An architect eyes GSA's enterprise

Sanford says the bottom line on an enterprise architecture is that agencies will get more for their IT money.

Henrik G. DeGyor

Unlike most people who manage federal IT architecture development, Lew Sanford actually was trained in architecture'the bricks-and-mortar kind, that is. He studied architecture and urban planning as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech and says the discipline is useful in his work as the chief IT architect at the General Services Administration.

While using the engineering mindset he learned in college and his training in using frameworks and components, Sanford also benefits from postgraduate studies in computer science, law and business administration.

Despite his eclectic background, Sanford began his IT career as a specialist in relational databases and worked for several Washington-area systems companies for more than two decades before joining GSA's Public Buildings Service in 1991.

There he began to work with international standards organizations and on federal efforts to design systems that could share information more readily. Interagency cooperation has been a theme of his career, and he now co-chairs the Federal Enterprise Architecture Working Group under the auspices of the CIO Council.

He became deputy CIO for the Public Buildings Service before moving up to the GSA CIO office. Although he still holds the title of chief IT architect for the housekeeping agency, Sanford has been devoting more of his time lately to the e-government initiatives that the Office of Management and Budget has designated as top priorities. Of the 24 governmentwide initiatives, GSA is responsible for five, in the areas of federal travel, authentication, a federal services portal, asset sales and acquisition.

Sanford's architectural experience has helped him tackle the assignment, he said. 'The Web lends itself to information sharing,' he said, but it isn't a perfect tool. The interagency working group is proposing to build an XML registry with components and templates that would be available to federal agencies developing Web applications.

GSA has augmented its own enterprise architecture staff, now that Sanford is focusing on e-government challenges. Asked to assess the status of his agency's architecture program, Sanford said that 'they're far ahead of many of the agencies I work with today.'

He said GSA began early to standardize its systems. For example, in 1993 it became one of the first agencies to standardize its desktop hardware and then selected standard software for those desktop PCs. An Oracle relational database runs on Microsoft SQL Server in the standard GSA database.

Get used to sharing

That made it easier to promote alignments among systems, he said, but there are still redundant applications and more work to be done on creating a cohesive whole. As in every agency, there is some resistance to sharing data and software, he said, and that resistance is a greater barrier than the technology.

'Understanding of [the need to conform with architectures] is improving, but it's not a simple problem, or we would have solved it years ago,' he said. One tactic: Hold systems that are being planned or developed to a higher standard of conformance than existing applications.

Budgeting for architecture work can be a problem, Sanford acknowledged. On the other hand, architectures are important because they reduce costs in the long run. With an enterprise architecture in place, he said, 'you can spend more economically and get better results for the taxpayers' dollars.'

OMB's push for enterprise architectures is really exciting, he said'an opportunity to eliminate many of the stovepipes that have been so troublesome to so many agencies.

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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