Web 2.0 and Collaboration Inspire Innovation

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 2010-02-04 Print this article Print

Government agencies investing in information technologies that make better use of existing data and resources can achieve positive, tangible results.

Web 2.0 and Collaboration Inspire Innovation

For decades, the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has served as the IT brainchild of the Department of Defense (DOD), consistently coming up with breakthroughs in the development of voice/video/data systems, command intelligence, satellite communications and other IT tools.

DISA understood that finding better ways to share ideas often produces better results, which led to its launch of Forge.mil, a Web-enabled collaborative platform that allows more than 3,000 registered software developers, testers, certifiers, operators and users to exchange thoughts and resources. Based on CollabNet’s TeamForge software,

Forge.mil incorporates Web 2.0 tools, such as Wikis, and is in the process of adding blogs, social networking and social tagging. It uses tools such as JackBe, a mashup platform for enterprises to combine previously disconnected information resources for more informed decision making.

Given how large and global DOD operations are, the open-source nature of Forge.mil can help agencies better pursue even relatively routine tasks, such as the launch of a Linux operating system. “If one DOD agency has already done this and another is interested in doing the same thing, the two of them can share information on Forge.mil,” explains Rob Vietmeyer, the DISA project leader overseeing the effort.

It also can assist soldiers in the battlefield. If an enemy target is pinpointed in Afghanistan, for example, intelligence officers can share geographic and other needed data swiftly via a classified version of Forge.mil. Commanders can use these tools to quickly collaborate on an execution plan, which can then be accessed by military forces in the field.

“This allows us to take all kinds of resources and tools—such as geospatial programs, Army intelligence and even resources available to the public on sites like Google—and mash them all together so we can make good decisions and come up with even better tools,” Vietmeyer says.

Boosting Health Care Reporting

In the past, Illinois would have handled a typical infectious disease case this way: A patient would walk into a doctor’s office and complain of symptoms. He’d get checked out, and if there was reasonable concern, be sent to a laboratory for a blood test. The blood would be evaluated and—anytime from a few days to 10 days later—health-care providers would know what they were dealing with.

Today, thanks to an information-sharing/collaboration system called the Illinois National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (I-NEDSS), that timeline is significantly fast-tracked. Once a patient’s blood work is completed, the lab immediately inputs the results electronically into a network that connects state, local and federal health-focused agencies. The local doctor and patient are given the information needed for treatment within 24 hours of the lab sample submission.

The results are also immediately reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so federal officials can collect the data to assemble a national database of cases. “This gives us a robust, Web-based capability for reporting these cases,” says James Driscoll, CIO of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “We have important data on an estimated 140 diseases in this system.”

Developed in-house with support from Rose International, a technology services firm, I-NEDSS was launched in the wake of post-9/11 concerns about the reporting capabilities of public health systems in the event of a bioterrorism attack. The Illinois system was first tested in 2004, when it reported 10 food-borne diseases in a database shared by state and local health departments. In spring 2009, H1N1 was added.

Today, Illinois is planning to expand the system’s capability to include Sexually Transmitted Diseases and death records. Ultimately, state officials seek a tool that will determine where outbreaks are occurring to allow for swifter intervention to minimize the impact on the public.

“We’re constantly asking what more this system can do to help local health departments,” says Suresh Kathiresan, project manager. “We want them to have a clearer understanding of what they’re dealing with.”

Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.

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