Agencies design architectures

Chief information officers are talking a lot about architecture these days because the
Information Technology Management Reform Act requires them to develop architectures for
their agencies.


The Chief Information Officers Council has approved a conceptual framework for
enterprise architectures for the entire federal government, published on the Web at http://cio.gov.


Such an architecture can do more than manage government IT, said John Keane, an
associate director at DMR Consulting Group Inc. of Falls Church, Va.


It will help agencies keep up better with change, he said.


The veteran architecture designer has served as chief of the Technical Architecture
Division in the Defense Department’s Center for Information Management. He also is a
former manager of the DOD Technical Architecture Framework for Information Management
program.


“Architecture is all about managing change,” Keane said. Program
responsibilities, procedures, applications and platforms change. So do data models, data
sets, metadata, networks and technical reference models, he said.


Organizations will make smarter buying decisions if they have an architectural road map
to follow as they make changes, Keane said.


Architecture planning tools, including DMR’s Macroscope tool set, “have some
limitations and aren’t meant for everybody,” he said. But some users find the
tools useful for mapping their program objectives to their information needs, he said.


Business process re-engineering tools of the past were less expert at integrating
process modeling and information modeling, and they got a bad reputation, Keane said.


The federal IT architecture framework document recommends that the government reach a
consensus on specific standards for information exchange and resource sharing between
agencies.


The hot areas where such governmentwide standards might make the most sense are
electronic commerce, e-mail, security, public access, data warehousing, electronic records
management and geospatial initiatives.


“People use the term architecture when they talk about systems, and to me
that’s a semantic error,” Keane said. Agencies should first agree on a common
set of concepts and terms, he said, because “architecture is about defining
requirements, identifying needs and providing guidance,” not about engineering the
systems, he said.


The CIO Council’s architecture framework looks much like the Technical
Architecture Framework for Information Management, Volume 4, a DOD architecture planning
guide, he added.


As far back as he can remember, Keane said, federal IT managers have been trying to
boost their odds at managing change.


He said he believes the government is always a little late recognizing where industry
standards are moving because timing the market is impossible. “You’re either too
late, or you’re too early,” he said. “No one’s ever got it exactly
right.”


An architecture approach to IT acquisition requires continuous planning and continuous
improvement, Keane said.


“With all the churning that is going on today, there’s got to be somebody out
there taking a look and recommending to their bosses upgrades to the infrastructure and
improvements to automated information systems. It’s a continuous process,” he
said.


Keane said he regards the Army Corps of Engineers as a good practitioner of continuous
improvement.


The corps maintains metrics and decision points for its network, “always looking
at the load on the backbone” to judge when it is time to upgrade a circuit, he said.


If an agency has well-defined architectural principles such as going paperless or using
Web-enabling applications, savvy IT officials should find it simple to select the right
technology, Keane said.


“Why are agencies having difficulty going to a paperless environment?” he
said. “It’s because their workers can’t read a full piece of paper on a
computer screen.”


Keane recommended replacing old monitors with 17-inch models as the minimum acceptable
in a paperless office.


A Marine Corps e-mail study, he said, found that a document e-mailed to 17 people was
printed out 17 times. In contrast, the Corps used to route only one copy of a paper
document.


The Marines initially blamed the presence of e-mail for the paper proliferation, but
that was not the problem, Keane said; “it was the size of their screens—they
couldn’t read a full piece of paper.”


Keane also recommended that agencies order T3 circuits for network backbones if they
plan to Web-enable their applications.  

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