Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Government Open Data Success Via Information Sharing, Enterprise Architecture and Data Assets

The title of this article is quite a mouthful, and three very complex and broadly-scoped disciplines mashed together. But that's what's happening all over, isn't it, driven by consumer demand on their iPhones - mashing and manipulating information that's managed to leak through the risk-adverse, highly-regulated mantle of the government's secure data cocoon, and instantly sharing it for further rendering, visualization or actual, productive use. Mostly a "pull" style information flow, at best constrained or abstracted by public sector Enterprise Architecture (EA) methods and models - at worst, simply denied.
This demand for open data, however, is rapidly exposing both opportunities and challenges within government information-sharing environments, behind the firewall - in turn a fantastic opportunity and challenge for the Enterprise Architects and Data Management organizations.
The recent "Open Data Policy" compels US Federal agencies to make as much non-sensitive, government-generated data as possible available to the public, via open standards in data structures (for humans and machine-readable), APIs (application programming interfaces) and browser-accessible functions. The public (including commercial entities) in turn can use this data to create new information packages and applications for all kinds of interesting and sometimes critical uses - from monitoring the health of public parks to predicting the arrival of city buses, or failure of city lights.
But there isn't an "easy" button. And, given the highly-regulated and tremendously complex nature of integrated, older government systems and their maintenance contracts - significant internal change is very difficult, to meet what amounts to a "suggested" and unfunded (but with long-term ROI) mandate, without much in the way of clear and measurable value objectives.
That doesn't mean there aren't whole bunches of citizens and government employees ready, willing and enthusiastic about sharing information and ideas that clearly deliver tangible, touchable public benefit. Witness the recent "Open Data Day DC", a yearly hackathon in the District of Columbia for collaborating on using open data to solve local DC issues, world poverty, and other open government challenges. Simply sharing information in ways that weren't part of the original systems integration requirements or objectives has become a very popular - and in fact expected behavior - of the more progressive and (by necessity) collaborative agencies - such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  

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