COIs: Too much of a good thing?

Some say the proliferation of communities of interest could stymie information sharing

DOD’s Community of Interest paper

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Growth in the number of communities of interest created to improve information sharing at the Defense Department shows no sign of slowing. Some DOD leaders welcome the phenomenon, but others say having too many groups could result in competing standards.

“The growth in the number of communities of interest is a problem we want right now,” said Michael Krieger, director of information management at DOD’s Office of the Chief Information Officer. “We haven’t decided yet what the appropriate number of COIs is. We are letting the market do its work.”

The office created electronic COIs for sharing intelligence information associated with specific missions. For instance, groups are developing data standards for situational awareness, global command and control, and other activities. 

Krieger said he expects that as the number of COIs grows, some will find sufficient commonality to merge with one another, which would reduce the number of competing groups. Some consolidation has already begun, he added.

However, a report released earlier this year by the multiagency Cross-Domain Semantic Interoperability Working Group is less enthusiastic. The report states that DOD’s data-sharing strategy has led to a proliferation of COIs and competition among them — a situation that could require DOD to map dozens of data models to one another.

“The Army may end up with 100 or more data models, even with strong governance to limit the number,” the report states. The group concluded that mapping the various models could require as many as 9,900 interfaces.

“Even if only 10 percent of the mappings were needed, it would still be too many, and this does not include interfaces with external systems,” the report states.

Krieger countered the report’s conclusions by saying the COIs are doing good work and making significant progress toward DOD’s goal of information interoperability. He said major elements of that progress include a Universal/Common Core information exchange schema and the COIs’ work on developing common sets of functional semantics.

“The common core provides what, when and where data,” Krieger said. “That’s 80 percent of the information we need to put steel on a target.” The common core is not yet mandatory for the department’s COIs, but he expects it will be later this year.

Michael Gorman, president of Whitemarsh Information Systems, an information technology consulting firm, said data interoperability “can only be implemented by communities of interest because those are the functional groups.”

Krieger said DOD faces huge obstacles to achieving data interoperability, but the obstacles are mostly cultural rather than technical.

“We are using some neat technologies,” he said, including RSS feeds and Web services to alert users to the availability of data assets.

Buxbaum is a freelance writer in Bethesda, Md.
A blueprint for COI governanceA report on communities of interest from the Defense Department’s Office of the Chief Information Officer recommends an organizational structure for managing COIs.

Its proposed structure includes:
  • An executive board to promote and receive high-level buy-in for COI activities.
  • A steering committee to ensure that appropriate stakeholders participate in working groups.
  • A demonstration working group to define the technical approach to sharing data assets.
  • A data management working group to define the COI’s shared vocabulary by developing data structures, definitions, models and other forms of metadata.
  • A joint implementation working group to recommend a schedule for deploying data standards.
— Peter Buxbaum

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