The master builders

When Air Force officials sought to develop an enterprise architecture, they made an important discovery: They lacked the resources to do the job. John Gilligan, the Air Force's chief information officer and a catalyst for the enterprise architecture effort, said he realized that the individuals with architecture savvy were either junior officers, senior-level officers or civilians doing other jobs.

Gilligan's solution was to look outside the service. The Air Force hired Mitre Corp., a not-for-profit integrator, to staff the service's Chief Architect's Office. Today, the entire office — the Air Force chief architect, deputy chief architect and a half-dozen staffers — are all Mitre employees.

By tapping Mitre, "we got people who [are] at the vice president level — all

senior-level people," Gilligan said.

Variations of the Air Force's example are proliferating governmentwide. Integrators have become important allies for federal officials who want to make enterprise architecture the baseline for technology investment. Integrators offer experienced personnel, best practices and expertise in architecture-building software tools.

"The amount of work we are receiving is accelerating," said Shawn Wilson, vice president of the architecture analysis group at DESE Research Inc., an engineering services firm. The company's enterprise architecture work grew 33 percent during the past year, he said. He expects a 50 percent increase in the next year.

But an element of uncertainty clouds the market's future. The recent departure of several architecture champions from the government could deplete some of the enterprise architecture effort's momentum, some observers said. At the Office of Management and Budget, Mark Forman, Robert Haycock and other architecture advocates have left for other jobs.

Integrators would like to see OMB fill in the gaps of architecture leadership. Some integrator officials say that replacing Haycock, formerly the agency's chief architect, is especially important.

"I think it is critical that OMB hire a chief architect as

soon as possible," said Debra Stouffer, vice president of strategic consulting at DigitalNet LLC. Enterprise architecture stands to "lose some of the momentum that has been established," added Stouffer, who has worked at OMB.

Integrators, however, remain optimistic about architecture services. "Every integrator is putting together some form of enterprise architecture practice," said Bruce Lang, an enterprise architect at EDS.

Architectural detail

The Clinger-Cohen Act may have provided the initial spark, but OMB officials stoked the fire of government interest in enterprise architecture. Agencies are required to submit their initial architectures and subsequent updates to OMB. Agencies also must prepare a capital asset plan and business case for every proposed major information technology project. In grading a business case, OMB officials look for the presence of an enterprise architecture and whether the proposed project falls within that architecture.

An enterprise architecture can mean the difference between receiving funding and walking away empty-handed. Agencies need to have one in place. But there's more to architecture than pleasing OMB officials, integration executives said.

"Enterprise architecture is there to solve real problems and not just to meet current government budgetary policies and requirements," Lang said. He said he believes architectures can help agency officials identify areas for improvement, boost efficiency and cut costs.

Resource-strapped agencies are turning to integrators for architectural assistance.

Staff supplementation and introduction of best practices are important roles for integrators, who share architecture-building methodologies and provide lessons learned from other agency engagements.

"We bring experience from other agencies and departments," said Patrick Bolton, a principal with Headstrong Corp.'s public-sector division.

Jack Leidich, chief of the IT Architecture Office at the U.S. Census Bureau, said bureau officials considered architecture experience with other agencies when they were looking to hire a contractor. The bureau works with companies including Headstrong, which has performed architecture tasks for the Treasury Department and other government customers.

Contractors with this background are good for agency officials, who frequently are unschooled in the process of constructing an architecture. Most agency architectures reside at the bottom of the maturity curve, according to General Accounting Office officials. Agencies with fledgling architectures often lack formal methodologies and written policies for building them.

"The [architecture] process itself is not something you pick up very quickly," Wilson said.

Sidestepping pitfalls

Integrators believe the architecture business is strong and thriving. But there are pitfalls. One example is the ivory-tower syndrome. The integrator who works in isolation, without the agency's daily involvement, is likely to produce a poor architecture.

For an enterprise architecture to be useful, agencies must customize it, industry executives said. "If they don't internalize, as soon as we leave, they are going to fail," Wilson said.

A system of checks and balances helps keep customers and contractors on the same page. A common system uses an integrated concept team to assess the agency's needs, an architecture team to design the architecture and an integrated product team to evaluate the results, he said.

The integrated concept team, essentially a coordinating council, gathers agency stakeholders, Wilson said. The team hashes out answers to core architecture questions, with the integrator serving as a facilitator: What should the architecture do from an end-user perspective? What kinds of issues should it address?

The architecture team, consisting of contractor and government representatives, develops the architecture. The systems-oriented integrated product team, meanwhile, builds solutions that make up the architecture. The architecture team plays an intermediary role: It consults with the concept team to ensure that the architecture remains on track and works with the product team to be certain that systems jibe with the architecture.

Integrators said architecture builders and system builders must work together to make the architecture a success. Fred Collins, senior enterprise architect with IBM Global Services Inc.'s federal division, noted that nothing useful may result when there is no interaction among "those doing the coding and those doing the consulting analysis."

Is enterprise architecture here to stay?

Some issues in the architecture field remain beyond integrators' control — the architect drain at OMB, for example. "There's a little bit of a leadership vacuum," said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of consulting at Federal Sources Inc.

The evaporation of top-level support has doomed other sweeping reform initiatives. The Pentagon's Corporate Information Management program, for example, sought to increase efficiency through process improvement, but it faded when Clinton administration officials removed its leaders after the 1992 presidential election.

Most integrator officials said enterprise architecture is sufficiently entrenched among agencies. Changes in OMB leadership, although unsettling, won't prove fatal, they said.

"People come and go in different jobs, but once you make [enterprise architecture] an integral part of the budget process and once it's codified in law, the work is going to continue," said William McVay, vice president of e-government solutions at DigitalNet.

"The best days of enterprise architecture are still ahead of us," Lang said.

Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.

2014 Rising Star Awards

Help us find the next generation of leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above