On enterprise architectures, White House walks the walk

CIO Carlos Solari, seated right, and his IT team'clockwise from lower left, Tim Campen, Bruce O'Dell, Jamie Borrego and Steven P. McDevitt' helped the Executive Office of the President become the only agency of 93 reviewed by GAO to field a fully mature enterprise architecture.

Henrik G. de Gyor

When it comes to enterprise architectures, the White House is leading by example.

In a recent report, the General Accounting Office rated the Executive Office of the President's modernization blueprint as complete and at Stage 5 of GAO's tiered EA framework.

GAO said the agency was the only one of 93 surveyed that was wholly using an enterprise architecture that met all the criteria of the audit agency's Version 1.1 maturity model.

The IT team for EOP'which includes approximately 2,800 employees in 14 separate organizations such as the Office of Management and Budget, National Security Council and the Office of the Trade Representative'credits the architecture with helping it set a plan for consolidating four disparate e-mail systems by spring.

The plan also led the White House team to modify an electronic records management system that it already was implementing rather than buy a potentially duplicative one.

'We felt we met enough provisions to be in Stage 5, but we weren't sure if we would make it,' CIO Carlos Solari said. 'It is a matter of getting people to participate and understanding the importance of this. There is nothing fancy about it but good executive level support and staying focused.'

Overall, GAO found the government's overall progress stagnant when it comes to the development and use of enterprise architectures. To help agencies, GAO has over the past three years issued two versions of an EA framework that defines the pertinent features of crafting a workable enterprisewide IT plan.

In the study released last month, GAO found most agencies remained in stage 1 or 2 of Version 1.0 of the EA framework. When rating agencies against the Version 1.1 framework made public in April, GAO said 76 of the 93 agencies reviewed were in Stage 1.

'I was surprised there wasn't more progress,' given the Office of Management and Budget's emphasize on the architectures and the money that agencies have pumped into these efforts, said Randy Hite, GAO's director of IT architecture and systems issues.

The problem is that the work is spotty, GAO found, noting that agencies have met some of the requirements of the latter stages but not enough of the requirements to push their plans up the maturity scale. GAO said about 80 percent of agencies were performing eight core elements of stages 2 and 3, according to the report, Information Technology: Leadership Remains Key to Agencies Making Progress on Enterprise Architecture Efforts.

'We are seeing more agencies becoming more sophisticated in what enterprise architecture means,' said Kim Nelson, CIO of the Environmental Protection Agency and co-chairwoman of the CIO Council's Federal Architecture and Infrastructure Committee.

'This goes for GAO, too. They are being more precise in what level 2 or 3 means, and therefore it is more difficult for agencies to show real maturity progress,' she said.

EPA, for instance, dropped to Stage 2 in Version 1.1 from Stage 3 under Version 1.0 because GAO expected more, Nelson said.

EPA was not alone in dropping in its maturity rating. GAO said 26 percent of the agencies reviewed went backwards and 51 percent were unchanged.

The Executive Office of the President was among the 24 percent that improved the maturity of their architectures.

Follow the leader

Solari said the success of his office could be duplicated by larger agencies because the approach used at EOP is not unique and the processes are common to those at many agencies.

EPA's Nelson said the CIO Council will look into spreading best practices, such as those used by EOP, throughout the government.

'I would like to get to the point where the baseline for all agencies is Stage 2,' Nelson said. 'The CIO Council would like to get OMB, GAO and all the architects to come up with a common set of standards to measure the success of our architectures instead of the different standards everyone is using.'

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