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Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative (CDSI) Initiative 2

Initiative 2 - Prioritize and deploy information technology that effectively supports and aligns with the delivery of conservation assistance.

The 2007 NRCS project, "Conservation Assistance Streamlined through Process Re-engineering (CASPeR)," identified a number of areas where NRCS has excelled in delivering automation tools and data to its employees. However, that effort also described some critical opportunity areas to be addressed to ensure that the delivery of conservation assistance is efficiently and effectively supported by information technology. This Streamlining Initiative strategy is being undertaken to:

  • Ensure a hardware/technology architecture strategy exists that provides field staff access to required data and tools when and where they are needed, including in the field.

  • Establish more interface standardization to decrease the development, implementation, and training costs; and increase employee efficiency.

  • Ensure field tools are not unnecessarily complex and time-consuming.

  • Implement IT tools that help guide or assist field staff through conservation assistance processes. Ensure tools are scalable in design, when appropriate, to address varying levels of complexity.

  • Establish sufficient integration between databases and tools to eliminate duplicate data entry and database management within respective applications.

  • Increase the standardization of technology adoption between states in order to effectively integrate new technologies and associated efficiencies into national business processes.

  • Ensure clear national strategy, policies, procedures, and guidance is available to States to facilitate the effective and efficient use of emerging technologies.

  • Integrate geospatial data and functionality into NRCS’ tools in an effective manner.

  • Support a more nimble IT development that provides tools to meet Agency needs for technology in a timely manner.

  • Ensure a national strategy for capturing information technology innovations from states, and sharing innovations between states.

To more effectively align NRCS’ information technology with the needs of conservation assistance, Strategy 2 focuses around the development and implementation of the components of a Streamlining Initiative business systems model.

STRATEGY 2.1 - Geospatial data and services will be fully integrated into NRCS’ business processes and IT systems and tools.

GIS is no longer an emerging technology for use only by specialists. Fully enabling field planners and technical staff to utilize geospatial data and analysis, without requiring GIS expertise or extensive data management, is essential for NRCS to meet its mission.

To effectively utilize GIS in support of conservation assistance, NRCS will:

  • Develop intuitive, user-friendly tools for use by planners in both the office and field setting.

  • Establish applicable policies and procedures that standardize the use of GIS and digital geospatial data for identified business processes Agency-wide.

  • Establish that only one conservation plan for a unit of land will be allowed, eliminating the concept of “pan-caked” plans with overlapping boundaries.

  • Establish policy that all planned land units (field boundaries), natural resource features important for planning, and conservation practices (planned and existing) will be digitally geo-referenced to document the conservation plan.

  • Provision geospatial data to field business tools and science applications in a manner that is transparent to the field user.

  • Integrate NRCS cartographic standards, symbology, and conventions into NRCS business tools. Business and science tools will implement standardized file naming and database organization for data collected in a manner transparent to the user.

STRATEGY 2. 2 - A Conservation Desktop concept will be implemented nationwide to serve as a single web application for staff to manage workflow and access the data and tools needed perform their job.

To accommodate NRCS’ decentralized structure, a “Conservation Desktop” will serve as a common web application into the array of activities and associated tools used by field staff daily, to guide staff through the steps of technical and financial assistance, and automate workflows.

The Conservation Desktop has a variety of functionality that will be implemented through a sequence of releases during 2011 through 2015; a minimum set of functionality for the first release is being defined by the Core Integration Team.

  • NRCS will provision a Conservation Desktop for field planners that reinforces the integrated delivery of technical and financial assistance.

  • Conservation Desktop for field planners will provide a synchronized link to the Client Service Gateway and the Mobile Planning Tool.

  • The Conservation Desktop for field planners will provide the ability to create both standardized and ad hoc queries of data from one or more plans and contracts, and integrate this data with natural resource information.

  • NRCS will provision a Conservation Desktop for FA clerical support staff that provides automated workflow between the support staff, field planners, the clients, and others in the FA workflow (e.g. contract approvers). See Strategy 4.1.

