Information sharing is a key objective for government agencies and commercial organisations that recognise its benefits; improving inter-agency cooperation; reducing duplication and using resources more efficiently.
However, information sharing projects create challenging issues:
- Reconciling differing representations of data, e.g name and address
- Combining structured and unstructured notes and reports
- Accommodating expansion caused by XML tagging
- Searching across large volumes data aggregated from multiple sources
The Bichard report highlights an example of the failings within an organisation to share information.
Following Child murderer Ian Huntley's conviction in December 2003, The Home Secretary appointed Sir Michael Bichard with the task of leading the inquiry into the vetting procedures which allowed Huntley to be employed as a school caretaker.
The Rt Hon David Blunket MP wrote:'Urgently enquire into child protection procedures in Humberside Police and Cambridgeshire Constabulary in the light of the recent trial and conviction of Ian Huntley for the murder of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. In particular to assess the effectiveness of the relevant intelligence-based record keeping, the vetting practices in those forces since 1995 and information sharing with other agencies, and to report to the Home Secretary on matters of local and national relevance and make recommendations as appropriate.'
Sir Michael Bichard published the results of his inquiry in June 2004 and made several recommendations. Two of the report's main recommendations were the implementation of a national IT system for police forces in England and Wales and investment in the police national computer (PNC) system to secure its medium and long-term future.
To achieve these strategic objectives will undoubtedly require a long-term plan. It is inevitable that ambitions for information sharing will be constrained by issues that have plagued large integrated systems for many years. However, there are signs that innovative approaches that overcome some of the issues may be considered alongside conventional operational systems.
A POTENTIAL SOLUTION
In response to the Bichard Report Openkast worked with Atos Origin to develop a capability demonstrator that addressed the issues associated with information sharing across multiple agencies and multiple data sources.
Alan Smith at Atos Origin reported:Openkast worked with us to develop an XML database demo facility. The demonstration featured 6 complex information sources amounting to 5 million records. The original XML data was around 290 Gbytes and in SQL would have taken around 1.2 terabytes!
Openkast built their native XML database version and it ran in 88Gbytes. Every field and element was indexed as was the text content. A significant reduction.
Response times were sub 1 second from the beginning and stayed at this level as the data grew.
They developed this integrated database in less than 20 man days.