The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is comprised of 26 separate organizations that conduct and support medical and scientific research with the goal of improving the nation's health. As a public agency, the NIH is often called upon to answer questions from NIH management, the public and Congress--and until recently the answers frequently required data that was not readily available. Each legacy source system had a different type of database--central accounting and payroll data, for example, were stored as flat files, while human resources employed DB2, information on research grants was in an Oracle database, and the administrative database employed IMS. Each organization had its own desktop standards as well, resulting in a heterogeneous mix of computing environments. A user might have had to access as many as five or even seven sources to answer a seemingly simple question such as, "How much money was spent for senior-level management to travel outside of the U.S. to attend conferences related to research?" And since it was difficult to find all the right information, the same question might receive several different answers at different times.

Clearly, the NIH needed to find a better way for users to access and analyze enterprise information. Thus in 1992, upper management formed the NIH Information Committee and gave the NIH's Division of Computer Research and Technology (DCRT) the task of creating an enterprise-wide system that would bring all the NIH's administrative data together in one place. The system also had to provide easy desktop access so that users could provide accurate answers, to the same questions, every time.

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