Chief architects gather

For the first time ever, most of the federal chief architects were in the same room at the same time this week.

The first Chief Architects Forum, under the CIO Council's architecture and infrastructure committee, brought together more than 60 representatives from agencies, the Office of Management and Budget and the General Accounting Office to discuss enterprise architecture April 5.

Environmental Protection Agency chief information officer Kim Nelson and Air Force CIO John Gilligan, co-chairs of the committee, recognized the need to unite the architects following a GAO report in December that rated agencies' architecture maturity based on a common framework. GAO officials found that agencies have made little progress in architecture management in the past few years, and most agencies scored less than two on a five-point scale.

Nelson and Gilligan realized that to make architecture improvements, agency chiefs needed to share best practices, and most didn't even know each other.

"It occurred to us that the chief architects had never been pulled together in a single group," Nelson said.

Officials began to discuss the implications of the GAO report and the steps needed to lift agencies to a common minimum architecture level, Nelson said. By sharing success stories and best practices, agency chief architects can learn from one another and begin to move to higher levels of architecture maturity, she said.

"It's trying to create this collaboration of individuals that all have common goals and missions and problems to interact with one another," said Randolph Hite, GAO's director for information technology architecture and systems issues.

The first meeting featured presentations from GAO and OMB officials to set the framework and relay what is expected from agencies. It was a good opportunity for agency officials to ask questions about the framework, Nelson said.

"We're looking at the GAO framework from the perspective that there may be issues and concerns, but it doesn't make sense to change the framework," she said. "It's reasonable. Let's work on taking care of the issues. We are all moving ahead."

The surprise at the forum was the turnout. Before the meeting, there was no concrete idea of how many agencies had chief architects, Nelson said. Every major agency on the CIO Council and many smaller agencies were represented at the meeting.

"It was a tremendous turnout," she said. "I was really shocked for the first one [to have] that many people. There's an amazing interest there."

Officials expect to have three or four meetings a year, with the likelihood that smaller groups with similar interests will form separate meetings.

"We'll see where it goes from there," Nelson said. "It was so positive."

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