Enterprise architects tell what works

Enterprise architects from both the public and private sectors delivered pointers for designing a successful blueprint today at the GCN Management at FOSE 2003 conference.

The keys: Get support from top managers, break the project in easy-to-manage chunks, and be prepared to go backward as well as forward.

The IRS is now on its fifth generation of architecture and has 525 systems already in place, said Thomas Lucas, the tax agency's senior technical adviser for business systems modernization.

Most enterprise architecture efforts start with theoretical concepts and diagrams of business processes, but they get stuck if the agency's mission-critical applications don't jive with the foundational efforts. The answer to that dilemma, Lucas said, is to take a simultaneous look at processes, applications and data.

In an ideal world, the blueprint development process would move continuously up a ladder from basic principles through reference models, systems definitions and finally a transition strategy, Lucas said. In reality, enterprise architects sometimes have to take a few steps down and back up before the project reaches fruition.

The IRS hasn't found a single software tool to handle every aspect of enterprise architecture, Lucas said. At times, agency officials have used Rational Software applications from IBM Corp., Microsoft Visio and Microsoft Word, Lucas said.

In a panel discussion following Lucas' talk, three vendor representatives described the lessons they have learned from their internal enterprise architecture efforts and how the lessons might be applied to the public sector.

Darren McKnight, a senior vice president of Titan Corp. of San Diego, said he views enterprise architecture as a systems engineering problem. One key to success is managing employee expectations, he said.

Steve Cooperman, Oracle Corp.'s director of homeland security solutions, said agencies should first form some kind of vision or organizing statement that people can rally around.

It's crucial to have both buy-in from senior management and demonstrable milestones that can keep workers motivated, Cooperman said.

Peter Bailey, a systems consultant for Dell Computer Corp., touted the value of standardization in both software and hardware.

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