No Stone Unturned

No Stone Unturned

ACHIEVING INTEGRATED directories across any large organisation is very much a Holy Grail for the information manager.

With reliable, integrated directories, managers can reduce or avoid costs, improve access and tighten security. Integrated directories can better connect people with the information and devices they need in order to work smarter. Indeed, integrated directories offer a clear promise of a better future — one where a stable and proven technology is put at the command of IT and business managers to help them deliver services with greater dexterity and heightened security. This is the future the Victorian government recognised when it recently embarked on developing Project Rosetta — an “integrated electronic directory service” across the whole of Victorian government (WoVG).

The advantages of such a directory service are many. For business executives, reasons to invest in this technology include enhanced functionality such as simplified sign-on — to reduce user frustration in accessing networks — and provisioning and other workflow processes to automate or streamline key business functions. For IT executives, tighter security, more robust privacy and OH&S compliance, as well as reduced costs in administrative support, can be incentives.

But above all, integrated directories are a must for governments, like the Victorian government, that want to deliver a real capability for e-government or “connected” government in order to extend and streamline access to its services. Further, the pressures on governments worldwide to be responsive to their citizens in terms of policies and services exacerbate this pressure to streamline services.

The capability is certainly becoming increasingly important if governments are to deal with the proliferation of information, data and directories. The number of devices being connected and shifted around networks is growing exponentially in both the public and private sectors. All of this points to a clear and urgent need for integrated directory technology and the business policies that support it.

Understanding this has been the driver for the Victorian government’s vision for integrated directories across government — Project Rosetta. Through this project, the government aims to establish an authoritative, integrated and automated directory service that securely provides accurate information on people, resources, assets and services across the WoVG.

This vision was formed and acted on in 2001, resulting in a strategy to develop an integrated electronic directory service project. This strategy marked the Victorian government as taking a leadership role in Australia in developing directory infrastructure for connected government.

The strategy’s first phase began in the third quarter of 2002 with the primary goal of defining and later installing directory infrastructure across WoVG. Architecturally, this directory infrastructure is likely to take the form of meta-directories at each government department. These meta-directories can then synchronise with a similar enterprise directory that spans government (WoVG level). This phase will continue until early 2005.

Rising to the Challenge

The obstacles for Rosetta are significant, but so is the ultimate prize for government. There are four key challenges.

As it is on most enterprise-level technology projects, scope is a crucial factor. In Rosetta’s case, the dividing line is blurred between “pure” infrastructure and the value-adding, enhanced directory functionality that operates above it. Key stakeholders — the departments — recognise this. To ensure that the infrastructure works meaningfully and as specified, Rosetta will need to test some extended functionality (this could include some aspects of SSO or provisioning, for example). At the same time, there are merits in a disciplined rollout of foundation infrastructure.

The first challenge, therefore, is to find a balance between clearly identifying what level of infrastructure and functionality is needed to form a practical and versatile base, and providing real value for the departments and agencies that will use the directories.

The second challenge is data integrity. The inevitable implication of providing an authoritative WoVG directory is that the data going into it must be correct, consistent, reliable and up to date. Clean data will provide life to the new infrastructure. Therefore, data cleansing will be a challenging but necessary preliminary activity. To keep the data up to date will, in turn, mean clear policies and frameworks around the issue of identity management.

Identity management — the rules and processes that govern how people and assets are identified in a distributed environment — is the driving principle for data cleansing over the new infrastructure. For this reason, identity management, even though it will mean change, reform and hard work, must be considered a key part of the infrastructure.

Privacy requirements and business rules about access present a third challenge. As information becomes more connected we will need to pay more attention to how and to whom it is visible. It is worth remembering that the cost of not connecting data coherently is loss of control over information.

The final challenge is to keep the departments motivated, to help them achieve the benefits of the new infrastructure and to lessen their burden where change is costly.

All these challenges must be met while keeping faith with the federated purpose of an infrastructure that reliably binds government together, and which enables it to share the benefits of the infrastructure with citizens, businesses and other organisations.

Project Rosetta’s task is to deliver the foundation infrastructure with a view to building more high-value directory services on top of this. Rosetta aims to install new infrastructure that integrates existing directories with functionally effective, cleansed data from 10 Victorian government departments to begin with.

The project’s first major milestone is the release of the RFT for solution (licensing and implementation) later this year. Following a pilot, the rollout to the 10 departments is forecast to occur by early 2005. The vision is for this infrastructure to be rolled out to government agencies and extended to significant service sectors such as hospitals and schools.

Project Rosetta is an initiative of Victorian government’s Connecting Victoria policy, which aims to deliver the benefits of technology to all Victorians.

There are significant challenges for Project Rosetta but the Victorian government’s vision is clear, and the Holy Grail of connected government is too big to lose sight of. It is a quest worth pursuing.

David Hart is Project Rosetta’s project director in Multimedia Victoria, in the Victorian government’s Department of Infrastructure

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