Blueprint in the works to erase government walls
- By John Monroe
- Jun 04, 2001
The emerging customer-oriented approach to e-government has given new impetus
to a 2-year-old federally funded project designed to improve information
sharing across federal, state and local government boundaries.
The initiative, funded by the U.S. Office of Justice Programs and managed
by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (formerly
the National Association of State Information Resource Executives), began
as an effort to make it easier for law enforcement agencies at all levels
of government to exchange data electronically.
But the pressure to give the public easy access to information and services
across government boundaries is pushing other agencies to share information
So NASCIO is taking a step back and focusing on the design of the underlying
networks that make information sharing possible. The state organization
recently took bids to develop a template that agencies might use in designing
their networks and systems.
The template essentially should incorporate the design principles and
technical standards "that you ignore at your peril if you want to be effective
at digital government or the national sharing of information," said Gerry
Wethington, chairman of NASCIO's information architecture committee and
chief information officer of Missouri.
NASCIO officials describe the template as an adaptive enterprisewide
architecture. An information technology architecture is like a blueprint
for developing an organization's IT backbone. The template, then, is a blueprint
for developing blueprints. "Adaptive" is key because the template must be
able to support a wide variety of applications, and it must be applicable
as technology changes.
The template will not define the inner workings of networks and systems
that agencies build. Rather, it will focus on how those systems integrate
with others. Ideally, if governments develop their networks and systems
using the same template, they will have an easier time making their systems
work together, Wethington said.
No agency will be required to use the template, but NASCIO believes
e-government provides a compelling incentive, particularly because of the
latest efforts to design customer-friendly Web portals.
Customer-friendly means organizing a Web site based on how people look
for services, rather than on which agencies are delivering those services.
The integration of information and services at the design level requires
integrating information from different government systems behind the screen.
That's why architecture is so important, said Bob Greeves, a policy adviser
and independent consultant working with the Office of Justice Programs.
Like the blueprint for a building, "you want somebody to lay down all
the different pieces so you can make it mesh," Greeves said. "This is going
to be the framework for allowing water to flow through the pipes and electricity
to flow through the lines."
The Justice program, now a subset of the architecture project, will
be the first test case for translating information architectures into actual
data exchanges. But NASCIO plans to expand the project into other disciplines,
such as education, transportation and health and human services, Wethington
In some cases, agencies will not want to share information because of
privacy concerns, said Carol Kelly, vice president and services director
for electronic government strategies at META Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn.,
consulting firm. But "you want to build that adaptability [into your architecture]
so that when you want to share information, you can," she said.
NASCIO plans to unveil the template at its conference in September.
But while NASCIO hopes to test the concept on a limited basis during
the next year, it will take many more years to bring it to fruition because
of its complexity, Greeves said.
"We are making headway, but it's not going to be fully implemented nationwide
for decades, probably," he said. Still, "our motto is "progress is more
important than perfection.' "Finding common ground
The National Association of State Chief Information Officers asked bidders
to explain their proposals for an adaptive enterprisewide architecture in
Detail the significance of technology architecture in a digital government
Present the business case for adopting architecture within government.
Use anecdotal stories where the value of architecture has been demonstrated.
Use parallel environments in the presentation of architecture — for
example, the standardization of railroad gauges that support cross-country
Create a pictorial framework presenting the entire architectural
Develop a lexicon of terms specific to the architecture.