Richard Burk: EA evangelist

OMB’s retiring chief architect preaches the virtues of enterprise architecture

Richard Burk has been the Office of Management and Budget’s chief architect for more than two years. During his tenure, Burk has urged agencies to stop thinking of enterprise architecture as a technology tool and think of it as a business tool.

Burk, who announced he is retiring from government after more than 35 years, talked with Federal Computer Week News Editor Jason Miller about the impact of enterprise architecture in the past five years and remaining challenges.

FCW: OMB’s enterprise architecture effort is almost five years old. How well has it aged? Like fine wine?

BURK: I would characterize it as a young wine yet to be fully enjoyed. So yeah, we’ve uncorked the bottle. It’s now operational in every agency. People are beginning to see value from using it — maybe not everywhere, I want to make sure that’s clear — but it’s on everybody’s lips even if they don’t fully understand it. And they are now getting to the point, I think, where they would say, “We shouldn’t make this investment decision until we have an architecture or a plan or whatever you want to call it.”

FCW: It seems that the data reference model was one idea that had so much promise, and then it kind of fizzled out in many ways. I know there’s a management strategy that was being worked on. Can you update where you are with the data reference model and the data reference model management strategy?

BURK: Yes, the DRM management strategy is still here at OMB and is undergoing review.

FCW: It was my understanding that the management strategy was important for making the DRM operational.

BURK: It is an important document for making it operational, but you’re beginning to see some of those same policies being employed in areas like the Information Sharing Environment around terrorist information. They’re moving ahead and utilizing those techniques — so, yes, we will come out with it when it’s ready to come out.

FCW: Any idea when?

BURK: No, I don’t venture into that.

FCW: Is there anything OMB is doing right now to push out the service component reference model and the technical reference model to make them more operational?

BURK: You have got to take your eyes off of those reference models. It’s far more important that we deliver value to the business side. And if we can use this tool called architecture to help advance that and use this language of enterprise architecture to help, that’s the value. But the idea that these frameworks are somehow valuable in and of themselves is wrong. They’re not valuable in themselves.

FCW: Do agencies need help, though, with some of the reference models?

BURK: Yes, they do, and there will be a guide, and that is the guide that is being developed by the services subcommittee of the CIO Council’s Architecture and Infrastructure Committee. That will help them. That helps that conversation because now we’re all using the same language.

FCW: What is the status of the enterprise architecture metrics guidance?

BURK: It sits right next to the data reference model strategy.

FCW: So you have no timeframe?

BURK: I wish I did.

FCW: Can you talk about it at all in terms of what is it going to do and how is it going to help agencies?

BURK: We need to be able to demonstrate to the business side of the house the value that we are bringing to them, and you have to be able to measure that, even if it’s subjective or if you can’t find objective measures of that value. Here is a guide on how you do that, because you’re running a business, and a business needs to know how well it is doing.

You could be totally in compliance with OMB, but if you are not delivering value to the mission of the agency, forget it. They will ignore you during the next budget period, and right ully so. You need to be able to articulate that and talk about that to people in specific terms. “I gave you this report. I gave you this architecture to help you make better decisions with regard to investments. Did it help you?” And there could be answers, “Yes,” or “No” or “Yes, but you didn’t give it to me on time, and so I never used it because it was so damn late.”

FCW: Any other guidance you are working on?

BURK: We have some guidance that we’re developing right now on the Federal Transition Framework. We have said to people, “As you go forward with your architecture and developing this, you need to be cognizant of the cross-agency initiatives and bring them into your environment.”

A lot of cross-agency initiatives are going to come from other places, not out of OMB: the next-generation air transportation system, federal health architecture, information-sharing environment, Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act, the presidential order on disaster victim assistance.

You are going to find more and more of these coming out of Congress and other places where people say, “Here is the problem we want you to solve. It transcends any one agency. It’s multiple agencies. So let’s still work together and solve the problem, and that is what we have to do.’’

How do you architect an agency mission and a cross-agency initiative? We want to provide some assistance. Again, it’s just guidance. People can choose to ignore it.

FCW: Will guidance help agencies bring the FTF into their architecture?

BURK: And really use it. The whole idea is deriving value out of that and using it to help advance the mission of your agency.

FCW: What is the status of the guidance?

BURK: We should have it before Sept. 30.

FCW: How do you account for the fact that agency enterprise architecture assessments continue to improve?

BURK: It’s a bit of both evolution and practice. I think half to three-quarters of the agencies are still sort of trapped in what I call the IT ghetto, where they see EA only in IT terms. And it’s mostly an efficiency exercise. But as you mature in this field, you begin to see that it’s hard to separate the technology from the people and the processes.

FCW: What do agencies need to do to get out of the IT ghetto?

BURK: Work with the business. Talk with the business. Use the business language. That’s the key to it. Stop talking about architecture. Stop talking about IT and using IT terminology. Where do they want the business to go?

Our whole effort around segment architecture was to talk about how you engage with the business folks on their terms. Now you’re able to measure what you do in terms of metrics that are important to the business owner.

FCW: I’ve heard that agencies have been very positive about segment architecture.

BURK: The whole architectural process was to say, build a segment, identify the investments associated with that segment. And guess what? We expect to see those investments when you submit your materials in September of this year because you’ve tagged them as a part of this segment. You’ve said, “This segment architecture is my plan going forward for this business area, and here are the investments associated with that.”

I’m very pleased with how these things have turned out. This was really hard for a lot of these architects. They had to stretch. It was not simple and easy.

For an awful lot of them who came out of strictly an IT background, their idea of architecture had been pretty much, you know, wiring diagrams and that kind of thing.

Plus, the killer was making the owner of the business sign the architecture. There’s something about a bureaucrat having to sign something that’s just so difficult to do.

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