Innovation Tour

So Much Innovation, So Little Time

Ever think that progress is moving ever faster in today’s world—that technology is taking us places faster than our imaginations can envision? Well, our Innovation Tour Panel in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday not only reinforced the truth of that notion, but threw in a few even bigger ideas. Our topic was how Enterprise Information Management enables agencies to better perform their missions and we heard of many agencies finding that to be true. If it wasn’t clear that the value of convergence is a reality in every aspect of technology and information before the session, then Data.gov Evangelist Jeanne Holm and CGI Federal COO Toni Townes-Whitley made it brilliantly obvious. They wove a persuasive message into a glorious tapestry of real-life examples from government agencies. And these examples all improve government performance by opening up information within, between, and among agencies and with stakeholders, including citizens and businesses. Jeanne’s exhortation to organize data for “open by default” (consistent with the new Executive Order on Open Data), restricting only what is needed, and including rich metadata for both internal use and search and eventual publication—set the tone for the session. Toni followed up, advocating digitizing and integrating information from multiple sources and citing the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of the ESRI geospatial platform to pull data from Department of Education school information, Health and Human Services’ cancer statistics, and Census’ population data to overlay on EPA’s maps of Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) locations to enable investigating relationships to chemical leaks, cancer rates, and impacted population centers. The potential of such analyses for public health is huge. In noting the concerns of agency staff that their data is not ready to be open because of known limitations, Jeanne proffered the fearless efforts of USAID leaders who, when faced with releasing questionable data sets, used crowdsourcing , recruiting 147 volunteers, to “true up” the data. Her own home agency, NASA, found that exposing data even across their agency help turn up instances of data duplication. Perhaps you, like me, have found that just asking questions about significant changes in data reported regularly turns up either mistakes or thoughtful analysis. Well, that’s just what these efforts reveal, too, and they broaden our perspectives as well. As Toni pointed out, multi-layered data mashups help you ask new questions and think about government information as a broader ecosystem—not just one program or stovepipe, not just one agency, not just federal, but across an agency, across government and with citizens – bringing them all into the mix. Such expanding horizons are already leading to international initiatives such as License2Share, Toni noted, a CGI and OpenText partnership in Norway between government regulators and the oil and gas industry. It’s based on a joint venture (JV) license sharing solution among industry partners for permit application and maintenance. The L2S platform hosts 40 clients, sharing information across 8 countries, 4 continents, and with 7,500 unique administrators. It promotes collaboration, is scalable, and flexible enough to accommodate legislative change. At an even broader and more human level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has partnered with the UK government and others across the globe to offer farming and nutrition data to assist farmers through the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition < http://godan.info/> initiative, particularly in underdeveloped countries. In practical terms, Jeanne emphasized, this data can now enable a farmer on the hillside to treat his sick cow with information via SMS from the village phone. What do all these new possibilities mean for CIOs, no longer safely hidden behind infrastructure? Do they mean that, finally, CIOs must actually understand how their agencies work to accomplish mission activities and provide the technology that can contribute to quicker and better outcomes? Well, that answer is obvious. Toni mentioned that CIOs need to have new skills, ask more questions, ask not tell; and curiosity is the first step. They need to frame the vision of the future, think about how the types of questions will be different over the coming 10 years. And that’s already happening. We’ve seen beginnings in PortfolioStat’s efforts to pull the C-suite operating executives into agency IT prioritization. In keeping with those insights, Jeanne noted, the Air Force CIO is taking a more mission-centric approach to defining Enterprise Architecture and to predictive analysis as well. The panel’s comments clearly demonstrated the value of enterprise information management for an enterprise of any size and complexity. Opening up data opens up new horizons and minds along the way. And linking and sharing it across enterprises from agencies to global stakeholder conglomerates enables both actionable analytics and improved outcomes. So, we’re not quite to world peace yet but, with EIM, we’re inching closer. Our panelists’ final advice made that clear. From Jeanne: “Be Brave; Share Data—June 1 is the National Day of Civic Hacking; Get Involved.” From Toni: “Think Big, Be Big, and Show Up Big!” Definitely, EIM is helping us all see the BIG Picture.

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