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The Value of X

Exchange points shaped and sized for government.

by / February 4, 2004
Even novice Scrabble players know the letter "X" is worth a much-prized eight points -- and the value multiplies fivefold in an officially recognized eight-letter word. Of course, the board game disallows acronyms and initials, effectively robbing would-be Scrabble champs from government and technology of half their vocabulary.

The value of X in the public-sector IT community has risen steadily, if somewhat stealthily, in recent years. X begins a pair of TLAs (three-letter acronyms) that have been added to the cryptic lexicon of government technology -- XML and XBI. The former is the coin of a realm that includes even the intrepid, if idiosyncratic, geeks at; the latter is a worthwhile experiment of a faithful band of converts trying to wrap their arms around the complex business of building an XML-based governance platform -- in which technology may well be the easy part.

XML -- extensible markup language -- makes data portable across previously discrete systems, agencies, jurisdictions and sectors of the wider society. XML makes possible a long anticipated shift in focus from the problems of dissimilar systems to the opportunities of common data. The great lesson here is that the exchange point matters in intergovernmental data sharing.

Enter XBI, shorthand for cross boundary integration, and the working name of a framework for transcending political, organizational and technological boundaries that brings together essential elements of governance, architecture and organizational change.

In a recent white paper on the promise of XBI from the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council, its proponents concede it won't be easy, but argue a coherent and comprehensive model is needed to realize the transformational potential of digital government. The hard work begins by fleshing out a framework that provides a common reference point for government executives, program managers, policy-makers and IT leaders, and ties together the best thinking from their previously discrete disciplines.

In its final form, XBI could become the multidisciplinary glue that binds what the British call "joined together government." It could also become the catalyst that tips the balance in the intractable debate between agency autonomy and the needs or interests of the larger enterprise.

XBI's greatest value may come from its relationship to TLAs imported from the private sector. ERP, CRM and both flavors of BPM automate generic business rules and cause organizations to act like the software, not the other way around. While allowing for exceptions, XBI is an assault on governments' claims of having unique needs that cannot be satisfied with commercial software.

In its final form, an XBI framework could provide the context for having that fight within your organization and with your neighbors.

So this X-treme sport now has a name -- never mind that X stands for "extensible" in XML and "cross" in XBI. After all, it is only the private language of public-sector IT. Therein lay a cautionary note and a potential lesson from the British where the use of language is concerned.

We are still speaking geek while those we seek to persuade -- and in some cases, beat in the competition for scarce public resources -- are playing by Scrabble rules.

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Paul W. Taylor Contributing Writer

Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the editor-at-large of Governing magazine. He also serves as the chief content officer of e.Republic, Governing’s parent organization, as well as senior advisor to the Governing Institute. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO and chief of staff of the state Information Services Board (ISB). Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet start-ups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the non-profit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.

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