STRATEGY 2.3 - The use of mobile computing will be institutionalized for conducting the resource inventory, analysis, and decision support steps of planning, as well as other selected field-based processes.

Meeting the success criteria established for enabling field staff to spend more time in the field requires that the Agency adopt mobile computing as a fundamental component in its business systems model. Delivering assistance through a mobile platform that provides field planners with access to data and tools in the field increases efficiency, and reinforces a resource-centric business model where planners focus their efforts in the field with customers.

A success criterion for mobile computing should be that when a planner returns to the office from a field planning session, they are done with “paperwork” once they synchronize their portable device.

To effectively use mobile computing to support conservation assistance, NRCS will:

  • Implement a technology architecture for mobile access to data and tools that assures the technology used will perform reliably everywhere.

  • Equip all field technical staff who perform conservation planning with mobile computing technology as part of an enterprise procurement process.

  • Implement a Mobile Planning Tool application to guide the planner through the resource inventory and decision support steps in the planning process.

STRATEGY 2.4 - NRCS’ resource inventory, decision support, and design tools used by field staff will be restructured to align with conservation assistance business processes.

Providing resource inventory, decision support, and environmental compliance tools better aligned with NRCS business processes can minimize duplicate data entry, reduce training needs, enhance the credibility of the plan product, and significantly increase workflow efficiencies.

Resource Inventory and Decision Support Tools

 

 

 

To effectively align NRCS’ resource inventory and decision support tools to more effectively support conservation assistance, NRCS will:

  • Define an enterprise-level database structure and definitions across the resource inventory, decision support, and design tools used by the field, and establish a corporate strategy for provisioning data to these tools.

  • Design NRCS’ resource inventory, decision support, and design tools used by the field for conservation assistance to support streamlined data entry and use.

  • Integrate the data collection, workflow, and documentation for environmental and cultural resources compliance into the conservation assistance business process.

NRCS will initially focus on restructuring/migrating two priority application areas to this integrated environment in order to provide significant efficiencies for the field: an integrated erosion tool and an integrated grazing application. Both of these applications will be designed to operate as a feature on the mobile planning tool, aligned with the steps of planning, and fully integrated with common geospatial services.

In order to implement the modified resource concerns as identified in Strategy 4.1, NRCS will also prioritize efforts in 2010-2011 to establish a set of simple assessment tools/worksheets to support screening and other assessments at a landscape or farm scale during conservation planning (e.g. wildlife habitat, air, and energy considerations).

STRATEGY 2.5 - Establish and implement an enterprise architecture strategy that ensures that applications and databases are designed to enable the sharing of services and functionality.

To effectively implement streamlined conservation assistance business processes, a higher level of integration across the Agency’s business and scientific tools with shared data and services is required. NRCS must establish a policy that does not provide resources to fund applications that have non-integrated data structures, duplicate functionality or data entry, or interfaces that do not comply with established standards or conventions.

Technologies such as the conservation transaction plug-in should be used to leverage external development by partners and others, and to provide the technical framework for applications that will have use external to the Agency.

STRATEGY 2.6 - Establish a formal strategy and process for encouraging, guiding, documenting, and sharing business process and information technology innovations from the state, area, and field levels of NRCS.

To streamline conservation assistance, NRCS must introduce more standardization in some areas (e.g. FA processes, technology adoption, mobile hardware, shared services, GIS integration, Conservation Desktop). But with standardization comes the increased potential for stifling creativity and innovation from the state, area, and field levels. Unless accompanied by a collaborative approach, national standardization can actually discourage offices from sharing innovative solutions.

NRCS’ strategy for encouraging state and local innovation will establish a framework that:

  • Establishes a collaboration between National Headquarters/Technology Centers and development sites at the field, area, and state level

  • Minimizes duplication of effort between states, and enhances sharing of ideas and project results between states, and

  • Guides or facilitates state-level development to assure innovations are structured to accommodate a potentially wider adoption when appropriate, and even supports states with funding when appropriate.

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