Sprehe: Embracing data

New Air Force information management policy is a step toward preserving institutional memory

The Air Force has issued a broad new policy directive on information management that could be the implementing mechanism for the Defense Department’s network-centric data strategy.

Air Force Policy Directive 33-3: Information Management stipulates that the Air Force will manage all information as assets according to life cycle principles. Information asset management (IAM) combines data management, document and records management, workflow, and multimedia and publications management into one discipline.

Timothy Sprehe The Air Force was motivated to adopt IAM after realizing that it was creating digital landfills. The idea that storage is cheap and that we should save everything has produced more than 7 petabytes of Air Force data stored at an annual cost that exceeds $400 million. The service retrieves only a small percentage of that data once it is stored. It recognized that the save-everything mentality could mean housing an ever-bigger stream of data inside an expensive rathole.

IAM is a policy framework for creating, maintaining, accessing and disposing of information assets, with a particular focus on the use of those assets to support warfighters. According to the policy, someone must specify, at the point the data is created,  how long the data will be kept and how it will be disposed of. Both specifications are necessary, whether or not the data is an official record. If nothing else, IAM should make Air Force records managers’ jobs much easier.

As in a net-centric data strategy, IAM also places a strong emphasis on metadata as a mechanism for discovering and retrieving information. The service’s chief information officer’s office has made significant progress in automated metadata tagging. The creation and registering of metadata could soon become a function of software and expert systems rather than human intervention.

The CIO’s office has an enterprisewide implementation plan for IAM that should be in place in the coming months. And that plan could be a model for how DOD implements its net-centric data strategy issued in 2003. Other military services and components like the IAM approach, and their interest would be welcome. The DOD net-centric data strategy has languished as a theory without a viable practice.

The Air Force IAM strategy is fundamentally sound. The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, a foundation for federal information policy and the basis of Office of Management and Budget Circular A-130, establishes that information is a valuable resource, and agencies should manage it according to life cycle principles.

In formulating IAM, the Air Force has grounded itself in this thinking and has reinvented the Paperwork Reduction Act in a 21st-century context. The terms differ slightly from the information resources management language of 25 years ago, but the principles are identical.

Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at jtsprehe@jtsprehe.com.

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