U.S. Navy formalizes XML management

In a move aimed at making it easier for systems to exchange information, the U.S. Department of the Navy this week announced the creation of its XML Business Standards Council (BSC), the first of four working-level groups that will form the basis for the service’s first enterprisewide XML governance structure.

Next Thursday, Navy CIO Dave Wennergren will preside over the kickoff meeting of the BSC, which was formed to promote the use of common data elements and objects that make it easier for systems to exchange information. The BCS will coordinate XML component usage within and across the Navy’s 23 functional areas, which include human resources and finance, as well as among the Navy and other Pentagon organizations and federal agencies.

The BSC will eventually be joined by three groups that will focus on addressing technical standards, policy procedures and training and education. Together they will form the core of the Navy’s XML Governance Structure, overseeing XML specifications to support more than 500,000 Navy IT users around the world.

The formation of the BCS comes two months after Wennergren issued the Navy’s first official XML usage policy and one month after the naming of 23 functional namespace coordinators responsible for developing and managing Navy XML vocabularies. Navy officials said the formation of the BSC will ensure that the entire Navy — one of the largest organizations to create an XML-focused business structure — remains interoperable in the future.

“Early on, we realized that XML was starting to be implemented in different pockets across the Navy,” said Michael Jacobs, chairman of the Navy’s XML Work Group, which was formed in August 2001. “And we realized that a high degree of coordination would be required to have a successful implementation that improves interoperability, as opposed to hampering it.”

After studying the issue for a year, the Navy issued its formal usage policy, which Jacobs said provides comprehensive guidance on how to use existing specifications and calls for component reuse whenever possible. It also prohibits the use of proprietary extensions to industry specifications.

“The new policy urges commands to use the specifications from the W3C [World Wide Web Consortium] and other consortiums such as OASIS,” said Jacobs. OASIS is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, a Boston-based e-business standards consortium.

“And if there are conflicting specifications, the W3C takes precedence,” said Jacobs. “We know there are reasons that developers might want to use other specifications, but for an enterprise that’s trying to improve interoperability, that’s just going to make it worse.”

Patrick Gannon, president and CEO of OASIS, said the Navy’s establishment of an XML BSC is a reflection of the Navy’s commitment to working with private industry on standards development — something the General Accounting Office last April criticized the government for not doing often enough. As a member of OASIS, “the Navy is participating on multiple technical committees, they’re developing new specifications, and they’re using that activity to … prevent duplicative efforts,” said Gannon.

John Gilligan, CIO of the U.S. Air Force, applauded the Navy’s efforts and said the Air Force is working on similar policies and procedures for the use of XML.

“We have not gone quite as far as the Navy in establishing a separate governance structure for XML,” said Gilligan. “But our efforts to leverage XML are linked to our existing enterprise architecture and IT oversight processes. We see establishing information exchange standards as an integral part of the information architecture definition.”