Tools to solve the puzzle

Electronic repositories help agencies get the most out of enterprise architecture work

Government agencies working on enterprise architectures have accumulated an enormous amount of data. They discover a range of artifacts that document their business processes, mission objectives, performance metrics and information technology resources. Often teams using different tools created the information. As the volume of this information grows, keeping track of it all becomes increasingly difficult.

But housing the stuff of enterprise architectures isn't the only problem.

The Office of Management and Budget wants to know whether agencies can do anything useful with the data. In one nudge in that direction, the President's Management Agenda will soon grade agencies on how well they link enterprise architecture to the execution of their strategic plans.

Enterprise architecture repositories lie at the center of this discussion. These metadata repositories provide a foundation for managing and exploiting the data collected during architectural exercises.

"When you have over 500 systems ... and you have maybe several hundred performance outcomes and measures, functional activities and data subject areas, an enterprise architecture repository is a definite must to manage that complexity," said Colleen Coggins, chief architect at the Interior Department. The repository also helps "slice and dice the information in a variety of ways," she added.

Several metadata repositories exist, but agency customers should not expect to find a solution that works out of the box, said Fred Collins, senior enterprise architect in IBM's Global Government Services Division.

"The actual product itself isn't a finished product," he said. "There's a fair amount of tailoring that needs to be done."

Integration is another challenge for agencies that want their repositories hooked into other enterprise architecture tools and associated applications such as portfolio management.

Old technology, new emphasis

Repository technology dates back to the 1980s, said Jan Popkin, a senior vice president at Telelogic, a maker of enterprise architecture tools. He pointed to IBM's AD/Cycle effort in 1989 as a prominent example.

A more recent development is the government's emphasis on repositories. Industry watchers cite two reasons for this focus: the need to corral vast amounts of data in a robust store and put that data to use once properly housed.

"One reason for repositories is just scale," said Pat Motola, president of Troux Technologies, an IT governance software vendor. "The [enterprise architecture] models of individual agencies are getting larger."

That's one factor behind the Energy Department's repository effort. "DOE is a very large organization, and there's lots of information, so we needed a standard way to capture" the architectural information, said Robert Wallace, DOE's enterprise architect. The department uses Telelogic's tools for this purpose.

Agencies also emphasize maximizing the use of the data they have collected.

"The big theme we are seeing is getting value out of enterprise architecture," Motola said. Consequently, agencies seek to "take advantage of repositories to do more analysis of their information," he said.

"Everybody is trying to make enterprise architecture actionable," Collins added.

Interior has set up its repository to do just that.

"We've just found [the repository] invaluable in supporting the enterprise architecture analysis," Coggins said. She added that the department has developed modernization blueprints for important business areas and mined the repository to help develop target environments and transition plans for each area.

Tuning repositories

Repositories, however, won't yield those anticipated benefits unless they are customized for an agency's specific needs.

"You don't get something that is turnkey," Collins said of repository products.

Coggins said that Interior's repository required extensive tailoring before its 2003 launch. Much of the effort focused on the repository's metamodel. A metamodel provides a standard set of rules for building models — an enterprise architecture model, for example.

Metamodels are particularly important for departments in which multiple agencies contribute to an enterprise architecture. The metamodel keeps everyone on the same page data-wise. Without it, data from different bureaus could not be usefully aggregated at the department level.

Interior, which built its repository on Telelogic's technology, ranks among the first Cabinet-level agencies to craft a metamodel based on the federal enterprise architecture and deploy it departmentwide, Coggins said. She added that other agencies, such as DOE and the State Department, now use Interior's metamodel as the basis for their enterprise architecture repositories.

Other examples of metamodels include the Defense Department Architecture Framework, the Zachman Framework and the Open Group Architecture Framework, said Jonas Lamis, vice president of product marketing at Troux. He said organizations should be careful in selecting a metamodel, adding that a rigid metamodel decreases the repository's flexibility, making it difficult to adapt to changing business drivers.

Integration is another issue repository buyers should consider. In some cases, architecture tool vendors have already performed much of the work. Troux's Metis Enterprise 5.0, for example, integrates Metis enterprise architecture modeling tools with the company's repository. Troux also provides integration between the repository and other modeling tools such as Telelogic's System Architect, Lamis said.

System Architect, meanwhile, also offers interfaces to other modeling tools and can collect information from enterprise resource planning vendors, among other sources.

And where specific linkages don't exist, agencies can use integration tools. Industry and government executives pointed to Meta Integration Technology's Meta Integration Model Bridge as an example. The product lets customers import models created in various tools into a repository.

Those automated tools smooth the process of populating a repository. The more difficult task is extracting and making use of the data, Motola said, adding that "getting it out is the problem."

To that end, modeling tools and repositories have components that create visual models of data, perform data analysis and generate reports.

In addition, applications that use repository data have emerged. The approach involves "launching purpose-built application functionality on top of the enterprise architecture repository," Motola said.

Lamis called the repository-based application the next phase of enterprise architecture technology.

Motola noted that Troux already has a set of applications that run on its repository and plans to provide more. The company offers Standards Management, Application Portfolio Optimization and Services Portfolio Management. They help customers with standards compliance, infrastructure rationalization and service delivery, according to the company.

Troux also provides a bi-directional interface to ProSight's portfolio management software.

Other efforts to grab data and put it to work are homegrown. Sparta, a contractor working with the Air Force's Space Situation Awareness Integration Office, uses scripts developed in-house to "pull data from the database for visualization in Metis" and Telelogic's technology, said David Newton, a senior systems engineer who works in Sparta's requirements and architecture branch.

The extraction efforts aim to push enterprise architectures into use. "People have designed these beautiful, important enterprise architectures, but they never deploy them or make them actionable," said Charles Stack, founder and chief executive officer of Flashline, a software company that focuses on architecture deployment. "That recognition has started to percolate through the federal government."

It's an insight that could push repositories to the next level.

First design decision is choosing the right tool

Software tools and their integration shouldn't be the only focus, or even the initial focus, of an enterprise architecture project.

That's the word from industry experts, who believe agencies need to answer some basic questions before plunging into the minutiae of metamodels and application interfaces.

In their haste to comply with the government's enterprise architecture mandate, agencies "ended up purchasing tools and may not have spent enough time upfront thinking about what kind of analyses they wanted to perform," said Michael Farber, a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Farber said organizations should pursue a few main questions in their analytical work: What decisions are they trying to make? What outcomes are they trying to achieve? Who needs what information and for what purpose? Where does the information reside and how is it maintained?

That line of questioning establishes a set of requirements for architectural tools and repositories, Farber said.

A new question arises once the repository is established: Who owns it?

Mike Dunham, chief enterprise architect at Thomas and Herbert Consulting, said agencies don't always address this issue.

He said different users may have vastly different ideas about the repository's purpose, noting that agencies should involve players from all management disciplines in deploying the technology.

— John Moore

What users want

Customer demand is driving industry toward incorporating a couple of specific repository characteristics.

* Standardized query tools. Buyers are looking for relational database technology and the ability to use standard Structured Query Language (SQL) to query the repository and generate reports, said Fred Collins, senior enterprise architect in IBM's Global Government Services Division. He recently conducted an in-depth study of repository products.

Collins said repositories that use non-SQL query languages can be painful to implement. Other solutions, such as those requiring object-oriented queries, "are not as simple as writing a SQL query against a relational database."

Troux Technologies and Enterprise Elements market repositories that support SQL, Collins said. He said Telelogic has been adding some SQL-like abilities to its System Architect. System Architect uses an internal SQL-based reporting system, according to Telelogic officials.

The overall trend is toward closer links between architecture modeling tools and repositories, Collins said. He compares the situation to the geographic information systems market, in which GIS modeling tools and relational databases eventually merged.

* A better visual. Modeling tools have visualization features that let users view enterprise architecture data. This approach is fine for architects but doesn't always work for everyone in an organization.

"You don't want to have the C-level executives of an agency or department using a modeling tool," Collins said. "You really want to have a much simpler client ... as a front end."

Accordingly, agencies are pursuing executive dashboard-style interfaces to present architectural details to a broader audience. The Interior Department, for example, has created ad hoc reports geared toward specific stakeholders and plans to enhance that feature this year through dashboards, said Colleen Coggins, Interior's chief architect.

— John Moore

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