New Deputy CIO sees enterprise architecture as SBA's path to modernization

The Small Business Administration was criticized in February by the Government Accountability Office for poor enterprise architecture in its attempt to modernize one of its core systems, which manages business loans. Officials weren’t using the architecture plans as they should, according to the report.

Now, SBA officials have to drive home the importance of enterprise architecture as SBA applies the agency’s system modernization strategy, Chase Garwood, SBA’s new deputy CIO, said in an interview Aug. 30.

Enterprise architecture facilitates the development of systems that works together horizontally, avoiding the isolation of data in the proverbial "stovepipes." Based on the architecture plans, Garwood said officials can track how far they have come in re-engineering their systems, while making sure other systems can be interconnected.

“Enterprise architecture plays into the larger governance processes. When you’re doing some good governance, you’re able to see, earlier rather than later, that things may be running into challenges or running into opportunities that we can take advantage of and correct early,” he said. “It’s a continuation of the evolution of breaking down the old stovepipes and being able to share data and utilize data for new and innovative purposes.” Garwood started at SBA on July 30.

SBA's Loan Management and Accounting System (LMAS) been a problem. The system was built in the 1970s and is programmed in Common Business Oriented Language, or COBOL, developed in the 1960s. SBA uses LMAS for accounting and tracking loans through origination, servicing and liquidation. The agency has worked to modernize the old system. SBA officials have tried to update it in one major overhaul but revised their strategy. Most recently, officials have broken down the project into a series of more focused development efforts.

SBA officials initially estimated the nine-year modernization project would cost between $156 million and $217 million, according to GAO and SBA figures. Seeing the cost and schedule, the agency moved the complete overhaul off the table. They broke down the project into smaller segments that involve upgrading the hardware and software of the financial systems infrastructure. SBA estimated development under this new approach, with its more limited scope, will total $39 million, officials told the House Small Business Committee in February.

In the report, GAO recommended that SBA use better IT management practices on the LMAS modernization project. SBA needs to be analyzing risks and officials have to make sure they have the right employees in the right jobs. Also, the CIO needs to make sure the system’s enterprise architecture fits with each segment of the improvement project.

Although the change of strategy on LMAS was in place before Garwood's arrival, he said he wants no more giant projects that take years to accomplish. Rather, he wants to deliver value quickly to the agency.

Officials have developed segment architectures and identified the staff positions SBA needs to fill to drive the projects forward. However, officials haven’t fully prioritized the segment architectures or developed a strategy to meet outstanding human capital needs.

“These weaknesses in basic management practices make it less likely that SBA will be able to complete the projects within the time, budget, and scope parameters originally planned,” GAO wrote.

Garwood said SBA officials have improved their projects and planning in recent months. In his new position, Garwood expects to be a key player in the operational aspect of modernizing SBA’s IT constructs. He will collaborate with Eric Won, SBA’s CIO, in developing IT strategies, but Garwood is the point person to make sure the project advances.

“We need good enterprise architecture and good processes [to describe] where we’re going, how we’re going to get there, and how it all ties in over X number of years,” he said.

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