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Information Silos Stand In The Way Of Interoperability

Government IT pros are pursuing a more open public enterprise, but system interoperability remains a formidable challenge.

Federal CIOs view integrating systems and processes as second in importance only to implementing stronger security, according to a recent survey. In fact, the federal CIO Council 11 years ago began developing an enterprise architecture framework, an effort that would improve information transparency, budget accuracy, and project management across business and financial systems.

So why do redundant, noninteroperable systems remain the norm in government? Many agencies insist on maintaining their independence, and those that want to open up face technical obstacles to sharing information.

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The Department of Defense is a case in point. The military branches have resisted pressure to manage their financials using services from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) or the Defense Business Transformation Agency (BTA). The latter has called siloed information the DOD's biggest challenge, yet progress in modernizing the department's business systems has slowed significantly, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Defense spends $1 billion annually on 12 ERP systems that are replacing or connecting to more than 3,000 disparate financial systems. "Legacy systems tend to 'break' ERPs when they are interfaced with them," the BTA said in a recent statement. "Each external interface presents transactional error risk. As the number of interfaces increases, the probability of successful transactions decreases. The government has countless interfaces and spends millions annually to correct reconciliation errors."

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DISA CIO John Garing points to similar inefficiencies in the way military branches procure materials. "I would like the business systems to be able to share information so that if the Army has a great way of buying bolts, and a system to do it, let the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force do it, too," he says. "Expose that to the department at large." DISA is partnering with the BTA on back-end systems to enable such shared services.

A recent test program called the Defense Agencies Initiative would consolidate myriad DOD financial systems into one. The new system is set to begin rolling out to smaller Defense agencies this year, but it's unclear when it would spread department-wide.

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