Navy takes EA concept to heart

Centered on excellence

Is your organization considering establishing a Center of Excellence for Enterprise Architecture? Here are three reasons to create a center.

1. Increase the productivity of enterprise architects on your staff.

2. Be a source of knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

3. Provide a foundation for a federated architecture approach at the department or agency level.

The Navy’s air power division, The Naval Air System Command, is setting up a Center of Excellence for Enterprise Architecture to achieve greater consistency in systems planning. Following encouraging results from a test program, the Navy also is pursuing plans to adopt a federated architecture approach. With that strategy, the service has said it is better to coordinate its architectural activities rather than trying to unify them under a common umbrella.

Though separate, those initiatives illustrate several ways in which the military is managing the sprawling complexity of its information systems, communications systems and, increasingly, network-centric weapons systems.

An enterprise architecture is a set of plans that defines all the elements of an agency or a business and how they interact, just as an architectural plan for a  building defines everything from its physical structure to its electrical and plumbing systems. However, in the Navy, the elements are more complex. Mapping the Navy’s interlocking systems of systems is comparable to creating an architectural plan for a city or several cities, according to service officials.

“We wouldn’t think of not having a blueprint for a house,” said Dan Slick, Navair’s deputy chief information officer for enterprise architecture. “The problem is, we don’t have a city plan.”

However, Slick’s office is creating a Center of Excellence that will be responsible for some of that planning. The center’s staff members will also coordinate broader architectural efforts across the Navy and the Defense Department. Officials said they expect to open the center before the end of this year, and Navy employees will primarily staff it.

DOD has tried many approaches to managing complexity. The DOD Architectural Framework (DODAF), first published in 2003 and updated in 2007, provides architectural documents necessary for systems development programs. They include an overview and specialized views of operational, systems, services and technical standards. The DODAF replaced an earlier architectural framework, known as C4ISR  —command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The Navy is updating the architecture framework once again to reflect lessons learned during the past several years. Officials expect DODAF 2.0 to be ready this fall. “We’re going to be placing an emphasis on the information that needs to be collected, not necessarily the pictures that need to be generated,” said Brian Wilczynski, director of enterprise architecture and standards for the Office of the DOD Deputy CIO.

Having an architectural framework helps guarantee that system architectures are more consistently documented, but it doesn’t ensure that the architectures are consistent with one another or that the systems will work together, according to Navy officials.

Fran Chamberlain of the Navy’s Air Systems Interoperability unit, said that while working on the P-8 aircraft program, he learned that many military aircraft supported the same Common Data Link standard for exchanging data, including real-time surveillance video. However, data exchanges didn’t work as expected because the CDL standard had diverged under the direction of different architects.
“In all this net-centric stuff we’re getting into, it’s all about the data,” Chamberlain said. “You’ve got to get the right data to the right person at the right time.”

The objective might be to get surveillance video, perhaps of a port or a ship that is a target of opportunity in a conflict, to an aircraft or ship capable of acting on that information, Chamberlain said. “But in this case, if two systems do not have the exact same version of CDL, you’re not going to get the image you need to complete your mission.”

One reason for those inconsistencies is that different programs develop different architectural specifications for the same purpose, though in many cases they could share the same specifications.  
Slick said he hopes to change Navair’s practices by having the Center of Excellence offer bits and pieces of enterprise architecture as reusable components that individual programs can incorporate into their plans. If Navair is creating two systems to support different aspects of the same mission, those systems should be able to incorporate large portions of the DODAF operational view that defines the requirements of the mission, he said.

The new center will also help keep Navair’s architecture consistent with architectures defined at a higher level by the Navy Department, Slick said.

Creating an architecture center of excellence is a relatively new best practice. “To be honest, the way things have been done in the departments is that programs have a mandate to develop architectures as part of the acquisition process, and they’ve largely done that, soup to nuts, on their own.” Wilczynski said.

