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Exploring Information Integration

Information integration is considered one of the most significant ways to change the structure and function of organizations. In its most simple conceptualization, information integration allows managers to work at the same time, with the same information drawn from multiple disparate sources. It has the potential to support the transformation of organizational structures and communication channels between and among multiple agencies working in different locations. The question remains, not whether we should invest in integration initiatives, but which initiatives should be pursued and what barriers must be overcome in order to be successful?

Information sharing and integration is a relatively new challenge for public agencies. Traditional governmental structures have organized the capture, use, and management of information along agency lines. Overcoming these deeply entrenched program and information "silos" is the particular challenge agencies face as they pursue the benefits of integrated information. Justice agencies, in particular, need to share information in a timely and effective way in order to secure public safety. As a result, a number of efforts1 within the justice community are seeking to build knowledge and understanding about information integration. This current practices study contributes to this community-wide knowledge building effort by examining the factors that influenced the success of selected criminal justice integration initiatives.

This study2 was conducted to help practitioners respond to questions about which initiatives to pursue, what barriers they will encounter, and what are some effective strategies for overcoming those barriers. A snapshot of current research on barriers to information integration is presented first followed by strategies, drawn from the six cases, found to be effective in overcoming the barriers to information integration. Each case is then presented in terms of five elements: 1) goals of the project, 2) brief description, 3) key players, 4) critical success factors, and 5) challenges and future plans.

It is important to emphasize that there is no "one size fits all" solution. Solution strategies are context specific. The reader is urged to consider the barriers in each case and the strategies employed for overcoming barriers in terms of their own environment and the specifics of their initiatives. Specific information is provided about each integration initiative so the reader may be aware of the context within which these strategies were effective.

Understanding the objectives and the benefits of any particular integration initiative is necessary to the identification of barriers and the development of strategies for overcoming those barriers. The following sections presents two frameworks for expressing the objectives of an integration initiative and a set of categories to support the identification of benefits.

1Some examples of these efforts are projects funded by the US Department of Justice such as (1) Consequences of Inadequately Integrated Justice Information Systems, developed by the Center for Society, Law, and Justice, University of New Orleans, (2) And Justice for All: Designing Your Business Case for Integrating Justice Information, developed by the Center for Technology in Government, University at Albany, (3) Applying Security Practices to Justice Information Sharing developed by the Security Working Group of the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, (4) Integration in the Context of Justice Information Systems: A Common Understanding, developed by SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, and (5) Increasing Information Sharing Effectiveness: A Capability Assessment Model for the Justice Enterprise, developed by the Center for Technology in Government, University at Albany.
2The results are based on a review of relevant research and of case studies and other materials related to information integration in the criminal justice enterprise. Additional information was gathered through interviews with participants from selected initiatives.