Saturday, June 17, 2006

US government agencies look to efficiently convert old data

US government agencies look to efficiently convert old data

(InfoWorld Daily Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) The future of U.S. government IT systems will include a big focus on converting old data into electronic form, two government IT leaders said Friday.

The U.S. government's intelligence agencies are looking heavily into technology that can quickly convert typewritten and even handwritten text into electronic data, said Greg Pepus, senior director of federal outreach at In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm funded by U.S. agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Intelligence agents need technology that can quickly convert notes handwritten in Arabic or in symbols to electronic data that can be easily shared and put into a database, he said.

"The problem is the vast majority of data in the world isn't in databases," Pepus said during a panel discussion about the future of U.S. government IT needs at the Gartner Inc. Government Conference 2006 in Washington, D.C.

In addition, In-Q-Tel is looking for better search technologies that allow wide-ranging searches across multiple databases in one interface, Pepus said. The goal is to produce targeted searches that allow intelligence analysts to spend less time searching for data and more time analyzing it, he said.

The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for the some of the same technology as In-Q-Tel, but for different reasons, said Kimberlee Mitchel, senior technical advisor for the agency. The SSA has massive amounts of data still in "unstructured" formats such as paper, and the agency wants to move that data to electronic form, she said.

The move to electronic form will allow the agency to better track and serve U.S. citizens who are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, she said. In the future, U.S. citizens shouldn't have to file paperwork to receive checks, she said.

"We envision a future where we gather data almost transparently," she said. "When you're eligible for Social Security, the check shows up in your checking account."

The SSA is also looking at handwriting recognition software, and new ways to ensure data integrity, as data moves from paper to electronic form and is shared between U.S. agencies, Mitchel said. "Your data is only as good as where it comes from," she said.

While the federal government looks into software than can convert paper data into electronic form, some state governments see open-source software as the wave of the future, said Dennis Wells, deputy chief information officer for the Office of Information Services at the Oregon Department of Human Resources.

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, has funded open-source projects and identified open-source development as an economic driver for the state, Wells noted. Oregon is also working with other states to push open-source technology as a way to generate the myriad of reports states need to file with the federal government, Wells said.

States are looking at ways to encourage software vendors to offer open-source packages that could be tailored to each state's needs, instead of each state buying its own software to generate reports to the federal government, he said. "We think there's a smarter way to do it," he said.

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