Newsletter February 2010

Profs Rethink Airport Terrorism Defense Systems

Dr. Huseyin Cavusoglu (left) and Dr. Srinivasan Raghunathan began looking at airline safety issues after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

An attempt to set a trans–Atlantic jetliner aflame above Detroit on Christmas Day has revived a simmering airline security debate. Researchers at UT Dallas say new ways of using passenger profiling with screening devices could strengthen security and minimize passenger concerns about convenience and privacy in the wake of that incident.

Dr. Huseyin Cavusoglu and Dr. Srinivasan Raghunathan, information systems professors at the School of Management, reached that conclusion after taking a recent look at the value of passenger profiling.

Their research, conducted with graduate student Byungwa Koh, will be published later this year in the academic journal Operations Research.

“The biggest challenge is that we are trying to find a needle in a haystack, because the fraction of criminals in the population is very small,” Cavusoglu said. “What we say is that it’s not enough to have a screening system, but if the screening system and profiler complement one another, we have a better shot at finding the needle.”

Although previous studies have explored the effectiveness of profiling, according to Raghunathan, this is the first major study that examines how profiling can work with screening devices to create a system that balances the needs of airlines with those of customers.

Screening and profiling systems are both designed to detect security threats, but their functions differ, Raghunathan says. Screening systems, such as scanners and pat–downs, help reveal prohibited items that could be used to carry out an attack. Profiling, on the other hand, is “not a legitimate substitute for real evidence,” the trio’s research paper says. Rather, it is a system designed to identify attackers who may carry forbidden items.

In the study, the researchers first considered a base–line scenario in which all passengers classified as potential attackers by a profiling system were manually inspected while all others were sent through a screening system. This is the approach the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took after 9/11.

The researchers proposed a second scenario in which all passengers that a profiling system classified as potential attackers went through one screening system while the remaining passengers went through another.

The researchers found that the TSA’s initial approach did not necessarily improve the potential for catching attackers. More effective and less inconvenient was their proposal to use profiling with two types of screening systems.

“In this kind of setup, the two groups of passengers (those who have been identified as possible attackers and those who have not) would be sent through screening systems, but two different screening systems. One could be very sensitive and one less sensitive. Then you’re treating them somewhat in the same fashion in the sense that both groups will have to go through a screening system. That might take away some of the criticism that the opponents of profiling have,” Raghunathan said.

Cavusoglu and Raghunathan, who have studied security issues in many other areas, began looking at airline safety after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“After 9/11, there was a lot of focus on security, and we, along with many others, began to look at the TSA’s strategies, whether they were successful in identifying attackers and whether they benefited passengers. We used our prior work on information security and began looking at whether profiling systems, which the TSA had tried implementing in the past, really helped achieve security,” said Raghunathan.

The research resulted in a TV news story featured on Channel 33 (KDAF).

IT Team Packs a One–Two Punch in Competitions

A team of UT Dallas students recently catapulted from a winning performance in a Web development contest to a second–place finish in another competition showcasing the strategic value of information technology management.

School of Management MBA students Kevin Patel and Chris Clark (pictured at left and at right) and Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science senior Daniel Moore (center) won the graduate–level application development contest at a student conference the Association of Information Technology Professionals held in October at The School of Management. Their top performance creating a database and Web application in less than a day led to their selection to represent the school in a subsequent meet.

The trio next tackled a reality–based IT challenge in the Southwest Regional Case Competition November 13. CA, Inc., a New York–based IT management software and services provider, sponsored the event, and the University of Arizona hosted it. In a weeklong run–up to the one–day competition in Tucson, rivals prepared a solution for a hypothetical company’s foundering IT operations and proposed corrective intervention.

The UT Dallas team outperformed opponents from the University of Arizona and the University of Oklahoma to earn $500 and place second behind Texas A&M University, whose contenders earned $1,000 and a spot at an international case competition in Las Vegas next May.

“The team’s combination of business knowledge and technical skill enabled them to effectively analyze the problem,” Dr. Mark Thouin, The School of Management’s director of Management Information Systems programs, says. “Their performance demonstrates the success with which our students are able to take material learned in class and apply it effectively to real-world business problems.”

Their case involved a banking company, “suffering,” Mr. Clark says, “from a moribund outsourced IT project.”

Their panel of judges role-played the company executives, Mr. Moore says, and while some of them contributed to creating the problem, their presence as the team recommended solutions brought “into play the whole element of tact.”

“The contest provided students with valuable experience highly sought after by employers,” Dr. Thouin says. “So we plan to compete in future contests and build on our initial success.”

A UT Dallas Student’s Perspective

In this edition of the newsletter we profile Anil Badruddin who is pursuing a BS in Business Administration with a Concentration in Management Information Systems. He is expected to graduate in spring 2010 and is already working full-time with JC Penney as a result of a summer internship in his junior year. The following transcript is from a recent interview with Anil.

Q: Where do you work and what is the name of the company?

A: I work at the JC Penney corporate office in Plano.

Q: Briefly describe your job duties and responsibilities.

A: I analyze, evaluate, develop, customize, install, implement and maintain computing systems, platforms, and infrastructure in accordance with customer requirements and organizational methodologies and standards. In addition, I respond to production problems and implement immediate resolutions and prepare software for distribution to the enterprise.

Q: How do you like the location where you work?

A: JC Penney’s home office is a wonderful place to work. The company is taking very good care of its employees and offers numerous benefits such an in-house cafeteria and fitness center.

Q: How did you find the opportunity?

A: I found this opportunity by applying for JC Penney’s internship program. They were working with the Career Center and I was able to find a position that I felt I qualified for.

Q: What was your first day like?

A: I had an advantage that I was an intern with JC Penney before coming on full time so my first day was a little less stressful. For the majority of the first day, my manager sat down with me to determine what my specific career goals were and how those goals could be reached. We also went over what competencies they want me to obtain and put together a timeline.

Q: What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

A: My daily responsibilities include performing quality assurance for all of the software that has been repackaged for distribution. I also am working on a project where I am responsible for planning, tracking, and reporting the migration of current packages to a new deployment system.

Q: What’s the most important factor for being successful in your job?

A: The most important factor is a willingness to learn and be able to apply what you know.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your internship/job?

A: The corporate culture is very results oriented and in my department there is an emphasis on growing the employees within the company.

Q: Tell me a bit about your boss or co-workers.

A: The team that I work on is a very relaxed team. That doesn’t mean that we don’t meet deadlines or commitments, but the team is relaxed yet very accountable. There is an expectation that every member on the team, including the manager, will adhere to timelines that are agreed on; but there is not a lot of micro managing. We are free to take multiple approaches as long as the timelines are met.

Q: What are some things you enjoy doing in your time away from work?

I am involved in some volunteer work working for a non-profit organization that helps alleviate poverty in developing nations. Other than that, I enjoy playing and watching sports.

Career Spotlight: Computer Systems Analyst is the Third Best Job in the U.S.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, a recent study conducted by job site CareerCast.com ranked computer systems analyst as the third best job in the US! Computer systems analysts collect and analyze business user requirements to recommend, plan and design information technology solutions for automating and improving organizational business processes. They bridge the gap between the end user business community and the technical team responsible for building and implementing the solution and require both a detailed understanding of how businesses function and in-depth knowledge of information technology. The study methodology examined factors such as work environment, income, hiring outlook, physical demands, and stress and ranked computer systems analyst highly favorable on all dimensions. The BS in Business Administration with a Concentration in Management Information Systems and the MS in Information Technology and Management help prepare students for careers as systems analysts by providing the business fundamentals and IT foundation required for the profession.