Beyond bricks and mortar
- By Nancy Ferris
- Sep 29, 2003
Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office
Enterprise architects are gaining stature and visibility in federal agencies as their work bears fruit and as the Office of Management and Budget continues to emphasize the link between architecture and spending.
Sally Wallace is a case in point. She is the Department of Veterans Affairs' chief architect and a member of the Senior Executive Service. She is the associate deputy assistant secretary for knowledge management and supervises a staff of 42. Nearly one-third of the staff works on the department's enterprise architecture.
She reviews all information technology purchasing requests and all of the VA's Form 300s before they are submitted to OMB as capital budget requests. Wallace is at the heart of the department's efforts to achieve One VA — a unified organization with first-rate customer service rather than the set of independent offices that evolved in the past century.
Wallace is the first to hold the position at the VA. Before she took over in March, enterprise architecture was one of the responsibilities of the agency's chief technology officer, and contractors were doing much of the work.
She previously managed cybersecurity programs for the agency before moving to the new position. An Army veteran, she worked for the Navy before joining the VA in 1990.
Like other agencies' enterprise architects, Wallace and her staff have compiled an inventory of the department's information flows, business processes and systems. Then, they considered how to improve the situation and enable the organization to work more effectively and efficiently.
They have focused on the relationships between the architecture and the department's business activities.
"E-government is forcing people to do things together" across office and division boundaries, Wallace said. The architecture movement represents an opportunity to share resources, consolidate operations and streamline the organization, she added.
Wallace's situation may not be the norm. At the Energy Department, for example, John Przysucha said his architecture staff and budget have not grown. He is associate chief information officer for IT reform.
As co-chairman of the CIO Council's Enterprise Architecture Governance Subcommittee, Przysucha is aware of governmentwide trends. He said the shift within the architecture community toward solving business problems is the most notable change in the past couple of years.
"There is more emphasis today on the business lines of the agency than ever before," Przysucha said. Architects are producing not only technical documents that measure IT assets and lay out proposed enhancements, but also business-level documents that examine return on investment.
Their functions force the enterprise architecture staff to work with program managers throughout the agency, a shift that hasn't always been smooth, he said. But the shift is proving its worth as architecture officials identify opportunities to consolidate resources.
For example, Przysucha said, DOE will reduce duplicative help desks serving headquarters units and will seek shared enterprise licenses for desktop technology to reduce costs.
Mike Tiemann, who was one of government's first enterprise architects and who retired from DOE earlier this year, recalled that some of his peers in other agencies were chosen as chief architects "for no other reason than they could spell enterprise architecture."
Those pioneers focused on evaluating IT assets and planning upgrades. Their activities were regarded as a project rather than as a continuing management program, and "there was a lot more hands-on involvement" by the chief architects, said Tiemann, who now works for AT&T Government Solutions.
In many cases, he said, the first architects were senior professionals at the GS-13 and GS-14 levels. Today, he said, most agencies' chief architects are members of the Senior Executive Service. "Most of them at that level have a division or two underneath them," he added.
Regarding the expanded scope of the architectural effort, Tiemann said, modernizing an agency's technology will get you only so far. But an architectural effort that is done right and aims high has the power to transform the organization. To achieve that kind of impact, he said, "I'm beginning to think that the enterprise architect should be outside the CIO's office."
The field is still maturing and expanding, he said, adding, "It's not [total quality management] or any of those other passing fads," but a business management tool. For one example of how the expansion is continuing, he pointed to OMB's inclusion of a performance measurement component in its model architecture. The agency is expected to release the performance reference model soon.
When architects thought their job was primarily to document systems and processes, "90 percent of those architectures were never used to doing anything," said John Weiler, co-founder and executive director of the Interoperability Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consulting firm in Alexandria, Va.
The new cadre of architects and CIOs is "now focused on architectures for outcomes," Weiler said. "They understand that this is a business process not a technical process."
Ferris is a freelance writer in Chevy Chase, Md. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proponents of enterprise architectures, which agencies are required to develop under the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, have been discouraged in recent months by cuts to the budget for the Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office and by the departure of some of the program's leading proponents and an apparent loss of momentum in groups such as the interagency Federal Enterprise Architecture Working Group.
The selection of Karen Evans to succeed Mark Forman as the Office of Management and Budget's e-government chief and head of the effort to develop a federal enterprise architecture is regarded as good news in the architecture community, however. As vice chairwoman of the CIO Council, Evans worked closely with Forman and others in OMB on architecture initiatives. And the work of her former department, Energy, on its architecture is believed to be among the best in the government. "I do not see major changes in the emphasis" within OMB as Evans takes over, said John Przysucha, who has directed DOE's architecture program under Evans.