Ontrack for payback

The federal government is singularly adept at creating information about a seemingly endless variety of topics. It routinely gathers certain data, such as economic or health statistics, to help develop policy. It also carefully preserves an assortment of records for historical reasons. In those cases, the purpose for collecting and keeping the information is predetermined and seldom strays from its narrow mission.

But like all large, complex organizations, the government also generates tremendous amounts of information as a byproduct of its daily operations. E-mails, inventory lists, visitor counts, equipment maintenance reports, spending records — the list goes on and on. Some information is captured, if only temporarily, while much of it is not.

Now there is a growing awareness that some of this information can be used — if identified, harnessed and placed in the proper context — to help the government operate more effectively. In fact, that is the aim of a group of analytical and information-sharing technologies known as business intelligence and knowledge management systems.

The government is no stranger to these products, having invested millions of dollars in them during the past few years alone. How to get more out of those investments is the focus of this special report.

We will explore several ways to do this in the two stories that follow and in a final story next week. The first story looks at the growing practice of applying the powerful data integration and analysis capabilities of business intelligence software to help meet the performance goals of the President's Management Agenda.

In the second story, we present practical advice based on real agency experience for getting workers to use the knowledge management systems that are cropping up across government.

In next week's issue, we will look at an emerging set of solutions for cost-effectively storing so-called fixed content, such as e-mail messages and reports.

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