Assessing the architecture assessment

OMB's Enterprise Architecture Assessment Framework

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Agencies' assessments of their enterprise architectures are intended to show how well they are being used to guide investments, but some experts say the guidelines for self-assessing could be creating some confusion for agency officials.

Last month, the Office of Management and Budget released the first version of guidelines for assessing an architecture's capabilities. The framework focuses on four main areas and enables officials to determine how their architectures affect investment decisions and fit into the governmentwide framework, OMB officials said. Agency officials should examine their architectures before OMB does so they can fix or prevent any development problems.

"In order to be able for you to believe you have a good enterprise architecture, you should go ahead and take a look yourselves and you can see if you need to make changes," said an OMB official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's a knowledge management tool."

A second version of the guidelines is being developed with feedback from agency and CIO Council officials.

OMB's assessment is meant to complement the General Accounting Office's Enterprise Architecture Management Maturity Framework, which evaluates program capacity or how well agencies are set up to develop architectures. However, two assessments from two government bodies may cause confusion, said Scott Bittler, vice president of enterprise planning and architecture strategies for the META Group Inc.

OMB officials tried to complement GAO's framework by focusing on the architecture's value to the organization, Bittler said. "OMB did, in a way, need to weigh in on how you evaluate in a more tangible way the progress of the architecture."

The two frameworks might overlap, the OMB official said, but they are not meant to require a duplication of effort.

"It is meant to be complementary," the official said. "These are all tools to help folks mature a little bit in an area that everyone recognizes is not fully mature. This is establishing baselines."

Possibly adding to the confusion, OMB's framework lacks the proper context about why the four areas — change, integration, convergence and business alignment — were chosen and how the assessment relates to other enterprise architecture evaluations, said Scott Bernard, director of enterprise architecture at DigitalNet LLC. The guidelines are not clear about how OMB's assessment relates to the federal enterprise architecture, GAO's framework or OMB's grading of agencies' business cases, he said.

"It may have needed a couple of pages of explanation," he said. "I would hope and expect that context to be coming out as well."

As the framework evolves, OMB officials should include clearer definitions of the criteria needed for compliance in each area, said Mike Tiemann, a principal in AT&T Government Solutions' enterprise architecture practice.

"They need to make sure that they make the requirements pretty carefully explicit in every cell," Tiemann said. "This first time around, it'll be a learning curve. The OMB folks will have to look and see what the rationales people provided were and see if they make sense."

Whether the self-assessment will become little more than a paperwork exercise for agency officials remains to be seen, experts say. The only way to make sure it's more than a required exercise is to link it to the architecture's required outcomes, such as business cases and investment planning, Bernard said. If the assessment, promotes those results, it will be more meaningful to agency officials.

The assessments must be submitted to OMB by mid-May. "Organizations need to assess and reassess themselves anyway whether OMB requires them to or not," Bittler said.

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