Customs CIO: Architecture eases planning

'It is easier to do a business case, easier to gain ownership from all levels and easier to weigh the costs and benefits of each project.'

'Customs CIO S.W. 'Woody' Hall

S.W. 'Woody' Hall compares an agency's enterprise architecture to a set of building codes.

You start with standards such as the distance the building must be from the street or the type of platform your system will run on, the Customs Service CIO said.

Then the builder obtains permits, which Hall likened to getting buy-in from management, and finally inspectors check out the building. The process is similar to the way agencies evaluate systems to see if they meet mission needs.

Clearer picture

Hall used the analogy to illuminate why constructing a bureauwide architecture is a key component in controlling IT investments and making sure they relate to the agency's mission.

'With an enterprise architecture, you get a much clearer picture up front on how the technology fits together,' Hall said. 'It is easier to do a business case, easier to gain ownership from all levels and easier to weigh the costs and benefits of each project.'

Hall's approach has earned Customs' enterprise architecture top marks from the General Accounting Office. In February, GAO rated the architecture at Stage 5 of its five-stage management maturity model. The model assesses an agency's architecture for core elements such as a written and approved policy, input from an investment review board and an analysis of the architecture's benefits.

Congressional auditors did not rate any other agencies as highly, and only the Army, IRS, Office of Personnel Management and Patent and Trademark Office are at Stage 4. The average architecture rating was 1.5.

Customs has not always been in such good shape. When Hall came to the service from the Energy Department in 1998, Customs had a small resource management staff. Hall reorganized the group and placed a high priority on managing IT.

'When I first came to Customs, Sam Banks, deputy commissioner, said he wanted to get an architecture done,' Hall said. 'Having that high-level buy-in was so important.'

One of the first things Hall did was assign a team to concentrate on the architecture. The group documented the hardware and software used by 900 Customs branches around the country and established exactly what Customs required.

'We needed to have a vision of where we were going with technology,' Hall said. 'It was very difficult to do, but now we look at our enterprise architecture as a strategic planning tool.'

Customs now has a 10-person staff that creates architecture policy, and maintains a technical reference model, an approved products list and a repository of the software and hardware the service uses. Additionally, Hall said, there is a technical review committee that examines all projects of $100,000 or more to determine whether they comply with the current architecture before Census considers a business case.

The architecture review process in the past year has evolved into a capital investment process for all major projects, Hall said.

On a mission

'We created a strategic planning process that we use to map what we are doing with technology back to our mission,' he said. 'We make sure we understand the business and who performs the function, not just how the technology fits together.'

Hall said developing and maintaining an enterprise architecture is challenging and expensive. Customs reported to GAO that it cost $6 million to complete the architecture and $1.5 million to maintain it.

'You have to have the organizational environment that believes disciplined management is worthwhile,' Hall said. 'The concept is not rocket science but logically based. Agencies really need to have the resource to get it done and use the enterprise architecture for it to be valuable.'

inside gcn

  • Pushing cybersecurity for counties

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group