Using a Standards-Based Approach to Deliver the Information Sharing Environment
I think we can all agree that sharing information is a good thing, but can also present a challenge. Do you and I speak the same language? Do we agree on terminology; do we both mean the same thing when we say the same term? Do we agree on how we’ll share information and in what format? For government agencies needing to share a wealth of information, especially sensitive information that helps keep everyone safe from modern threats, this is an especially critical challenge. OMG organized a workshop in October at the White House Conference Center in Washington, DC, USA to address the challenges of defining an Information Sharing Environment (ISE). The event was focused on the use of the global community of standards organizations as leverage. Several countries manage a very important anti-terrorism mission, spanning Defense, Intelligence, Homeland Security, Foreign Affairs and Law Enforcement. An Information Sharing Environment is not just about US Federal initiatives, but state/provincial, Federal/national and international initiatives involving many governments and as well as inter-governmental organizations like United Nations and NATO.
We were fortunate to have the participation of representatives from several prominent organizations (see the end of this post for some photos), including:
- The U.S. Government’s Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment, a unit of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (PM-ISE), – Mr. Kshemendra Paul
- National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) Program Management Office (PMO) – Ms. Donna Roy
- OMG – John Butler (representing the OMG Government Domain Task Force), other OMG leaders like Mike Abramson, Bob Daniel, Joe Bugajski, Probal DasGupta and Cory Casanave, and myself
- Integrated Justice Information System (IJIS) – Steve Ambrosini
- Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) – Mary Forbes & Doug Fridsma
The outcome of the workshop was a set of four recommendations:
- Immediately Leverage Existing Standards
- Prohibit “Data Lock Down”
- Drive Standards
- Build Community
IMMEDIATELY LEVERAGE EXISTING STANDARDS – NIEM IEPD – Definitions provide the centerpiece of the semantics of DHS/ISE/DOJ data interchange. The articulation of the work already done in support of NIEM by the NIEM PMO, IJIS, HHS, DoD and others, including other standards development organizations (SDOs), can be further formalized and enhanced in portability and interoperability by applying a number of OMG standards, in particular:
- Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR) – Defines the vocabulary and rules for documenting the semantics of business vocabularies, business facts, and business rules using natural language (English), which is also computer consumable. SBVR facilitates the sharing of information between domains with common concepts, but differing vocabularies.
- Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN™) Release 2.0 – Defines the method and visualization for capturing business process models in support of business process reengineering and business service development and orchestration. Like SBVR, BPMN is also computer consumable. BPMN readily links business vocabularies and business rules, is well aligned to SBVR and BMM and supports defining the roles and responsibilities for information sharing. DoD has already established the BPMN 2.0 Analytic Conformance Class to ensure standard usage of BPM techniques and representations.
- Model Driven Message Interoperability™ (MDMI™) – Automates interoperability among disparate systems by providing the ability to define standardized maps for message format owners allowing message transformation to diverse environments (Very successfully applied to the Finance Industry with its diverse payments systems, in energy trading, and other arenas). MDMI provides a declarative, model-driven mechanism to perform message data transformation – not only to handle the movement of data between different message formats, but also to support versioning by providing a mechanism to map information between a new and an older version of the same message. Thus, MDMI can help reduce the barriers that prevent the introduction of new versions of NIEM and other messages and thereby greatly reduce the cost of change and providing a mechanism to for transition to NIEM by organizations not currently using NIEM as their primary messaging capability. Along with SBVR, MDMI provides a very powerful way to declare and operationalize interoperability between systems.
- Business Motivation Metamodel (BMM) – Is used for scenario planning and requirements realization. It has been used in the Metamodel for Performance-Driven Government (MPG) sponsored by the OMB and in standardization processes at OMG. BMM provides a structure for developing, communicating, and managing operational plans in an organized manner and will be very useful in the development of NIEM IEPDs.
- Unified Modeling Language™ (UML®) – Provides capabilities through which the semantics and structure of a domain (e.g., DOJ, DHS, etc.) can be captured in a Platform Independent representation. The model can then be mapped to one or many Platform Specific Models and Architectures (e.g., Web Services, XML, Java, C++, SOA, Cloud computing models), allowing for NIEM implementations that are designed once and implemented using multiple platform technologies. In addition, the large ecosystem of UML tool providers and vendors can be mobilized into service in support of NIEM IEPD development through a standard NIEM profile that will essentially provide a UML Specific language for NIEM and IEPD definition within UML tools, overnight creating a large NIEM tool ecosystem.
- Meta Object Facility (MOF™) and the XML Model Interchange Standards (XMI®) – Assure that models developed for NIEM will be portable across many modeling tools assuring vendor independence and re-usability by providing the portable & interoperable underpinnings for UML based tools.
