DHS homes in on systems architecture

When it comes to the Homeland Security Department's current effort to create an enterprise architecture, 'you are kind of watching the sausage being made in front of you.'

'DHS' Lee Holcomb

The Homeland Security Department is nearly finished preparing an enterprise architecture that will guide future IT investments and systems departmentwide.

'You are kind of watching the sausage being made in front of you,' Lee Holcomb, the department's chief technology officer, said at a conference sponsored by the Potomac Forum Inc. and Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va. 'We are in the last throes of this activity.'

DHS systems planners have been preparing the enterprise architecture since May, when they developed the first version of the technical reference model to be used with the architecture. That model was based on plans that sprang to life in the White House Homeland Security Office before the department was created.

The department hired a team of contractors led by Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego under a five-month, $1.2 million task order to elaborate on the preliminary work.

In June, the SAIC team worked with DHS employees to define the department's business lines, such as screening passengers, verifying cargo and responding to emergencies.

'These have been derived from the strategy document the president issued about a year ago as well as the legislation for the department,' Holcomb said.

Department planners have also defined the support functions that DHS will need to carry out its mission.

In viewing both mission and support functions, DHS planners have defined the processes that tie missions to IT.

'We spent quite a lot of time with our business community to develop this value chain,' Holcomb said. 'It really is the beginning of the business modeling effort and helps us understand the enterprise.'

DHS planners expect to generate a transition strategy to link the as-is infrastructure to a target architecture for the department.

The transition strategy will be 'key to our investment planning process,' Holcomb said. It will help them decide which systems to keep, modify or discard.

The department is using the enterprise architecture as a guiding element as it finalizes fiscal 2005 budget requests, Holcomb said.

'It also becomes an important element in our compliance with our target standards and our standards profile,' he said.

It's a start

The department has developed an initial set of about 45 interface and product standards, primarily for software, to generate profiles for specific application areas.

DHS planners are matching the applications they will deploy with what systems integrators call patterns of software.

Homeland Security IT teams are using patterns created by the Office of Management and Budget as well as by industry sources such as IBM Corp.

'You use these patterns to build once and use many times'that has been a watchword we have had since the department started,' Holcomb said.

The department plans to use five technology application patterns:
  • Business rules engine for managing enterprisewide functions

  • Workflow and business process management for automating complex procedures

  • Portal for giving users personalized access to applications

  • Dynamic Web for high-volume Web applications

  • Broker for breaking down and distributing work.

'You'll find that maybe 80 percent of the patterns that people put in front of you are similar,' Holcomb said. 'We have found them very useful.'

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