A call for an IT architecture

Since the early 1980s, information technology managers have witnessed the

spread of chaotic incompatibility among systems scattered throughout agencies.

Managers increasingly have wanted greater control of systems, particularly

when strategic concerns have been negatively affected.

On one hand, IT has given users power, allowing them to enter data and

get better access to the data. And IT and business organizations now share

responsibility for data, applications and technology. On the other hand,

we have encouraged the spread of incompatible databases, applications and

technology. It is no longer a question of whether we have the political

will to correct the situation because action is being forced on us by the

public's increasing expectations for government services.

World Wide Web technology has had an effect on the government's business.

The Web is forcing us to review the link between processes within line and

support functions and to include in those processes our suppliers, partnerships

and customers. It is forcing us to revise processes and systems.

But we are unable to share information, resulting in increased costs.

Without standards and guidelines, agencies will continue to have difficulty

sharing information and providing high-quality data. Our information is

incomplete, and instead of doing something about it, we make excuses. Our

systems often produce contradictory answers to the same questions. As long

as there are multiple sources of data entry, with multiple databases serving

the same goals, there is little hope of solving our quality problems.

Architecture provides a systematic way to prevent inconsistent system

designs and development decisions that result in costly systems that do

not perform as well as they should. Without an architecture, we will continue

to have slow response to change. For example, the Year 2000 computer problem

would have benefited greatly from having a documented architecture. Why

do we keep recreating the wheel, that is, re-engineering our documentation,

whenever we want to change our systems?

An architecture includes explicit and understood terms for communication,

provides an organizing mechanism for collaboration and support for more

effective IT investment planning and decision-making.

If you have ever built an addition onto your home, you know how important

building codes, blueprints and building inspections are to the successful

completion of the project. IT architecture is very similar. An architecture

framework is the building code. The architecture description is similar

to blueprints, and IT governance bodies and procedures are similar to building

inspectors.

Included in the framework must be the data that the architect expects

to receive from all of the project managers. The architect will need this

data to determine architecture alignment. The required data is usually dependent

on the purpose of the architecture. If interoperability at all levels of

the architecture (business, data, applications and technology) is the purpose,

then the architect will want to gather data at the appropriate level of

detail (which will probably result in a lot of data).

However, an architect does not need to know everything. After all, the

architect is not the software developer who will want to go to the lowest

level of detail.

To make an architecture work, there must be a partnership between the

business and IT communities because architecture cannot be a success without

the cooperation of both communities. The business community is just as concerned

about the potential of technology as the IT community. Both communities

should work together to realize the value of technology. The business community

must help the IT community overcome impediments to the effective implementation

of technology.

— Brundage is a senior program analyst at the General Services Administration's

Emerging IT Policies Division and chairman of GSA's ArchitecturePlus program.

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