The consequences of not adhering to an enterprise architecture often appear when program officials create an information support plan, a DOD standards document for defining how systems will interoperate. When looking at both plans for systems that are supposed to work together, “we often don’t see common terms applied,” Wilczynski said.

DOD is encouraging the creation of portfolios of architectures that define common elements of the military’s missions, from warfighting to managing payroll. The portfolio approach would let program architects focus on the specifications of a given system, Wilczynski said. “The people responsible for delivering the solutions shouldn’t have to define the architecture,” he said, adding that a center of excellence is “a step in the right direction.”

The center of excellence concept is not new. “The whole idea is to try to distill what did work and what didn’t work,” said David Rice, owner and president of EA Frameworks. However, much like the business process re-engineering centers of excellence that were popular a few years ago, today’s architecture centers of excellence are too often ineffective, Rice said. “Usually centers of excellence don’t have any real authority,” he said.

Austin Russ, enterprise architect at Robbins-Gioia, said such centers can be productive if they reduce unnecessary or redundant efforts or improve the overall quality of the results. “They can work,” Russ said. “When they fall down, it’s because they’re too ivory tower or don’t have clear charter of something to accomplish.”

A federated approach
As Navair tries to achieve architectural consistency in its own programs, the Navy is taking a different approach to coordinating architectures throughout the service. In April, at DOD’s Enterprise Architecture Conference, Booz Allen Hamilton was recognized with DOD’s first Enterprise Architecture Achievement Award for its work in helping the Navy with a federated architecture test project.

Federated refers to a divide-and-conquer approach to the most challenging enterprise architecture problems.  The Navy’s effort ranked best of several test programs conducted under a DOD initiative for exploring the concept of federated architecture.

“This is a way of trying to get a handle on the fact that these departments are so large and have so many architectural efforts under way that it’s unrealistic to hope to bring them under a single integrated dataset,” Wilczynski said. “The work that the Navy did, in particular, is helping them internally. It will allow them to get the big picture.”

The theory behind federation is that although closely related programs should have tightly intertwined architectures, on a larger scale it makes more sense to define a high level of organizationwide requirements, organize other architectural work around portfolios of related programs, and then map the relationships between those programs.

Booz Allen Vice President Tom Greenspon and Senior Associate Frank Brady said federation is a practical way to achieve greater architectural consistency. Any attempt to create an architectural center of excellence with authority over the entire Navy would likely run into too many political roadblocks, Greenspon said.  “It could be threatening, like you’re trying too hard to get into someone else’s business.”

A federated approach is comparatively more practical and manageable, Greenspon said.
“Federation is a methodology [whereby] you develop architectures for various segments, you make sure to represent the enterprise in a consistent, coherent way,” Brady said.  “You’re identifying the common touch points between the various levels.”

However, a segmented approach can be risky, Brady added. “If you’re not careful, you end up with a lot of disparate efforts, but they don’t add up to an enterprise.”

Just as a city plan doesn’t include every detail about every building in the city, an overarching federated architecture must be generalized. Rather than try to model the details of specific systems, a federated architecture should represent activities, Brady said. Systems come and go, but activities performed by an organization remain relatively constant, he said.

A federated test project conducted with several Navy programs worked well enough that the Navy CIO’s office is now drafting a policy that would make federation a standard requirement for Navy architecture, Brady said.

Wilczynski’s efforts to promote federated architecture across the military have encountered little resistance. “Everybody has bought into the federated approach,” he said. A DOD organization named the Federated Joint Architecture Working Group is in the process of drafting recommendations for how federation should be implemented. It is scheduled for release in several months.

Brady cautioned that federation is not a cure-all. “I’ve run into a number of people who told me they thought federation was going to be an easy way of getting around the hard parts of doing architecture,” he said. “But you still have to have the architecture. You can’t federate nothing.”

Carr (david@carrcommunications.com) is a freelance writer.

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