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Enabling Collaboration

Originally published May 19, 2009

There have been many recommendations that have been offered to the new Administration over the last few months, but one of the most relevant and coherent was a paper published by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) under the title, Enabling Collaboration: Three Priorities for the New Administration .

NAPA, a well-respected and prestigious body that focuses on the inner workings and performance of government, was able to tap into the resources of its many “fellows” and review the bidding on where government is with respect to the way it works and make some clear and powerful recommendations to incoming President Obama. The fact that they were also able to do it early on gives the Obama team a working document that they can refer to in developing their executive playbook.

At its very core, the document basically states that the future is about collaboration. For government to accomplish its essential objectives, there is an imperative to share. The document suggests that a new toolkit and new thinking are needed. This has some very significant implications for us in the IT profession and in business intelligence (BI) in particular.

The paper was produced by a team of NAPA Fellows, chaired by Greg Lashutka, as part of an initiative to assist an entering administration. (Other members were P.K. Agarwal, William Eggers, Mark Forman, John Kamensky, Anne Laurent and Franklin S. Reeder.)

It starts by outlining the three principal challenges to collaboration faced by government practitioners today:

  1. An outdated, 20th century technology approach,

  2. An inability to relate data to information, and information to decision making; and

  3. A culture that inhibits collaboration.

These three points are very well taken, and they have also been some of the most significant challenges for business intelligence practitioners. How many times have we moaned about the culture? One of my most recent articles  was precisely about business intelligence and the need for a culture of analysis. But the most relevant challenge that business intelligence has focused on was the second one, the inability to relate data to information, and information to decision making. This is at the heart of business intelligence, and the BI toolkit is precisely the mechanism to pound away at the outdated, 20th century technology approach lamented in the first challenge.

The authors move on efficiently to suggest some solutions. These are the recommendations they make to the Obama team:
  • Create an open technology environment.

  • Treat data as a national asset

  • Foster a culture and framework of collaboration.

The key to the first recommendation is the move to “convert IT assets and applications into a utility environment.” This means, of course, rethinking the current objections to cloud computing and many of the technical, statutory and cultural barriers to information sharing. The panel lists a series of benefits accruing if these steps are taken, including: lower costs, enhanced agility, and that it allows “IT and program organizations alike to focus their resources on innovation and collaboration.”

With respect to the second one, treating data as a national asset, the focus is on establishing an enterprise approach to data ownership, where the enterprise is the federal government rather than any specific department, agency or organization. They suggest that in order for this to happen, the incoming administration has to “establish clear standards for sharing data, grapple with evolving notions of data authenticity and craft new practices for knowledge management.”

This last point in itself deserves special attention since knowledge management (KM) and business intelligence are so intertwined. In this respect, the central point of their recommendations is to “leverage KM tools for performance gains.” In discussing the tools, however, the focus seems to be mostly on the Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis, blogs, social networking sites, etc. But little mention is made of the powerful analytics tools and techniques that are the mainstay of business intelligence as the bridge between data and decision support. Nonetheless, the attention to knowledge management is a welcome recommendation.

Lastly, their third recommendation addresses culture: foster a culture and framework of collaboration. Here their focus is for the leadership to engage in governance mechanisms that favor collaboration, and organizational roles and policies that facilitate it. The administration, they insist, “must demand that IT leaders across government act as strategic partners with mission-delivery programs, and revisit and revise a host of laws and policies that inhibit innovation and collaboration.”

In all, this should be a very valuable and useful document for Barack Obama and his team.

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


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