Information Sharing

5 ways feds can interoperate

OFPP head Joe Jordan

A new report from ACT/IAC contends that better standards for information sharing can save dollars, encourage telework and more.

An industry group has suggested five ways for agencies to share information in compatible formats to improve data and cooperation while saving some money too.

In a new report, the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council argues that the government can share information seamlessly, save money, share more services, and reduce duplication. It just needs to improve its strategic acquisition and management processes by considering interoperability early in a project’s lifecycle.

"Standards are at the heart of ensuring successful strategic acquisitions for interoperability," according to the report, titled "Responsible Information Sharing: Engaging Industry to Improve Standards-Based Acquisition and Interoperability."

The authors, part of the ACT-IAC Collaboration and Transformation Shared Interest Group's Information Sharing Committee, recommended that government officials:

  1. Focus on repeatable and streamlined governance for interoperability standards all agencies can use.
  2. Articulate their vision for how the government will achieve interoperability and the standards that will enable it. They should offer a common taxonomy and a mechanism by which agencies can align their investments with the interoperability roadmap.
  3. Reuse previously tested standards that have been piloted in certain mission areas or on IT platforms. A certified standard will minimize risk to agencies. Once tested, officials should then launch the standards on a broader scale.
  4. Clearly define the requirements and the potential return on investment during the strategic planning phase of an acquisition. Officials should also incorporate appropriate evaluation criteria and language into contracts. The point is to make vendors aware of how the agency will evaluate them against building standards into their products interfaces.
  5. Train employees. "One of the most important resources that all agencies possess is its workforce, and a well-trained and informed workforce is vital to the success of the standards implementation process," according to the report.

Kshemendra Paul, program manager for the Information Sharing Environment, said the strategy is to look at interoperability holistically and tackle it early in the acquisition process.

"The biggest driver for interoperability is mission fulfillment -- being able to responsibly share information with adequate safeguards," he said in a Nov. 15 interview.

Paul said he expects interoperability to bring agencies new efficiencies, formalizing requirements for information sharing at the start of a project and, later on down the road, finding solutions in industry that have a greater degree of operability built into them.

On top of saving money, agencies may be able to allow more federal employees to telework as systems begin to connect, Kathleen Turco, associate administrator of governmentwide policy at the General Services Administration, said in an interview. This element would address another key component of federal CIO Steven VanRoekel's mobility strategy.

Because of the mobility strategy, "this becomes even more important in terms of the responsible information sharing and ensuring that we have the standards and they're in place and being used," Turco said. She noted that the government is realigning its workspace and more federal employees are teleworking, which makes standardization even more critical.

The report lays out a number of recommended changes, such as developing cross-agency standards -- a short-term project -- and providing industry with incentives for using the standards and engaging with government on accomplishing the interoperability initiative -- a long-term goal.

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