If you build it . . .

Thomas R. Temin

If you want to hear a fresh perspective on enterprise architectures, catch a few minutes with Fred Thompson. Thompson is the assistant director for consulting and marketing in the CIO Customer Service Consulting Group at the Treasury Department. His basic message is that without the right people, an agency will never establish a relevant and long-lasting enterprise architecture.

Many agencies are grappling with enterprise architecture plans, now that the Office of Management and Budget has made creating them a front-burner priority.

If you didn't listen carefully, you'd think enterprise architectures were strictly a dizzying series of flowcharts made up of boxes, arrows and ovals'coupled with mind-numbing insiders' jargon and years of drudgery.

But these charts and jargon reveal precise meaning. They reflect the fact that creating an effective enterprise architecture requires highly specific knowledge and engineering discipline. It may not be rocket science, but it's not Dick and Jane, either.

What's more, the human aspect is equally complex, because an enterprise architecture exists at the intersection of agencies' missions, business processes and IT. No one owns the architecture outright because of mutual dependencies.

Yet at some level each of the stakeholders'executives, program managers and technology chiefs'must in turn lead the effort.

An enterprise architecture forces an organization's groups to understand one another. An assistant secretary for management who is totally ignorant about the latest technology is as useless as a techie who's clueless about the agency's mission and political environment.

Which brings me to a comment Thompson made at a recent conference in Washington. He pointed out that a person's longevity in a job'and the knowledge that entails'can enhance the chances of success for an enterprise architecture effort. An enterprise architecture should not be the sole domain of political appointees who come and go; a thorough architecture should outlive the politics.

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