PROHIBIT “DATA LOCK DOWN” – “Data Independence,” also sometimes called “data interoperability” or “data portability” is a lynchpin of most efforts at technologically-enabled data sharing and, equally important, of technologies to protect privacy and civil liberties. There was broad agreement among and between participating government leaders and industry representatives that standards and technologies enabling such data independence must be acquired, implemented, encouraged, and further developed. Conversely, technologies, standards, policies, and commercial business practices that discourage or prevent such data independence must be prohibited: in standards development and implementation; in federal acquisition regulations; and in federal contracting requirements. Software and other products whose purveyors seek to “lock down” departments and agencies’ own data – though, e.g., the use of proprietary xml or other coding or through license restrictions or other restrictive business practices – attempt to prevent data from being portable from one type of analytical platform, technology, or software, to others, should be prohibited to the greatest extent possible. There was wide agreement also, including among industry competitors participating in the conference, that implementation of a “level playing field” across the federal government, so that technologies can robustly compete but not by attempting to lock down customer data, should also be advanced as quickly as possible. The PM/ISE’s office, the NIEM program, OMB, ODNI, and other key USG entities, should work immediately with industry leaders to develop federal acquisition standards, contract clauses, and other methods to ensure that these goals are met as rapidly as possible. Specifically, there was agreement that the federal government should:
- Modify procurement and acquisition rules to require that all government customer data always remain fully transferable and interoperable regardless of what new or legacy software or other platforms are used;
- Ensure that Requests for Proposal and other government contracting vehicles prohibit any technological, licensing, or other means to “lock down” customer data;
- Include in such contracting vehicles a 90-day demonstration period to ensure that promised data independence/interoperability is actually delivered, with the ability to void the contract if the technology fails in this regard; and
- Ensure the government’s ability to void any procurement contracts if the required degree of data independence/interoperability is not actually delivered.
DRIVE STANDARDS – Standards organizations derive their agenda from that of their participants; therefore it is critical that PM-ISE, the NIEM PMO, OMG and other stakeholders in information sharing participate in standards efforts. Standards accelerate innovation rather than impede it; participation stimulates directed innovation in support of the mission. It is important to direct efforts toward the solution of ISE challenges.
- Immediate standard focus: UML Profile for NIEM – OMG's UML provides the capability of defining other modeling syntaxes through its profiling mechanism. The definition of this standard would provide the immediate benefit of making any of the many UML tools a NIEM modeling tool for defining IEPDs. While there already exists such a profile, it has not been standardized and, therefore, isn’t widely supported in the UML ecosystem.
- Immediate standard focus: MDMI reference dictionary for NIEM – As noted, MDMI provides an interoperability mechanism for diverse protocols, but it requires a shared reference index or dictionary; in the case of NIEM, it already exists, as the NIEM Domain Models and IEPDs already developed constitute a shared model. Capturing this as a standard will make the transition to automated information sharing much faster.
- Intermediate focus: OMG is in the process of defining the standards for a policy-based messaging Information Exchange Framework (IEF) whose architecture includes a Policy Vocabulary, a Policy Manager, and Policy Enforcement Capability. The IEF will allow for the creation of alternative implementations that retain NIEM-based interoperability while ensuring that local privacy and security considerations are maintained.
- Long-term focus: Led by the NIEM PMO, with significant support by the PM-ISE, join relevant standards organizations that support data modeling, automated data translation and data security, and drive them to specific results that are of value to ISE and NIEM. Examples are OMG, W3C, and ISO. OMG maintains strong liaison relationships with those organizations and many more.
BUILD COMMUNITY – Starting with the attendees at the workshop, build a Community of Practice dedicated to sharing ideas and rapidly solving problems as they come up in the information-sharing arena:
- Leverage this group – We have a great start in building a diverse community of government, industry, standards development organizations, vendors, and academia by bringing together PM-ISE, the NIEM PMO, OMG, IJIS, HHS and other organizations in the workshop already held; this existing group will be maintained as a discussion group for future problem-solving and for the identification of new or revised standards. It should be expanded as necessary to include organizations that have not yet moved to NIEM, but are considering doing so, and organizations that have significant lessons learned that should be considered. This will be accomplished through additional regularly scheduled workshops, which OMG will develop and manage.
- International Standards Community – OMG is an ISO PAS (fast track) organization as well as having long experience in supporting ecosystems with Communities of Practice.
- Open Source Community – Support and drive the development of open source solutions for standards that can be used in government and elsewhere to implement information sharing solutions. Eclipse Foundation stands out as a great place to start. Eclipse is a well-established open source group and has a full stack of OMG compliant modeling tools that can support PM-ISE and NIEM PMO objectives in information sharing, standards-based tools development, SOA and Cloud Computing. An addition important community and resource is ModelDriven.org, which is focused specifically on open-source implementations of modeling tools.
- Practitioner Community – Build awareness among and equip the NIEM practitioner community in applying these standards, in leveraging open source technology resources, in promoting standards-engagement opportunities, and by identifying professional training opportunities. Provide feedback mechanisms for the practitioners to offer new ideas, best practices, challenges, priorities, and comments back to the standards organizations and associated communities of practice.
So what now? How do we move forward? We’ll start by continuing the dialog, as mentioned above, and work on showing how this will work in the real world by defining prototypes of well-executed examples of information sharing that could ultimately become reference implementations. We’ll define pilots based on the prototypes and get them deployed. And of course we’ll have to make sure all of this is done in such a way that privacy and security are addressed. Because this is such an important task, we’ll be inviting interested parties in both government and industry to look at the results and we’ll work with vendors and industry to encourage them to provide implementations that serve the needs of the community. This work won’t just benefit governments; all organizations can profit from the work we’ll do here. Let me know if you want to join us!
Here are a few photos from the event: