Getting down to metrics

OMB wants agencies to take architecture seriously

A new plan from the Office of Management and Budget aims to make the federal enterprise architecture more than just a paperwork exercise during budget planning.

Its potential as a transformative tool is yet unrealized, writes Dick Burk, OMB chief architect, in an action plan detailing an agenda, with 20 initiatives, to place architecture at the heart of agency operations during the next two years.

Architecture should bridge strategic agency plans and execution, and no information technology investment should be made without a business-approved architecture, the document states.

OMB may apply federal enterprise architecture concepts in making future planning decisions about office automation, telecommunications and information technology infrastructure.

Observers have often said that operational use of the federal enterprise architecture is almost nonexistent because there’s no definitive way of demonstrating its value.

It doesn’t mean anything to key government officials “unless someone can show some dollars or return or efficiencies or something,” said an architecture official who requested anonymity.

OMB officials’ past attempts to collect information through the Exhibit 300 process, with an eye to creating an architecture implementation metric, met with resistance from agency chief information officers and within OMB, the official added.

Agency officials must submit a business case for major IT investments each year. But last year, they rebuffed OMB attempts to ask for more enterprise architecture data.

Some OMB budget officers also questioned the value of further complicating the Exhibit 300 document. “Until you tie enterprise architecture into a discernible value with a return, they don’t want to hear about it,” the official said.

Currently, agencies must demonstrate in the Exhibit 300s how their IT investments are aligned with the federal enterprise architecture, a requirement that amounts to little more than a paper exercise, the official added.

The situation is a Catch-22 for Burk. Until OMB can demonstrate the federal enterprise architecture’s value, agencies won’t collect the additional enterprise architecture data that the architect may need to construct an implementation metric, the official said.

OMB officials say they now plan to use an enterprise architecture assessment tool as a way of establishing a metric. Changing the assessment tool by demanding that agencies incorporate detailed transition plans will make it clear how officials plan to use IT to achieve measurable program performance, an OMB official said.

Another approach might be to link the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) to the performance reference model, said Mike Tiemann, enterprise architecture practice manager at AT&T Government Solutions.

That would make visible the line-of-sight connectivity between technology and “how that translates into specific business outcomes,” he said. Linking PART with the model is one of 20 initiatives Burk said he intends to accomplish in the next two years.

Burk also wants to get enterprise architecture focused on business outcomes. “One of the challenges for us all is when we on the IT side are working, we are working with our partners in the business side of the house,” he said, speaking last week at the Input MarketView 2005 conference.

A common criticism of enterprise architecture has been its excessive focus on IT systems and lack of attention to rationalizing the business processes IT supports.

But extending architecture into the business side is not going to be easy, the architecture official said. “The turf battles are huge. Information is power.”

Getting everything done might require a larger program office, Tiemann said. OMB officials are trying to establish an architecture for a $2.2 trillion entity with connections to state and local governments, yet “they only staff it with one senior guy in OMB and four or five detailees,” he said.

Four strategic goals

For the next two years, architecture officials at the Office of Management and Budget will pursue four main objectives centered on making federal architecture concepts more useful to agencies.

According to the recently released strategic plan, OMB officials will:

  • Show the value of the federal enterprise architecture and build trust in it in the business community.
  • Update and change the federal architecture, and align it with agencies’ strategic planning.
  • Identify new areas for cross-agency collaboration and support existing e-government and lines-of-business initiatives.
  • Measure the federal enterprise architecture’s value.

    Among the areas being considered for cross-agency cooperation are fleet management, office automation, telecommunications, information technology infrastructures, and environmental and acquisitions management.

    — David Perera

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