A common problem facing CIOs in any enterprise, large or small, is getting your
system to talk to -- ie, easily exchange data with -- trading partners,
collaborators, and other stakeholders, When that enterprise is the US
government, and the issues are terrorism, criminal justice, and disaster
management, the stakes of "talking to each other" rise dramatically.
A set of tools to help solve this problem is the National
Information Exchange Model or NIEM. While NIEM began to help
governments meet terror threats, its approach to breaking through information
silos and use of established standards -- including XML -- provide a model to
address issues beyond security.
NIEM, now in version 2.1,
started as a partnership between the departments of Justice and Homeland
Security. That initial collaboration has grown to include agencies responsible
for intelligence, immigration, emergency management, international trade, and
infrastructure protection. And the large undertaking to develop common
electronic health records has adopted NIEM as well.
A key part of NIEM that makes data understandable among participants is common
data components These common references, based on
ebXML core components, make it possible to match the same basic
semantic concepts among agencies and organizations that define and code those
concepts differently. As a result, agencies taking part in NIEM can keep their
current systems, yet still exchange data with other groups and agencies using
Sharing information as seemingly basic and simple as a person`s name, for
example, can get complicated when agencies with different missions get
involved. A local police department`s records may ask for a person`s first,
middle, and last names. But immigration or intelligence authorities
working with data on people from various cultures -- where the order of
the names have different meanings -- will code the same data as family and
given names, not first, middle, and last.
A common semantic reference is needed to match these different ways of defining
the parts of a person`s name that NIEM provides. Establishing these common
semantics has another benefit: They make it possible to reuse the common
components when new applications arise, which speeds up new systems
Information exchange packages and templates
Another important NIEM concept is the information exchange package or IEP --
collections of data widely used across participating domains. IEPs are
XML schemas, and when combined with details of the the structure,
content, and other artifacts of the information exchange, it becomes an
information exchange package documentation (IEPD).
One example of an IEP is data on arrests. A common data structure for arrests
includes elements identifying the suspect, location, offense, and arresting
officer, with a specific and reusable XML schema reflecting that structure.
Since data on arrests are used in different ways by different agencies -- e.g.,
police, courts, immigration, intelligence agencies -- different IEPDs are
created describing how that XML instance is used in each setting.
NIEM defines as well collections of message exchanges, called templates, for
common document exchanges or database queries, such as filing incident reports
or immigration-status lookups. Like components and IEPs, templates are
reusable, and NIEM offers libraries of these message exchanges.
NIEM has become established in the security community, with applications
defined for tasks such as terrorist
watchlists and tracking hazardous materials, including
nuclear reactor wastes. But you don`t have to be in the worlds of
security or justice to be affected by NIEM or learn its lessons.
International freight, for example, must meet stiff security requirements, thus
any company shipping or receiving goods outside the U.S. will likely deal with
NIEM. And as noted earlier, the vital job of devising an infrastructure for
electronic health records in the U.S. is adapting the NIEM concept.
Learn more: http://www.niem.gov
By Alan Kotok
Alan Kotok is editor and publisher of the Science Business news blog, and author (with David Webber) of ebXML: The New Global Standard for Doing Business on The Internet (New Riders, 2001).