What is NIEM?
NIEM—the National Information Exchange Model—is a community-driven, standards-based
approach to exchanging information.
NIEM may sound complex, but the premise of it is simple: NIEM connects communities
of people who share a common need to exchange information in order to advance their
mission. NIEM is not a database, system, software, technology stack, or
a silver bullet.
Well, what is it, then?
Information exchange is about connecting data from one computer to another, and
another, and so on. Maybe you drink "soda", but I drink "pop". The problem is—even
though we're both talking about sweet fizzy beverages, our computers treat my "pop"
as entirely different from your "soda".
The same is true for diverse, real-world examples, such as this one from maritime
domain awareness. If I say "vessel" and you say "boat", and he says "ship" and she
says "conveyance", we may mean the same thing, but we have no way to tell our computer
systems to behave and treat the words as having the same meaning. Until we do, we'll
all have different facts about the same world—pieces of the big puzzle—but no common
This is where a standards-based approach to exchanging information comes in: You
don't have to change your language. You can still call that fizzy beverage "soda"
which is great for legacy systems with 30 years of data about "soda". But if you
want to exchange information with me about my "pop", we'll each have to agree to
call this fizzy beverage the same word, such as "soft drink".
This is the idea behind NIEM—letting your system and my system speak—even if they've
never spoken before. NIEM ensures that information is well-understood and carries
the same consistent meaning across various communities, allowing interoperability
to occur. With NIEM, you only need to know two languages—your own and NIEM. NIEM
is driven by the community, for the community.
Today's challenges and opportunities cut across various sectors and organizations,
often requiring collaboration between governments and industry.
NIEM brings together diverse communities that collectively leverage tools, processes,
and technologies to increase efficiencies and improve decision-making.
How does NIEM work?
All 50 states and the majority of federal agencies are using (at varying levels of maturity) or considering using NIEM. It is
a consistent starting point—which includes a data model, governance, training, tools,
technical support services, and an active community—that assists users in adopting
a standards-based approach to exchanging data.
There are two concepts that can help explain how NIEM works:
- First, words are to a dictionary as elements are to a data model. Think of the NIEM
data model as a data dictionary of agreed-upon terms, definitions, relationships, and formats—independent
of how information is stored in individual systems. The data model includes community-specific
elements as well as core elements that are commonly agreed to by all of the communities
who use NIEM.
- Second, NIEM provides rules and methodologies around the creation and use of the
data model as well as a standardized Information Exchange Development
Lifecycle that can be repeated and reused by everyone.
The graphic below shows the most common data elements contained in NIEM Core. For
more information on each community’s data elements, visit the Communities page.
A golden rule of NIEM is: If it exists, use it—don’t reinvent it.
Leading by example, some of the "What is NIEM?" content on this page was taken from
"Breaking Down the Barriers to Sharing Information" by Zachary Tumin, the Associate
Director for Programs in Technology, Networks and Governance at the Ash Institute
of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government:
Questions about NIEM?
"Presenting NIEM Simplified" - 2 Minute Video
Want to learn more about NIEM but only have a couple of minutes? Wondering how NIEM works and what it can do for your organization?
This two-minute video by T. Reinhardt tells you in an easy-to-understand format how NIEM got its start, how it works, and the key benefits of using NIEM.