Sharing Code and Data


States sometimes share applications and code. Utah, for example, was very aggressive in developing an offender tracking system (called OTRACK) and in getting several other states to sign up to use the system and contribute to its development. An article in the August issue of Governing talks about this practice. Part of the problem with all this talk is that most of it is focusing on 1990's terms and technology. Its all about components and system compatibility. Witness this quote from Charlie Gerhards, Pennsylvania's CIO:

The biggest problem, though, is that as much as agencies may want to share components, their computer systems aren't designed to do that very well. Governments typically run on a hodgepodge of different systems, and programs may not transfer from one agency to another - let alone between states. Oftentimes, sharing requires so much customization work that agencies actually are better off starting from scratch. Before any kind of formal component exchange will work, the states must adopt systems that are more compatible with each other. "The way you optimize this thing," says former Pennsylvania CIO Charlie Gerhards, "is for everyone to have strict standards when they‚re developing applications and adhering to that."

What states need to focus on, instead of components, is in the two areas that have shown to promote sharing and re-use: open source software and the Web. I'm no just talking about service orient architectures and Web services, although those are certainly a part of it. We'd be far ahead to just move toward more effective data sharing.

Toward the end, there's a section on open source software that highlights Jim WIllis' OSS efforts in Rhode Island. But this ends with some off-putting language that states "many skeptics wonder whether such do-it-yourselfism might lead to more trouble than it‚s worth." Somehow we're not getting the message across that OSS isn't some odd idea that we might want to try out, but a proven development model that should be employed by government.

The article itself doesn't talk about data sharing, but a Tom Davies column in the same issue call information sharing "The Missing Link". Tom cites a book by Donald Machand that

...concludes that the exchange of information - between individuals on a team and across functional and organizational boundaries - is one of the critical information values that senior executives need to instill in their organizations. Values and behaviors such as information sharing are, the book suggests, just as important to increasing organizational performance as is having the latest and greatest technology. Organizations that demonstrate a high IO do so after years of promoting the right information-sharing values.

Tom asks when we're going to put the "I" back in "CIO."

There are some successful instances of governments sharing code and data, but CIOs need to make a key focus area. Of course, a lot of the talk about Enterprise Architectures is rooted in a desire for more interoperability and sharing. This is good: an EA will enable a lot more than just sharing. But OSS and service oriented architectures are relatively simple things that can be done, even in the absence of a comprehensive EA, that will promote sharing.