CIOs mull standards

If agencies want to build systems that can communicate across bureaucratic boundaries to improve services to the public a set of information technology standards must be agreed upon federal chief information officers said last week.

"The road to interoperability will be paved by a few agreed upon standards and conventions " said S.W. "Woody" Hall CIO with the Energy Department during the IT Exchange Forum a panel discussion sponsored by the General Services Administration that was broadcast by satellite. Hall said the government will not be able to build compatible systems by mandating that all agencies use specific technologies.

Agencies need systems that can share data to achieve the Clinton administration's goals of streamlining federal operations and making it easier for the public to do business with government agencies. The federal CIO Council has made interoperability a top priority but has only just begun to study the problem.

Anne Thompson Reed CIO with the Agriculture Department and the chairwoman of the CIO Council's interoperability subcommittee said agencies need to agree on an architecture or framework that they will use to build compatible systems. With more industry-standard products becoming available in the marketplace creating a common computing environment is less likely to be a problem in the future she said.

A subgroup of the subcommittee has started to consider what standards could be used for gateways to agency systems and for document exchanges. Although the Internet will play some role in creating a common IT infrastructure for the government what that role would be exactly has yet to be determined Reed said.

Agencies also "need to better clarify what information needs to be shared " Reed said and improve their business processes so they can work together more easily.

Hall noted that agencies tend to think their information is useful only to them. "We don't think about it with a commodity view that this information should be shared " he said. "We need to establish this corporate viewpoint."

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