says Professor Steve Robinson, who heads the effort. Now in its last year, the five-year project includes Professors Vicki Bier, Pascale Carayon, Mary Vernon (also computer sciences), Mathematics and Statistics Professor Thomas Kurtz, and investigators from three other U.S. universities.

Much of the nation's infrastructure is built around networked computer systems. By blending expertise in computer sciences with perspectives from other disciplines, the UW-Madison team has gained exceptional insights into computer network security, says Robinson.

In one aspect of the project, Vernon and Carayon combined computing tools and human factors approaches to address vulnerabilities to intrusion in networked systems. Vernon first used a sophisticated computerized tool to scan a network and generate a prioritized list of technical vulnerabilities. One potential weakness she found is system software that if implemented with default settings can leave the network open to invasion. Once Vernon's tool spotted this problem, Carayon's human factors analysis asked questions about the network administrator whose job it is to configure the software correctly, such as, “Is the person well trained?” “Is the person feeling stress on the job?” “What is the person's workload?”

Focusing solely on technical methods to enhance security, such as better firewalls or encryption methods, will always leave networks vulnerable, says Carayon, because their design, implementation and use necessarily involve people. Carayon instead advocates a comprehensive approach to securing computer networks that integrates technology, people and organizational structures.

Cheap suppliers not always the best bargain

MANUFACTURERS OFTEN ASSUME that competing in today's global manufacturing environment requires them to source parts and components exclusively to suppliers in low-wage countries like China and India. Not so, says Professor Rajan Suri and his partners at John Deere. And they have the results to prove it.

Through a decade-long collaboration, Suri, director of the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM), and Paul Ericksen, enterprise supplier development lead at John Deere, have developed concepts and methods they believe illustrate the true cost of using overseas suppliers. Central to their approach are the tenets of QRM, which state that to most effectively lower costs, companies must analyze and reduce the manufacturing critical-path time (MCT). This formalized indicator of lead time accounts for the length of every process involved in filling a customer order, from designing and manufacturing to packing and shipping.

Use of foreign, rather than U.S., suppliers usually entails longer MCTs, most obviously because of the time products spend in overseas transit. Suri, and Deere have shown these extended MCTs often create overhead expenses, such as forecasting and warehousing, that can end up consuming any savings manufacturers might gain from lower overseas labor costs. Deere now routinely considers both piece price and MCT when making sourcing decisions. Its calculations show that a mix of overseas and domestic sourcing often yields the most competitive pricing, while also providing flexibility to respond to variability in product demand. The end result: Deere has continued to use Midwest and other U.S. suppliers for many of its components.

Technology-enhanced nursing practice put to the test

AFTER YEARS OF PAINSTAKING DEVELOPMENT, an in-home computer-based system that seeks to improve outcomes for people with congestive heart failure is now the focus of a clinical study. Funded by a $2 million grant from the National Library of Medicine, the study will reveal whether the system helps patients maintain their health by augmenting the care they receive at home from visiting nurses and engaging them more deeply in self-care. Long-time collaborators Lillian S. Moehlman-Bascom Professor Patricia Flatley Brennan, Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care and the Visiting Nurses Association developed the computerized system, which helps patients clarify self-care instructions, learn about their condition and symptoms, stay in close contact with nurses via email, and more.

The point is not to replace in-home nursing care with technology, Brennan emphasizes. Instead, the researchers seek to document how nurses and patients interact during a typical home visit, and discover ways in which technology can extend their relationship. A one-year analysis of in-home nursing work is complete. The study's two-and-a-half-year experimental phase has now begun; eventually it will involve 400 patients and more than 20 nurse teams.

If technology-enhanced nursing practice does prove beneficial, the team will move quickly to implement it. Aurora's own information technology group has coded the system and stands ready to incorporate it into the Aurora Web tool “My Aurora.”

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