Disparate, Semi-structured, Data Silos

Describing the Coast Guard’s current data stance without bias is a difficult thing to do.  Anyone who is an everyday user of the Coast Guard’s NIPRnet (CGONE), will have countless stories of Information Technology (IT) related issues to share.  And the Coast Guard’s data stance is deeply intertwined with legacy software systems that are either maintained well beyond a logical service life, or continually offered past their sustainable service life.

Jokingly, lines are thrown around like, “There are seamen in the service who are younger than…” with one of many software products inserted.  Similarly, there are Coast Guard urban legends that similar software products were programmed by a specific Coast Guard member, decades ago, “When they were an Ensign,” or something similar.  Admittedly, I co-authored and article that asserted, “There are active-duty Coast Guardsmen working with MISLE who were born after it was created” (where “MISLE” is a Coast Guard legacy software database solution which stands for the Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement database).[1]

So, this is the Coast Guard’s current data stance:  many different semi-structured databases offered and maintained past their planned life cycle, making these legacy software systems the butt of many jokes as younger Gen X professionals and Millennials begin to make up the bulk of the workforce.

To an extent, the Coast Guard’s databases are impressive.  Approximately two decades ago, or dating even further back, the Coast Guard identified the need for rigorous manual data collection.  For many organizations (particularly within dated institutions like the US Government), two decades ago the Coast Guard would have been forward leaning in this respect and ahead of the curve of Big Data.  Yet, the Coast Guard proved to be slow to adapt.  And as technology matured, the Coast Guard remained locked in a state of manual data entry (which introduces human error) into separate semi-structured databases; databases designed for singular and specific purposes.  These were databases that were never updated to remain compatible with modern IT solutions.  Unable to be accessed outside of their source system front-end, the data within Coast Guard legacy software systems becomes siloed.

This represents the state of the Coast Guard’s data stance.  A series of legacy software solutions governing semi-structured and disparate data silos.

[1] https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2021/august/path-data-driven-coast-guard

These views are mine and should not be construed as the views of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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