In government circles, Open Data is getting its fair share of attention these days. At least in the US, resistance to sharing data, applications, systems, and resources hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of many government agencies—and I strongly suspect that we are hardly alone here.

In this post, I’d like to discuss arguably the major reason that the adoption of Open Data and other collaborative information management (IM) projects have perhaps been slower than necessary.

An Example

After one of my recent talks on The Age of the Platform at the Government Mobility Forum, a woman (call her Marlene here) from the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) approached me. We exchanged pleasantries and she started telling me about some of the challenges that she faced in her job. Marlene expressed frustration about how, at present, each and every member of the US military unnecessarily had at least two distinct records in two different systems. Think about it: once you enter the military, you will be a veteran—even if you’re dishonorably discharged after only one day.

Marlene didn’t have time to delve too deeply into some of the particulars and I’d be lying if I claimed to have done a great deal of work with the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Still, my extensive experience with duplicate student, customer, employee, and vendor records was entirely apropos.

Now, hold your fire here. No one is suggesting that justifiably sensitive medical and military information be made publicly available. I can think of a score of reasons not to do so. But shouldn’t government agencies dealing with essentially the same population (while admittedly at different points) at least attempt to play nice? I’d bet you a good bit of money that managing all military personnel on the same system probably makes economic sense—especially in an age of budget cuts. Of course, a big system integration project like this this might not be possible, at least in the short term.

Barring that, why not implement some type of MDM solution to better manage the population in each system? Why not use it to maintain a master record for each member of the military. When a sergeant retires and becomes an official veteran, all of his accurate and complete information would seamlessly transfer into the DVA’s system.

Simon Says

To me, scenarios like this are the very definition of low hanging fruit. They hardly qualify as rocket science. How many hours and how much money are wasted on duplicate data entry, resolving discrepancies between different data sets and systems, and dealing with justifiably angry veterans whose data are in disarray?

The Chinese have a saying: In crisis, there is opportunity. If there’s any benefit to the current and future budget crises (at least in the United States), perhaps it is that reduced headcounts and funds will finally force far too many unwilling folks to cooperate on matters of national importance.

And that certainly includes data.


What say you?