HUD's enterprising effort

It's time for a pop quiz. How many applications does your agency have? What information do you collect? What technology runs those applications? Which programs use which applications? Which programs use which data?

These questions are relatively simple, yet critical to daily operations. And in information technology nirvana, these questions would be relatively easy to answer. As the Year 2000 problem painfully illustrated, most agencies spent months just trying to determine their total number of mission-critical systems.

But some experts argue that these questions are elementary if an organization has a working enterprise architecture — and the Department of Housing and Urban Development has a new system that it believes will make the sometimes theoretical exercise practical and usable. An enterprise architecture, much like blueprints for a house, details an organization's current systems, its plans for future systems and the standards that govern how systems interact, said Rob Thomas, director of the Customs Service's Technology and Architecture Group and chairman of the CIO Council's Enterprise Interoperability and Emerging IT Federal Architecture Working Group.

According to "A Practical Guide to Federal Enterprise Architecture," a new publication of the Federal Architecture Working Group, "If defined, maintained and implemented effectively, these institutional blueprints assist in optimizing the interdependencies and interrelationships among an organization's business operations and the underlying [technologies] that support operations . Without a complete and enforced enterprise architecture, federal agencies run the risk of buying and building systems that are duplicative, incompatible and unnecessarily costly to maintain and interface."

The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 required agencies to create an enterprise architecture. Since then, despite some progress, few agencies have a working framework. Even in agencies that do have enterprise architectures, they are contained in a wealth of books that are used by system architects, but play no role in how the agency makes decisions. Although most IT executives have spoken of the importance of an enterprise architecture, such a framework has generally been theoretical.

HUD is hoping that its Enterprise Architecture Management System — the next evolution of Customs' Enterprise Architecture Repository System — will move such an architecture from theory to practical reality.

The EA system, developed by Customs and Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc., is an automated Web-based application designed to support the collection, management and analysis of baseline and target information, said Debra Stouffer, HUD's deputy chief information officer for IT reform.

The system illustrates the inter.dependency of different parts of the organization — even to those who may not know what enterprise architecture is, said Michael Farber, a principal with Booz, Allen & Hamilton.

The tool lets people "get into the architecture" to see how they fit into the overall organization, he said. For example, if someone is running a HUD application, by using the EA system he can quickly see which HUD businesses his applications support. The screen also shows with what other applications he shares data, as well as the underlying technology that supports the application.

Such information can help an organization take a big step toward meeting the capital planning requirements sought by the Office of Management and Budget, the General Accounting Office and the Clinger-Cohen Act.

More importantly, such data can be a powerful management tool. Typically, for example, if Congress cuts an agency's budget, managers will just impose that cut across the organization. Such cuts can be tantamount to a house of cards, Farber said, and cuts initially seen to affect one part of an organization could have a ripple effect.

Using the architecture, however, managers will be able to see the ramifications of those budget cuts. "Now you can go in and see if you don't have [some] application, what happens," Farber said.

HUD is trying to encourage use of the EA system by making it functional, easy and integral to the organization.

Typically, IT officials will talk about the "processes and data needed to support the processes," Farber said. This typical approach, however, may leave employees such as program managers with "a glazed-over look, and you've destroyed your efforts to [implement] architecture," he said. Program managers are interested in systems that work, Farber said.

Therefore, by using the architecture, it may be possible to show program managers that they can avoid building new systems by simply modifying existing systems, which saves money, he said.

"All of the sudden, it is becoming a lot easier for them to understand how they fit within the overall framework without beating them over the head about architectures and standards," he said.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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