Teamwork pays off for government and industry
Partnerships between public and private sectors improve the range of services available to citizens and make efficient use of resources.
About 200,000 people leave the military each year, and many face difficulties when transitioning back to civilian life. They may have medical or housing needs, or require job training to become employable. Each branch of the military provides resources to assist with the transition, but they may not encompass all the services military personnel require to experience a successful transition. The Warrior Gateway is a portal that integrates information about a wide variety of resources that can help with the transition process. In addition, the site provides a venue in which users can offer their evaluation of the resources they have used, to aid others in making choices.
The concept for the Warrior Gateway emerged from discussions led by Business Executives for National Security (BENS), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting national security through public/private partnerships and other initiatives. Once the concept was defined, BENS spoke with many agencies and non-profit organizations to determine the best approach. “The Warrior Gateway is designed to complement government programs,” says its executive director, Devin Holmes. “We did not want to reinvent or duplicate existing programs, but to meet the need for a one-stop site where returning military staff could explore many options and share their insights.”
A key element of the design was a strong social component. “The average age of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is mid-20s,” Holmes says. “This group lives in the social space—it’s how they find resources, whether it’s a restaurant or a consumer product.” The ability to leverage the business model of Yelp or Amazon, in which feedback is readily available, was therefore a must in the portal design. In addition, geographic information system (GIS) data, such as provided by Google maps, about where the service is located was considered essential.
Those requirements in turn pointed to the need for a robust integration capability. For that, the Warrior Gateway turned to MarkLogic, which offered its purpose-built database for unstructured information to store and present the content. MarkLogic imports the information and converts it to XML. As a result, many different forms of input can be presented. For example, large national organizations such as The American Red Cross have listings of their local offices in spreadsheet format, which is converted into XML and rendered in HTML on the Web site. Other service providers make their information accessible from a database. Organizations that visit the Web site and want to be listed can enter their contact information and description in a form that is stored in the MarkLogic database and then displayed immediately.
Using a community-based model allows each organization to retain ownership of its listing information, and also requires a proactive approach for updating. “Managing the information is a huge issue,” Holmes says, “but we think the grass-roots model works best.” The user community provides feedback on the quality of the services, and also offers suggestions for modifications to the site. Right now, service providers can view the evaluations by their customers on the Warrior Gateway site. “We are working toward notifying the service providers proactively when comments are made,” Holmes adds.
Because the site is funded privately, it is not subject to all the restrictions that would apply if it were an official government site. “We can be a bit more agile, and offer options that would be difficult to incorporate into a site run by the military,” Holmes explains. “Our ultimate goal is to present information about a large group of resources, and use social media to help people make as smooth a transition as possible back into civilian society.” Funding comes from corporate sponsors and donations, and many of the sponsors also donate in-kind services or products.
Use of the MarkLogic database offers another benefit in addition to the ability to integrate information from diverse sources: powerful search capability. “The search engine is integrated with the repository,” says Enrique Alonso, senior director for government solutions at MarkLogic, “and makes effective use of the rich metadata associated with XML.” If geo-coordinates are associated with a document, MarkLogic can index it to do a database-style query combined with a full text search. Constraints such as “within 20 miles of this location” can be added, which is helpful to the Warrior Gateway users who want to find a service provider near their residence.