Michael Daconta | Check the date on your interoperability policy
Reality Check | Commentary: Date formats are a good indicator of the maturity ' or immaturity ' of your information management practices
Is your organization's use of dates on Web sites, shared drives and content repositories in compliance with its own policy or international standards? You might want to check.
If your results match what James Peter of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory brought to my attention, you may be shocked at the lack of standardization on something that seems so simple.
The International Organization for Standardization's 8601 standard is year-month-day (YYYY-MM-DD), which allows unambiguous encoding and easy sorting by computer programs. The variants of this format are the European DD-MM-YYYY and the U.S.
MM-DD-YYYY. Because of our noncompliance with ISO 8601, the potential exists for a joint European and U.S. antiterrorist operation unable to coordinate future events or understand reports on past events.
How bad is the problem? Peter provided more than a dozen examples of bad date formats from government and other sources including the Maryland Motor Vehicle
Administration, NASA, USGS.gov, NARA.gov, FBI.gov, HHS.gov, and various commercial Web sites.
The most egregious errors in this small sample showed up on the FBI (www.fbi.gov/pressrel/pressrel.htm) and National Archives (www. archives.gov/press/press-releases) Web sites, which use only two digits to represent the year. Given that Y2K was only seven years ago, such backsliding is a clear indication that information interoperability is in jeopardy.
Date formats are a good indicator of the maturity ' or immaturity ' of your information management practices and the formality of your information production process. Even when the format is unambiguous, the amount of variation is astonishing. Here are some of the variations I found in just 10 minutes of review: 28 April 2007; September 7, 2007; 09/07/2007; Sept. 5, 2007; 9/7/2007; 10th September 2007; 06-SEP-2007; 23Aug2007.
Dates are simple, but a cursory inspection shows our compliance with the international standard to be abysmal. How can we possibly think organizations can successfully comply with complex or time-consuming data standards? And what does this tell us about imposing such standards without the ability to measure compliance?
This simple exercise illustrates why such compliance is important. Dates are critical as a search axis into your information stores.
The place to start in crafting an information discovery strategy is the interrogatives, or the five W's: who, what, when, where and why.
Dates are the 'when' axis of information discovery and thus are an easy way to improve your employees' productivity when they need time-dependent information. One proof of the value of reliable time in searching is Google's experimental addition of a timeline view to its searches: Test this by adding 'view:timeline' to a Google search.
How do we fix this situation? Sadly, relying on policy and browbeating will not cure this lapse in data standard compliance. The only reliable solution is to incorporate data standards validation into your enterprise information
creation process. What? You don't have an information creation process? Well, now you know what Step One is.
Now, whip those dates into shape.Michael Daconta, former metadata program manager at the Homeland Security Department, is chief of enterprise data management at Oberon Associates. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.