Morale agency solves EA puzzle

'Every day we add a new piece to the puzzle,' Thomas said. 'The first thing you do is pull the pieces that have a straight edge and build the frame, and then you start filling in the pieces.'

Building an enterprise architecture is a lot like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, said Rick Thomas, CIO of the Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation agency.

'Every day we add a new piece to the puzzle,' Thomas said. 'The first thing you do is pull the pieces that have a straight edge and build the frame, and then you start filling in the pieces.'

For MWR, which supports Army personnel and their families with everything from hotels and libraries to legal and IT help, those pieces present a daunting challenge. MWR is a component of the Army Community and Family Support Center Command in Alexandria, Va.

Thomas hired a contractor to build an enterprise architecture to connect the division's 35,000 employees worldwide, including nearly every state and Belgium, Bosnia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kosovo and the Netherlands.

'I believe I may have the most diverse customer base of any CIO, maybe even in the world,' Thomas said.

MWR began developing the enterprise architecture in 1998 as a way to reduce redundancies. The agency hired DESE Research Inc. of Huntsville, Ala., a small business that conducts research in defense, energy, space and the environment.

Integration tool

DESE tackled building the architecture with System Architect from Popkin Software Inc. of New York. The tool integrates business modeling, relational data modeling, network architecture design, and structured analysis and design. It lets agency officials analyze and document everything.

Thomas said DESE collected all of MWR's paper documents before starting to develop the enterprise architecture. The contractor also interviewed officials to collect more data.

MWR undertook the architecture work to comply with a mandate from the Office of Management and Budget requiring agencies to define their enterprise architectures to get a better grasp of their technology investments.

'We see a lot of people talking about architectures, but that's all they're doing,' Thomas said. 'We are going to make our architecture a working, living, breathing document. It's a system. It's a methodology. It's a culture. I am bound and determined it will not be shelfware.'

So far, the agency has used the architecture approach to implement an electronic-learning initiative at MWR Academy in Falls Church, Va.

Previously, the agency paid to fly people from all over the world to the academy for training. Now personnel need only sign on to a Web portal.

'You can imagine it costs a lot of money to bring people in from Korea and all over the world,' Thomas said. 'It makes sense to do it in an e-learning fashion. And when we used enterprise architecture methodology to determine what solution would be best for our e-learning, not only did we save hundreds of thousands of dollars, we got the system we needed the first time.'

Thomas said he uses the System Architect repository to generate daily reports about MWR capital investments and human resources operations. The approach has also helped internal divisions identify their requirements and business processes.

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