Architectures to go under the microscope

The Government Accountability Office is notifying major departments and agencies that auditors will assess how well they're managing their enterprise architectures.

The assessments, being conducted at the request of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), will use the legislative watchdog's existing maturity framework, said Randy Hite, GAO's director of information technology architecture and systems issues.

Unlike the last GAO assessment of agency architectures, which examined 96 agencies, only the 15 Cabinet-level departments and major agencies such as NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency will be involved this time, Hite said.

Like all GAO investigations, the assessments will be done in two phases: design and execution. The design phase will take place through August or September and will involve face-to-face meetings with agency officials to explain GAO's expectations, Hite said. After the meetings are concluded, deadlines for the second phase can be set, he added.

By April 2006, agencies must also complete an Office of Management and Budget assessment of enterprise architectures, based on an updated framework that grades how deeply an enterprise architecture is integrated into the capital planning and investment control process and whether agencies use available government solutions.

Ideally, agencies would be able to time their OMB assessments to coincide with GAO's evaluations, said John Sullivan, the EPA's chief architect. Each assessment model examines different facets of enterprise architecture, he added. GAO focuses on architecture governance, while OMB evaluates agencies' application of architectures to business transformation. "Collectively, it's a pretty thorough analysis," he said.

In the last assessment, released in November 2003, GAO found that most agencies were lacking in enterprise architecture implementation. Only 20 of the 96 agencies examined had established at least the foundation for effective architecture management. And although 22 agencies did better in their assessments compared with 2001, 24 were found to have done worse.

"The results weren't good largely because they wanted physical documentation of very subjective things," Sullivan said. But two years later, the EPA will be better prepared, he added.

OMB officials say their annual evaluations demonstrate the deeper penetration of enterprise architectures into agencies. OMB's most recent round of evaluations, completed last May, showed a 36 percent overall improvement, according to an agency statement.

But many agencies are stuck in a phase where chief information officers understand enterprise architecture but other senior officials do not, said Jim Flyzik, a partner at Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates.

"To be really effective, it needs to be embraced across the organization," he said, but architecture jargon scares most other officials. "Maybe we shouldn't be calling it enterprise architecture."

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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