Eliminating The Information Exchange Bottleneck

The Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM) was developed to enable federal, state and local justice and public safety agencies to exchange data in a common, replicable format. In the last several years, GJXDM has become the national, de facto data sharing standard. Law enforcement agencies at all levels of government now face an unintended consequence of this rapid adoption — significant implementation delays resulting from an inability to properly document and broadly distribute exchange design methodologies. Adoption of Information Exchange Packages (IEPs) and the accompanying artifact set, known as Information Exchange Package Documentation (IEPD), reduces the time and costs associated with exchange implementation and can eliminate exchange "bottlenecks."

In addition to Global Justice XML, the emergence of other vocabulary standards such as Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL), Court E-filing and the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) now provide the fundamental building blocks for cross-agency and cross-domain information exchanges.

Various technology standardization organizations, including the Department of Justice's (DOJ's) Office of Justice Programs (OJP), IJIS Institute, National Consortium of Justice Information and Statistics (SEARCH), and Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) are in the process of evaluating acceptable IEPD methodologies, but a definitive, published methodology has not yet been adopted.

Meanwhile, the justice and public safety community, facing increasing demands to share information with federal, state and local partners, is discovering that using GJXDM introduces a host of challenges. In an effort to normalize the manner that GJXDM is utilized, many agencies have taken the lead in developing IEPD methodologies to provide a simple, cost effective and consistent methodology to ensure information sharing stewardship.

While standards and industry support groups have yet to establish one globally accepted IEPD methodology and documentation artifact set, notable and successful IEPD packages have been developed and implemented by exchange partners. Pioneering state information exchange programs, such as the Ohio Local Law Enforcement Information Sharing Network (OLLESIN) and the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) Statewide Intelligence Management System (SIMS) Data Augmentation Project, immediately recognized the importance of the IEPD approach as the means to communicate with their local law enforcement agencies. Through their successes, as well as other regional projects, the benefits of employing an IEPD life cycle approach are being demonstrated and learned.

What is an IEPD?

An IEPD defines a specific information exchange and provides a structured set of information to completely define the information being exchanged, the business rules being enforced and the required GJXDM schema sets. Within the justice and public safety community, information exchanges are commonly associated with day-to-day processes and activities. For example, information exchanges exist for arrest warrant, citation, court filing, booking, etc.

At the working level, IEPDs contain collections of specific types of information called artifacts, which consist of normative exchange specifications, examples, metadata and documentation encapsulated by a catalog that describes each artifact. By convention, the entire package is archived as a single, compressed file. When uncompressed, the catalog contains a hyperlinked index into the IEPD and can be opened using standard Internet Web browsers. The hyperlink catalog provides a means to rapidly peruse the IEPD contents and open each individual artifact (provided the appropriate software required to open a given artifact is installed).

The guidelines for developing and organizing a GJXDM IEPD have been compiled and documented by the Office of Judicial Programs and are available at http://it.ojp.gov/topic.jsp?topic_id=196.

The IEPD life cycle

A best practice life cycle approach for developing IEPDs has evolved through the work of some notable IEPD development projects. Largely spearheaded by the user community, the IEPD life cycle comprises six key steps shown in Figure 1 on Page 118.

The IEPD life cycle focuses on identifying the business requirements and turning those requirements into an XML technical implementation model. In each stage of the life cycle, a defined set of artifacts or documents represents the policies, specifications, data requirements and implementation strategies of an exchange. The artifact set is generated using a set of open source or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) tools that are readily available to most criminal justice policy setting and information technology departments.

The six steps of the IEPD life cycle are:

  • Initialization: Basic business requirements associated with an information exchange are identified. The data to be exchanged, the exchange partners and a general mission statement of the function of the exchange are defined. A basic description of the business strategy, need for the exchange and benefits to be derived are developed. Finally, the initialization stage defines the general implementation strategy to be applied once the IEPD is complete (i.e. SOA, transactional, query, response, service model, etc.)
  • Business Process Model: Process use cases for how the exchange information occurs within the business domain and how each will be executed when the exchange is implemented. The use cases define the triggering events; the agencies, departments and roles of exchange participants; the business rules or conditions affecting the exchange; and the data packages or business documents which contain the exchanged information.
  • Business Data Model: Data requirements for the exchange based on business terminology and requirements are documented. The general data packages defined in the second step are normalized into business objects (persons, organizations, places and things), and each element that could describe the object is identified, named and defined.
  • Standards Transformation: The business data model is converted into an XML standards representation identifying the schema types and properties representing each object and element in the business model. The business model can be converted into different data model standards (e.g., GJXDM and NIEM) without impacting the business requirements of the exchange.
  • Schema Package Development: From the mapping developed in the fourth step, technicians create the schema packages to be utilized in the exchange based on the strategic implementation objectives established during initiation.
  • Testing and Implementation: Since the goal of an IEPD is to provide documentation for a reusable exchange, the IEPD and its schema set are tested to demonstrate they can successfully meet the business and technical requirements of the exchange. Documenting a description of how the exchange and IEPD was tested and implemented provides users with guidelines for reusing the IEPD within their environments or domains.

The last three stages of the IEPD life cycle convert the business need requirements artifacts into a standard set of technical artifacts or XML schema sets. This process typically involves mapping the business content requirements into the specific XML vocabulary standard such as GJXDM or NIEM. Since the XML schema set mirrors the business requirements for a specific exchange, technicians are assured what they construct actually does reflect the information exchange requirements.

While many agencies have proven the utility of IEPDs through their successful implementation of integration projects, many practitioners and IT professionals still question the business costs associated with such a stringent methodology and documentation. Analysis of the business, data and exchange partnership needs requires participation from subject matter experts, but the upfront analysis yields large dividends and future cost savings by assuring the technical implementation meets the business requirements of the exchange. The more complex the exchange — where many-to-one or one-to-many partners exchange information or where information is exchanged between different business domains — the more important it is to document the business requirements in an accurate and concise manner.

