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Government agencies build stronger foundations for sharing information

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The benefits of better information sharing among departments within government agencies have long been self-evident, but difficult to achieve. Yet, significant steps are being taken to improve such sharing. Also, collaboration with entities outside the government is becoming more feasible as easier-to-use collaboration platforms emerge.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is the primary law enforcement and counterintelligence arm of the Department of the Navy. One of the missions of NCIS is to investigate Navy-related felonies. In that function, NCIS is supported by a team of special agents, forensic experts and analysts. After a case is investigated, it may move through additional steps such as judicial actions, prosecutions and corrections, which are carried out by other communities within the Navy.

Several years ago, the General Counsel of the Department of the Navy voiced concern that the information systems associated with each step did not provide comprehensive visibility throughout the life of the case. In addition, a statutory requirement for participating in the Defense Incident Based Reporting System (DIBRS) had not been implemented. Because none of the existing systems provided a sufficiently robust foundation for integrated case management or for supporting DIBRS, NCIS began exploring other solutions. After gathering requirements across all the communities involved, NCIS sought proposals and evaluated the options presented.

"The two themes that emerged were business process management vs. customer relationship management," says Rick Holgate, CIO of NCIS. "We decided that our situation was fundamentally a business process problem, because we needed to automate processes within and across communities."

InterImage, a systems integrator, proposed the Metastorm BPM Suite that was chosen. The new system, referred to as the Department of Navy Criminal Justice Information System (DONCJIS), also incorporates an Oracle database, reporting tools from Business Objects and the IDOL search engine from Autonomy. An initial prototype was tested by the stakeholders, and was subsequently refined based on lessons learned. Another round of testing is now in progress.

The diversity of the communities posed significant challenges as DONCJIS was developed. The five major groups involved are law enforcement, which is first on the scene of an incident; investigations; command actions, which determines the disposition of some cases; judicial, which prosecutes cases; and corrections. Some of the groups are small and based in a single location, while others, particularly the command actions community, are large and geographically dispersed. For most of the communities, case management is just one of many duties. Finding a single spokesperson to be the voice for a community posed challenges, and required a lot of consensus building and policy knowledge.

In addition, the complexity of the undertaking meant that a considerable amount of upfront work was needed. The communities were using a wide range of information systems that had to be reconciled, from homegrown applications driven by Microsoft Word templates to paper-based systems.

"It took a lot of time working with the various groups to get them to the point of articulating their business requirements," Holgate says. "One of the lessons learned along the way was that some groups had not gone through the process of deciding how they wanted to do business, and we needed several iterations to get there. We eventually did succeed in getting to an unambiguous set of requirements, though."

The role of the Metastorm BPM software is to move data so that it is available for each user to complete the required task, and to populate the Oracle operational data store (ODS). The ODS supplies data to the Business Objects software products that provide reporting, and delivers data to DIBRS.

"In developing this system," says Leslie Alwiel, executive consultant at InterImage, "we sought as much commonality as possible in the data model. For example, although not every user needs to see all the information about a case, everyone needs the address of the person under investigation."

The user interface pulls in the data for each action and specifies the outcome, such as a form or report. "A search function allows users entering a new case to verify that the individual’s name is not already in the system," adds Alwiel, "a capability that was not present prior to the development of DONCJIS."

After the present round of testing is completed, DONCJIS will be rolled out to the law enforcement and investigation communities. Those two communities are already working with information systems that are similar to DONCJIS.

"For the command action community, which has 39,000 users, we will have a phased implementation," Holgate explains, "so that we can verify the functionality as we go, and re-tool if needed." The judicial functions and corrections communities are much smaller, and they will be brought online early in the rollout, when DONCJIS will tie into existing systems already in use for related purposes.

Through DONCJIS, visibility for case management has been created across five major user communities. The system also integrates multiple applications, including BPM and analytics, and supports the national incident reporting system, DIBRS. In meeting those challenges, DONCJIS will achieve a sophisticated level of functionality that is difficult to attain but when successful, offers a high-value return.

Networks WIRED for success

In June 2007, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced a $65 million award to 13 regions selected for participation in a program called Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED, doleta.gov/wired). DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) launched the initiative in 2005 to integrate economic and work force development activities, and drive economic transformation throughout the United States. The first awards were made in February 2006, and a total of 39 regions are now included in the program.

One of the underlying principles of the WIRED program is to establish a wide-ranging network of public and private stakeholders, creating linkages to private industry, other government agencies and academic institutions. To support the network and foster collaboration, a variety of organizations involved with the WIRED program have begun using a Web 2.0 solution from Near-Time (near-time.net), an on-demand software product that provides wikis, blogs, event management, podcasts and other interactive features.
One of the initial uses of Near-Time was to establish communities of practice for focus areas that cut across the different WIRED regions. Typically, each region has four to six strategic focus areas, such as green manufacturing or biosciences. At boot camps where individuals came together to address those issues, information was captured and the content was posted so that people who weren’t able to attend could stay current. In addition, the Near-Time application allowed attendees to stay in touch after the meetings were held.

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