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I think you'd all agree that information sharing, the root of collaborative business, is generally a good thing. Done right, it can foster better business relationships, more personal contact with customers, more efficient supply chains, and better forecasting and planning. But like many things in life and business, it isn't always an easy task-technically or culturally.
The federal government has a new sense of urgency when it comes to information sharing. Specifically, it's exploring ways to swap data that could help counter terrorism in the United States. It's a crucial and complex goal, and domestic law-enforcement agencies, such as the Customs Service and the FBI, along with intelligence agencies, such as the CIA and the National Security Agency, are realizing how poorly equipped they are to make this happen. Technical challenges, including heterogeneous database integration, could take years to sort out. Any company that's been through a merger can probably sympathize. On page 20, senior editor Rick Whiting digs deeper into the data integration challenge facing the feds.
Playing a central role in this initiative will be the new chief of the Office of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, a tech-savvy politician who made IT a cornerstone of practically every initiative he spearheaded as governor of Pennsylvania. The hope is that his understanding of technology's benefits as well as his collaborative vision will help put data integration among federal agencies on a fast track. For more on Ridge, see the profile on page 21 by special projects editor Eric Chabrow.
One could argue that the need for information sharing in business is also more urgent than ever. According to InformationWeek Research, companies that collaborate tend to be comfortable sharing order management, planning, and marketing data-but are less inclined to share financial information, real-time sales data, production data, and resource allocation. But as many businesses, bruised by the economic downturn, try to regain some strength, they're realizing that not only is a willingness to share information critical, but so is finding tools sophisticated enough to handle the job. Companies are learning how fragile their just-in-time supply networks are. Logistic disruptions and blown forecasts show just how far many companies are from the dream of end-to-end visibility. Beginning on page 34, managing editor Chris Murphy, senior editor Antone Gonsalves, and senior writer Steve Konicki take a closer look at where science and wishful thinking often clash.
How well does your company forecast? Is it a true science?