Brass: We need data tags, XML

"The key to sharing information is in searching for knowledge, pulling data and tagging it so others can use it."

'Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello

Sharing information effectively requires more than using interoperable systems; it requires being able to glean knowledge from the data.

That's the opinion of many military officials, such as Brig. Gen. Mike Ennis, the Marine Corps' intelligence director, who spoke last month at a panel discussion at the Homeland Security and National Defense Symposium in Atlantic City, N.J.

'Interoperability begins at the data level, not the systems level,' Ennis said. 'Have a common language, common tagging. Data is our most important product.'

The Defense Department should take a commercial approach and follow the example of sites such as amazon.com, travelocity.com and mapquest.com, Ennis said, and the ways that they search for knowledge. Databases for these sites go into several operating systems to tag and pull information for their customers. When data is collected, it needs to be authored in Extensible Markup Language and tagged, Ennis said.

The reason these sites are successful, Ennis said, is that that they have compatible file formats and use portlets and wizards to make it easy for users to navigate the sites. They also have distributed search capabilities built in, Ennis said.

'The difference between a database and a knowledge base is that a knowledge base is written in XML and tagged so a user can [gather] the knowledge he wants,' Ennis said.

This method is a quick way to get past the interoperability problems that plague DOD. Military systems often are unable to talk to one another, and Defense agencies fare poorly in sharing information, Ennis said.

Hard lessons learned

The Sept. 11 attacks illustrated both intelligence failures and process failures in interoperability, Ennis said.

'Most of the failures are intelligence failures,' Ennis said. 'But I think it's a process failure as well. There is an unwillingness on behalf of some agencies to share information. The information was out there, but we just didn't have access to all of the data to identify the trends and do an analysis.'

The problem will be magnified in the proposed Homeland Security Department because each agency slated to make up the new office has so many databases'more than 20,000 total, Ennis said.

Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello, the Army's CIO, said DOD officials must change their thinking. DOD focuses too much on which system data belongs to, he said.

'We shouldn't worry about that,' Cuviello said. 'Knowledge is not about having all the systems talk to each other because you'll never get there. The only way to get there is for everyone to be using the same product.'

Rather than having all Defense agencies use the same products, Ennis and Cuviello said, the key to sharing information is in searching for knowledge, pulling data, and tagging it so others can find, access and use it.

'We're so fixated with systems, programs and products and then we talk about data, information and knowledge but we attack it through system interoperability,' Cuviello said.

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