Another View: DOD systems should be built on data standards

Robert J. Osborn II

Defense Department CIO John P. Stenbit recently acknowledged that Web services won't advance data interoperability until DOD has a metadata registry.

Without departmentwide standards, the military services and DOD agencies cannot import and process the data displayed by Web services in their separate systems.

Wrapping data with Extensible Markup Language tags makes reports and briefings viewable by everyone. But XML will not allow source data from one user domain to be integrated with the source data of another. For example, information about supply transport can be displayed in XML and viewed by multiple planners. Yet when one of them tries to move the supplies around, the XML data cannot generate scheduling, documentation or billing.

The result? Users must transfer data manually from one system to others. This conundrum applies to other agencies, too. XML works fine for planning and generating reports, but when the time comes for execution, the source data will not integrate.

I am convinced that Web-centric enterprises are the way to go. But first, we need data standards to achieve DOD-wide interoperability. Even XML tags must be mapped to a central tag library that uses standard definitions. If we have the discipline to establish and maintain an XML tag library at DOD, why not an enterprise data standards library? By not having one, aren't we merely spreading the lack of data standardization to another technology'XML Web services?
The question really is: Which IT business model should DOD follow?

If we view DOD as a confederation of groups, competing for financial resources but independent in business processes and IT architectures, then our XML Web services could follow the business-to-business model.

But this is an incorrect business model for Defense. Integrating the data environment requires a board-of-directors approach. In other words, hardware and data standards must let information flow across an enterprise with little manual intervention.

Industry has two views of IT:
  • An external view where information is shared via the Internet with customers, partners and competitors in business transactions, while proprietary internal information is protected by XML Web services display

  • An internal view with data integrated so that the operations staff can share it with finance, supply, shipping, production and so on.

  • Integration happens when corporate hardware, software and data standards apply to every unit'the board-of-directors model. Segregating the data gives the enterprise control over the information that will be shared externally for business transactions. XML-tagged data cannot be taken into a competing group's IT systems to produce documentation.

    That is exactly what DOD services and agencies must do to project military force.

    The B2B model views DOD services and agencies as competitors; the systems approach integrates data across the whole enterprise. DOD is currently mixing these models by perceiving itself as a single corporation while trying to apply the B2B Web services tools for internal data interoperability. DOD is not a consortium of competing businesses that displays trading information. It is a complex corporation of supporting divisions that requires integrated information.

    Until the department views itself as a multilevel corporation with an IT strategy, the individual services and agencies will continue to see themselves as competing for their own budgets and agendas.

    Robert J. Osborn II is acting chief of the Strategic Mobility Division at Army headquarters' G4 Force Projection and Distribution Directorate.

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