Fitting new IT into architectures proves tough

The business case process does not support new technologies, VA's Ed Meagher says.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Here's a new enterprise architecture wrinkle: How, if at all, should agencies incorporate emerging and new technologies?

'There is not a lot of room for new technologies in our agencies because the business case process does not support it,' said Ed Meagher, acting CIO at the Veterans Affairs Department. 'The return on investment must support it. We had some programs that had to be axed or cut back because we can't support research and development.'

Meagher, one of several government and industry officials who last week discussed architecture efforts at the Industry Advisory Council's ELC, said almost every agency is faced with this problem.

Veterans Affairs is trying to deal with the issue through the use of performance-based contracts, Meagher said. For instance, VA recently modified its telecommunications contract with Sprint Corp. to ask for specific results and let the vendor figure out how to deliver those results.

By setting performance requirements, agencies can ensure that vendors offer the latest technologies, he said. 'This is just a new way to do business. We are interested in how to best meet our mission goals, and whether it is new technology or existing technology, it doesn't really matter as long as it is compatible to our enterprise architecture.'

VA recently issued Version 2.1 of its enterprise architecture, the fourth iteration of the document. Meagher said that the department's success in drafting a workable IT road map is reflected by the Office of Management and Budget's recent approval of all 59 of the department's fiscal 2005 IT business cases.

'That's never been done in government before, and we did it by paying attention to our enterprise architecture and by getting to the details,' he said. 'Our budget is sound, and there are no programs or projects at risk because we embraced the enterprise architecture process.'

Like VA, the Housing and Urban Development Department is using performance requirements to make sure that it gets new IT incorporated into enterprisewide systems plans, said Gloria Parker, the department's chief technology officer. When HUD awarded the $860 million HUD IT Services contract in August, the department used a performance-based deal that leaves it up to EDS Corp. to achieve results through whatever technology necessary, she said.

OMB and the CIO Council recognize the difficulties agencies are facing and will try to provide guidance, said Robert Haycock, OMB's acting chief architect.

Where to begin

But, echoing Meagher, he noted that a sound enterprise architecture is the starting point.

'How to incorporate emerging technologies into your enterprise architecture is a significant issue,' Haycock said. 'You have to know whether your infrastructure is in place to handle it and, if not, whether you can build the business case to put the bandwidth in place to handle it.'

The CIO Council's Emerging Technologies Subcommittee is looking at lifecycle issues related to new technologies, Haycock said. The subcommittee will create a portal for industry to describe governmentwide technology needs and detail specific agencies' needs, he said.

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