In sight, but within reach?

OMB's Bob Haycock says the drive for enterprise architectures will depend on their value to agencies' business. Federal executives must see architectures as part of a business framework.

Tom Fedor

'Agencies should be prepared,' states a memorandum from the Office of Management and Budget, 'to indicate the status of the development, implementation, and maintenance of the agency ITA during the formulation of the ... President's budget.'

The words could be from Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government, reinforcing current efforts toward a governmentwide information technology architecture.
But in fact they were written in 1997 by Franklin D. Raines, then director of OMB; the budget his memo mentions was for fiscal 1999. The idea of developing IT architectures has been around for a while.

Appended to Raines' memo were summaries of 'architecture model sources' at four cabinet departments: Agriculture, Defense, Energy and Treasury.

But by late last year, those departments reported to the General Accounting Office that they were far from completing their enterprise architectures. Two of them, Agriculture and Treasury, said they had reached only Stage 1 on GAO's five-stage architecture maturity scale.

One survey might not tell the whole story, but experts inside and outside the federal government say few agencies are making the desired progress on developing their architectures. Agriculture and Treasury weren't alone'56 of the 116 agencies reporting to GAO were at Stage 1; another 42 were at Stage 2.

Some observers are questioning whether the push for a federal enterprise architecture can be sustained over the many years it will take to complete the development homework OMB has assigned.

Cost concerns

Chief among the concerns in agencies is the cost of developing and maintaining an enterprise architecture.

The costs are not trivial. The Defense Department expects to spend more than $200 million to develop an enterprise architecture just for its financial systems, according to DOD comptroller Dov S. Zakheim.

The Internal Revenue Service told GAO it will spend more than $18 million on development of its architecture, and other agencies plan to spend more. Even small agencies such as the Bureau of Prisons will spend more than $200,000. The money is spent primarily on employees and consultants.

Getting the money budgeted and then approved by congressional appropriators is no easy task. As the General Services Administration's chief IT architect, Lew Sanford, put it: 'Businesses are funded, not architecture programs.' An enterprise architecture often is viewed as an overhead item, to be pruned whenever possible.

Not-so-gentle nudge

Now that OMB is moving to veto IT projects that cannot demonstrate their alignment with established architectures, agencies are likely to be more willing to invest in architectures. But Bob Haycock, manager of OMB's Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office, said that ultimately the drive for enterprise architectures will depend on their value to the agency's business.

Federal executives must regard the architecture as not just an IT framework, Haycock said, but as a business framework. That's why the FEA Project Management Office released its draft business reference model first, before the other reference models that will make up the Federal Enterprise Architecture. Drafts of the other reference models will follow by early next year, he said.

Making the connection between an agency's mission priorities and its IT programs is essential, according to many of those engaged in the architecture movement.

For example, when George Brundage left GSA and joined Treasury as its chief enterprise architect, one of his first steps was to catalog the business activities of the department and its agencies. Only then could he begin to map the systems and their relationships, he said.

Brundage, who was an evangelist for enterprise architectures while at GSA, also said he believes that 'the agency has to manage it [architecture development and maintenance] like a program,' with staff and a budget and demonstrable results.

Mark L. Hess, a partner with consultants Tatum CIO Partners in Annapolis, Md., said federal agencies often fail to sell the architecture effort to two key constituencies: senior executives and the professional employees who will be affected by it.

'The challenge is to bring them on board,' he said, 'and you can't just proclaim' that the architecture is in force. Instead, explain the benefits to each group, he recommended, and appeal to their self-interest.

Officials at the Customs Service, which is ahead of many other agencies in its architectural development, said one key to sustaining the effort over the long haul is simply to use the architecture. 'At first it may not be pretty, and it may not be comfortable, but the long-term benefits are tangible,' a Customs spokesman said.

GAO and the governmentwide CIO Council agree that results must be measurable. They say that the mature architecture program will have metrics to show what it is accomplishing. But few if any agencies have gotten that far along the road to an architecture.

Haycock said some of the metrics will be IT performance measures and others will be business performance measures. The FEA Project Management Office expects to release a performance reference model later this year. It will provide a common framework for evaluating efficiency, effectiveness and progress on the FEA.

One way to keep agencies' enterprise architectures moving forward and on target is to establish review committees to advise the architects.

Brundage suggested that a technical review committee be complemented by a business review committee consisting of non-IT professionals.

After each piece or iteration of the architecture passes muster with these groups, it should be reviewed by senior agency officials on an executive review board, he said.

More than one observer sees the architecture movement as a serious challenge to the way agencies have built and acquired their systems for several decades. Randolph C. Hite, director of IT architecture issues for GAO, told a House committee earlier this year that 'federal agencies have largely allowed the cart to get ahead of the horse' by implementing systems in the absence of architectures and other best practices.

'Attempting to modernize operations and systems without architectures leads to operational and systems duplication, lack of integration and unnecessary expense,' he added.

Brundage called OMB's plans a blueprint for 'radical change.' He predicted the enterprise architecture drive could eliminate stovepipe systems and change systems acquisition fundamentally, among other effects.

Not surprisingly, all the talk of common frameworks, shared systems and data, new performance metrics and more reviewers is not welcomed universally. GAO reported that 'parochialism' is a notable barrier, as agencies resist cooperating with other agencies and changing their ways.

Mixed results

'There's been a lot of disenchantment [with architectures] across federal agencies,' said John A. Weiler, executive director of the Interoperability Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization in Alexandria, Va. He said that so far there are few satisfactory outcomes from the architecture drive, partly because of the lack of metrics.

What's more, the movement has sometimes bogged down in confusion about how to reconcile competing methodologies and disputes over terminology, Weiler said. Different companies and architecture specialists mean different things by such architectural terms as 'component' or 'segment.'

Yet, Weiler said, using an enterprise architecture is the only way to reduce the high failure rate that characterizes federal systems development efforts. The other benefits include less overlap and duplication, better and more accessible information outputs, cost reduction and better government operations.

In the end, many of those interviewed said, OMB must provide the fuel to keep the architectural bandwagon rolling. They are hoping OMB will stick to its principles, win over the appropriations committees, disarm the agency turf defenders and achieve the promised state of interoperability and efficiency. With a few victories under its belt, they said, the path will become smoother.

Nancy Ferris is a technology writer in Washington. E-mail: ferrisn@att.net.

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