Linking at the Edge of the Enterprise

When designers and programmers have put their best thinking into creating an enterprise information system, their energies and mental focus are on the collection, storage, retrieval and manipulation of the data that the enterprise needs to do business.  Whether it is criminal justice, health, human services or education, the enterprise is the primary purpose, and the design of systems is limited to the information technology it needs.  We seldom have considered what happens at the edge of the enterprise, where the connection is made to other domains or communities of interest.

It is exactly at the edge of the enterprise that attention is being paid to the connections that enable or facilitate information exchanges that enhance the capability of the enterprise.  Making it easy to create a two-way exchange with another enterprise so that both ends of the exchange benefit and improve their mission outcomes is critical as we better understand the necessity of information sharing as a prerequisite to improving operations and tackling some of the more difficult social problems we face in contemporary society.

Having recognized that information sharing is essential between the enterprises of criminal justice and health, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has funded a coordinated set of projects that together help us explore and enhance our ability to connect the edges of these two enterprises.  BJA funded the foundational study by the IJIS Institute and the Urban Institute of the business processes and needs for information exchanges between justice and health that resulted in the publication of a very important and basic definition of 34 separate and different use cases where the edges of both enterprises should be connected and therefore are potential subjects of web service specifications that create standards for doing so.

BJA also realized that there would need to be a place to make available the resources that would help collaborating organizations understand how to make this connection at the edge of the enterprise.    Accordingly, BJA funded a detailed study that led to the Vera Institute of Justice’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program (SUMH) launching the Justice and Health Connect (JH Connect) website.  This very useful resource collection has myth-busting features as well as a toolkit that agencies can directly use to help fulfill the whole life cycle development process from governance to architecture and management of systems oversight. The Vera Institute took good advantage of input from the IJIS Institute and other experienced collaboration partners to design something that practitioners and industry could find helpful in linking the edges of these enterprises. 

The children, adults and families that need supportive services often are involved with agencies from different enterprises—health, human services, justice and education.  To provide a holistic response to such needs and organize around the delivery of service rather than around the agency, linking the enterprises through technology is essential.  This past month the 8th annual Stewards of Change symposium on interoperability between health and human services gathered selected leaders from local, state and federal agencies along with academia to discuss how these two domains could be better linked so that the service delivery is made around the needs of the client rather than the predilections of the provider.  This symposium, sponsored by the Stewards of Change Institute and the Johns Hopkins University, called out a focus on the person being served as the catalyst for linking the delivery of service and by implication linking the enterprises to share information.

Linking these disparate enterprises will require the development of standards for language, process, meaning and protocols that make it easy to build the links.   Standards for enterprise architectures are needed, all the way to federated identity and privilege management.  But we have built many of these standards or at least had a great start on them and we need only to complete the work to see the amazing benefits from linking the social services enterprises.       

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