Successes to date

The IEPD life cycle process imparts responsibility for and ownership of an exchange to the parties that own, distribute and receive the information. The design of the exchange and information requirements reflects the business needs and processes. The business needs are captured in the set of standardized IEPD artifacts used to educate information stewards or exchange partners on who, where, when and how the information is to be exchanged, and the business benefits of the exchange. Chris Rein, IT program manager for the NJSP, recognizes this information asset control factor when describing his agency's homeland security and law enforcement data sharing project.

"The sources and consumers of this information are from different vendors, jurisdictions and even decades," says Rein. "For this reason, we are building this system on a GJXDM-based data format, and the IEPD we put together has helped tremendously in giving the various agencies a concise and clear picture of the inter-system 'language' we will all speak. It is the first time that agencies from municipal, county and state levels — and their vendors — can work from a common palette using the simple package of documents which make up our IEPD."

Through the standardized documentation of business rules and processes, an IEPD establishes a contract that builds trust between the exchange partners. Once the exchange is developed and implemented, the sending, receiving and use of the information will reflect each partner's privacy, security and content requirements.

Many state and local technology departments and practitioners have recognized the IEPD as the best method of blueprinting their information exchange products.

"The IEPD structure gives us a clear set of steps to follow," says Diane Schenker, Integrated Justice project manager for the Alaska Court System. "By following the outline of the IEPD, the project team creates the documentation as a natural by-product of each step instead of as an additional after-the-fact task. The IEPD outline/structure helps avoid the temptation of skipping steps in the exchange project process."

Schenker further notes the benefits her department achieved through the use of the IEPD business-to-technical translational stages for its Court Charge Events exchange project.

"One of the best time savers for me has been the ability to reference the IEPD and GJXDM in procurement documents," she says. "Rather than defining and explaining everything from scratch for each agency, contractor or project, deliverables can be described in terms of the IEPD in just a few simple sentences. It reduces subjectivity and increases accountability by making it easier to define and then check/approve the contractor's work."

Ohio's OLLESIN project includes a "connect-the-dots" Web site that communicates all IEPD incident report business and technical requirements to ensure hundreds of local law enforcement agencies understand how to participate and be certified to exchange information with the state's incident report data repository.

In many cases, the IEPD exchange packages have been developed and implemented through the use of similar specifications established by "best practices" built on previous success stories. Some best practice examples include:

  • NJSP RMS-to-Statewide Intelligence Management System (SIMS) Exchange
  • Pennsylvania Justice Network (JNET) Electronic Case Filing
  • Arizona Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS)
  • Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) Request and Alert
  • State of California XML Document and Transaction Exchange (300+ exchanges)
  • Court E-Filing Case Document Messages
  • Nlets transactions
  • DOJ N-DEx Incident Report Exchange
  • The future of IEPDs

As more IEPDs are being developed and their respective information exchanges are successfully implemented, agencies requiring similar exchanges can utilize proven IEPDs as a starting point for their own IEPD life cycle development and implementation. Some national organizations create standardized exchange models that enable their exchange partners to minimize development time, thus recognizing significant economies of scale and associated cost savings. In other cases, agencies establish IEPD repositories and encourage other agencies to leverage their work by using Alerting or CAD-to-RMS IEPDs as a base and customizing or augmenting the exchanges and the IEPD documentation to reflect specific business requirements and vendor database configurations.

One of the best examples of the reuse of an implemented exchange standard based on an IEPD is the one built for the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP). The PMP established a national service model IEPD that will be used to exchange controlled substance prescription information between states' PMP information systems. The same XML model will be utilized by each state, so participating states that share prescription information collected from pharmacies can implement the same exchange data model while still maintaining their specific state data sharing requirements. The IEPD was built to accommodate different XML vocabulary standards to enable reuse by law enforcement, public health agencies and the pharmaceutical industry.

"The PMP's exchange IEPD provides a focal point around which cost-effective interstate exchanges can be developed, which has magnified the value of newly developed PMP exchange capabilities," says Scott Serich, IJIS Institute's PMP program manager. "It also has freed up scarce IT resources to focus on the user-facing system features that are perceived by the public as delivering higher value for their tax dollars."

By removing confusion through a standardized means of communicating exchange specifications and requirements, it is easier to estimate, plan and execute an information exchange project. An IEPD provides and establishes a business and technical "contract" that all parties abide by for the purpose of exchanging information. Information exchanges based on an IEPD standard are easier to maintain and augment by any qualified vendor or maintenance supplier. Such standardized documentation reduces exploration time in identifying a problem or in adding new information requirements to the exchange.

In 2007 and beyond, IT managers and vendors whose systems will be required to exchange information with local, state and federal systems can expect the following trends to have an impact on their work and funding:

  • Planning, developing, implementing and expanding use of statewide IEPD repositories that define all information exchanges with a state criminal justice system such as those in New Jersey, California, Vermont, Wisconsin and Ohio.
  • Planning, developing, implementing and expanding use of national criminal justice programs that use specific information records types such as the PMP and N-DEx.
  • Use of IEPDs as a requirement to receive funding from DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security for information exchange.
  • Possible institutionalization of the IEPD methodology and documentation into the Federal Data Architecture and NIEM.
  • Information exchange software providers and consultants expanding their products and services to include and support IEPDs.
  • Further expansion of the use of IEPDs in other government information domains, including public health, transportation, emergency services and homeland security.

By utilizing IEPDs, departments will more readily be able to navigate the information exchange bottleneck.