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DOD Explores Standards-based Approach to Information Sharing

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2013 – The participation this week of DOD Deputy Chief Information Officer David DeVries on a panel of information-sharing experts is an example of department efforts over several years to make its information environment relevant in the 21st century and beyond.

DeVries, deputy CIO for information enterprise and one of four deputies under DOD CIO Teresa M. Takai, summarized DOD’s nearly five years of experience with a government-wide, standards-based approach to exchanging information.

The program is called the National Information Exchange Model, or NIEM.

The panel, part of a daylong conference on the program held Nov. 6 at the National Defense University, included several NIEM experts and addressed a large physical audience and online viewers.

“Three years ago you would not have had a senior DOD person sitting up here,” DeVries said, adding that NIEM now is one of the information-sharing tools in use at DOD.

“Inside DOD we’re saying consider it first when you’re building a need to share information with somebody, because my mission partners I share information with from inside DOD are not limited to inside DOD,” the deputy CIO said.

“Anywhere we where we go, whether it’s a single person or a small team or a larger group of folks, they exchange and they share information with other partners, whether it’s other governmental agencies or groups or other civilians,” DeVries added. “We share information. It goes both ways.”

The idea for the NIEM information-sharing framework began with a group of 20 states that started working together to overcome problems they had exchanging information across state and city government boundaries, according to the NIEM.gov website.

That effort, called the Global Justice Information-Sharing Initiative, led to the creation of an interoperable model for data exchange that solved a range of information-sharing challenges across government agencies.

By 2005, the formation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, the prerelease of the Global Justice XML Data Model in 2003, and collaborative efforts by the justice and homeland security communities to produce a set of common data elements for data-exchange development and harmonization had led to the launch of NIEM.

NIEM was formally initiated in April 2005 by the CIOs of the departments of Homeland Security and Justice. In October 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services joined as NIEM’s third steward. NEIM version 1.0 was released in 2006; NIEM version 3.0 was released this week.

All 50 states and 19 federal agencies, including the Defense Department, are using NIEM at varying levels of maturity, according to NIEM.org.

“I came onto the DOD staff about four and a half years ago and in my first two months there I learned this new word called NIEM,” DeVries said. “I had to look it up and Google told me what it was, … so we’ve come a long way in my 4.5 years of how to take NIEM and mature it.”

NIEM is not the only information-sharing mechanism DOD uses, the deputy CIO added, “but it’s a great toolkit for all of us.”

The hard work now, DeVries said, is taking the framework and making the information sharing happen.

“It’s kind of like … whatever your smart phone is, when I get an app today I’m amazed the app is on the phone,” he said. “I’m even more amazed that the app knows how to find my bank account and my deposits. How it did that I don’t know, but there’s a whole rich framework and schema behind it that allowed that to happen.”

In fact, according to a video on the NIEM.gov website by NIEM Executive Director Donna Roy, NIEM can be compared with many standards found in the banking industry, which standardized its exchanges for credit cards so no matter where cards or ATM cards are issued, they can be used anywhere in the world.

It’s similar for DOD, for cross-jurisdictional information moving back and forth among discrete exchanges within DOD or between DOD and its partners in law enforcement, natural disaster assistance, health, cyber, military forces, chemical and biological threats, and other communities.

At DOD, DeVries said, even after nearly five years of experience with NIEM, he and his team are still learning.

“There are a lot of you smart folks out there who live this data stuff day in and day out,” the deputy CIO told the audience. “But it’s the business people who have to take that and put it into the language that gets us a capability on the street. That’s our challenge.”

 

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