Information Revolution, Part 2

Wednesday - 10/29/2008, 1:28pm EDT

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
FederalNewsRadio

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- If the information revolution started in the late 1990s, then welcome to part 2 - the information relevance revolution.

"The issue is not access to information, but whether or not you are collecting and providing relevant information," says Jerry Williams, the Interior Department's acting chief information officer. "You need information to run programs and it has to be the right information."

Williams and others during a panel discussion at IAC's Executive Leadership Conference Oct. 27 say transparency into what the data says and where you got it from will make it easier for agencies to meet their mission and for citizens to trust government.

"We have a lot of discussions with stakeholders about how to get the information they want out," says Linda Burek, the CIO of the Agriculture Department's Rural Development bureau.

Burek's office set up an online application for companies to apply for grants or loans to provide broadband access to rural communities.

She says by using digital maps and layering information on top of it, the Rural Development bureau has made it easier for companies to understand in what states companies already received grants or loans to extend broadband access.

But she says the one area they are missing is the ability to show which communities are eligible for loans or grants and which are not.

Collaboration Tools

Lisa Schlosser, the Housing and Urban Development's CIO, says collaboration tools could make information more accessible and relevant.

HUD has improved how much information requesters receive when they submit a Freedom of Information Act request.

"Any request through the Web brings up all related information as well," Schlosser says.

Williams says the most important thing about information relevance is whether the data is meeting the desired need of the user.

"The overriding tenet of relevance is timeliness and accuracy," Williams says.

Timeliness

Williams says timeliness always will be a big challenge for agencies because of the 18-month budget process. There are some pockets of improvement, he says.

"If you look at financial statements presentations, for example, at one point agencies put their statements together in late February or early March, today it is happening in November," Williams says. "There is more work to be done especially when you look at programmatic information, which is almost needed on a dime."

Weighing Risks

Another area that needs to be considered is understanding the risk of making data accessible.

Williams says agencies should look at what provides the greatest risk and provides the greatest value to the agency.

"At the end of the day, it will be a couple of ways to figure this out," Williams says. "One is having a governance framework for how you manage these risk based initiatives and the other is having a set of controls and disciplined process for doing it."

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