To create a single interface between business clients of Environment Canada (EC) and its Secure Channel-enabled programs, EC needed an end-to-end solution. The answer: FIM, which standardized the repeatable elements and components required to use Secure Channel. These reusable Secure Channel integration components create efficiencies and minimize project risks.
“Secure Channel allows us to move to a truly secure online environment,” says Allan Adair, Senior Project Coordinator with Environment Canada’s Strategic Planning and Architecture Branch.
FIM also uses an XML schema, developed in conjunction with software component design and implementation, as its data standard. Since no international standards for data gathering are endorsed by the federal government, EC explored several options: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards; customer information standards by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS); and the Public Sector CIO Council’s XML subcommittee’s schema, based on Canada Post standards for name and address. EC used these best of breed examples rather than starting from scratch.
“The ability to collect information in a standardized fashion improves data quality immediately, and the possibility of interoperability becomes real,” Adair says. Because the common approach is less customized, it is easier to maintain. It also yields significant return on investment. For Environment Canada, where regulatory compliance costs billions; a saving of even 10 to 20 per cent as via FIM means tremendous savings.
While data sharing produces efficiencies, privacy considerations affect the concept of “federating information.”
“Federated information management — with limited sharing of identity information between programs — is crucial to effective and user friendly service delivery,” says Peter Whittaker, a privacy expert and consultant hired to research the privacy and legal considerations for Environment Canada’s FIM implementation.
“That said, the government has to guard against mismanagement, against becoming too complacent with how it treats personal information,” Whittaker explains. “This is where privacy considerations are fundamental to successful federated information management: The privacy governance framework keeps privacy concerns front and centre in the minds of decision makers, IT specialists and support staff….”
Fully realizing the benefits of FIM requires a change in culture. At Environment Canada, adjustments were required to manage expectations and bring individual programs to relinquish some control in favour of some centralized administration that facilitates data sharing. EC staff members now collaborate in new ways to administer programs.
“It has allowed us to be cheaper, more efficient, better coordinated, and to act and manage as one,” says R