Data architecture finds a home

Interior Enterprise Architecture

Many people are perplexed about the importance of an enterprise architecture data reference model, but Interior Department officials are demonstrating how such a model can improve operations.

Office of Management and Budget officials released the first volume of a governmentwide data reference model in October. Previously, Interior officials had been working on a pilot version of the federal data reference model.

As an example of how other federal officials could improve their data-sharing efforts, Interior officials find themselves as the center of interest for creating Recreation One-Stop, the success of which rests on the underlying pilot model. Recreation One-Stop is a Web-based reservation system for the national park system.

Interior officials learned to start small and expand in increments as opportunities and funding permit, said Suzanne Acar, Interior's chief data architect. Reaching consensus on data exchange, as Interior officials did, means that agencies that collect the same information and perform identical or similar functions can achieve significant savings — for example, by consolidating duplicative data-collection systems.

But getting a roomful of people to agree on basic data definitions or shutting down existing data-collection systems is difficult, said Charlie Grymes, Interior's Recreation One-Stop project manager. Take defining a trail, for example. Is it difficult or easy for hiking? Paved or unpaved? If it is a gravel trail, does that mean it is paved or unpaved? Grymes said such questions must be answered when a department implements a data reference model.

Interior officials first identified five business areas within the department and focused on finding data they had in common. As officials discovered common data requirements in the various business areas, the people responsible for the data were called together to reach agreement on a standard, Acar said. Those data standards became part of the reference model.

As a result of their efforts in four business areas — financial management, recreation, wildfires and law enforcement — Interior officials estimate that they can eliminate 100 redundant systems during the next three years and save millions of dollars.

But for Interior and other agencies to achieve those savings, officials must be convinced that their business processes aren't unique, said Fred Collins, senior enterprise architect in IBM Global Services' Federal Division. IBM is the architecture subcontractor for Interior.

Interior's data architects found that, despite initial resistance, the department's law enforcement organizations could run 85 percent of their operations on shared information systems, he said.

In retrospect, Interior officials said they would have benefited from having access to a standard dictionary for certain types of data. "There's no reason why Recreation should create the address data standard. We should be a user of some federal data dictionary that provides us the standards," Grymes said. "The failure to have federal data standards causes us to spiral or circle rather than to go forward."

Dividends from standards

Interior Department officials expect significant savings from eliminating redundant information systems during the next three years — a direct result of adopting a data reference model.

The following are among the lessons Interior's data architects have learned:

* Start with small steps and expand efforts as opportunities and funds become available.

* Use persuasion to convince agency officials that their business processes and data are not unique.

* Set up governance procedures for assigning responsibility for data standards and reusable business component software.

— David Perera

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