Time for enterprise building

For every management problem, someone has come up with a technique or methodology that makes perfect sense but, in the final analysis, is perfectly impractical. It's easy to see why agencies might think that way about the concept of enterprise architecture.

Enterprise architecture certainly has created a lot of buzz in a short time, with the Bush administration giving it the nod as part of its management reform agenda and numerous agencies already getting on board, including the departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs.

Experts often compare enterprise architecture to a building blueprint. A blueprint serves as a common point of reference for people working on a construction project. It ensures that the different elements of the project ultimately fit together, even though a given engineer may only work on one or two components. And it provides a reference against which those engineers can gauge their progress.

Some information technology managers, however, might argue that it's one thing to develop a blueprint before starting a project, but another thing altogether to retrofit a building built with no blueprint in mind. It's especially difficult when offices within an agency find themselves at odds with the new architecture, which has proven the case in several departments.

Leaving things as they are is the path of least resistance, but it comes with a price. There's the cost of having individual offices buy their own hardware and software, rather than standardizing whenever possible and capitalizing on the buying power of the larger department. There's the cost of maintaining network and systems management functions across a department, instead of centralizing the tools and expertise.

There's the cost of security breaches, because haphazard network management inevitably leaves doors open to hackers.

Enterprise architecture is not a panacea for IT management problems. It does, however, provide a framework for developing better management strategies, which is why the Office of Management and Budget has made it a central aspect of its reform agenda. OMB supports further agency investments in IT, but wants to draw the line on government IT spending. Enterprise architecture is one way to resolve that paradox.

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