EA is the IT tie that binds

As director of the enterprise architecture practice of High Performance Technologies Inc., a systems integration and IT consultancy in Reston, Va., Ira Sachs helps government agencies design blueprints for integrating their systems.

Sachs has more than 20 years’ experience in developing enterprise architectures, first as a systems designer with Andersen Consulting and then in the government, where he worked at the General Accounting Office and the Education Department. He has worked with the Office of Management and Budget on its development of the Federal Enterprise Architecture and has testified before Congress about enterprise IT planning.

Sachs, a certified financial planner, has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s of business administration in finance from Loyola College in Maryland.

GCN senior editor William Jackson interviewed Sachs on the telephone.

GCN: What background do you have in government enterprise architecture efforts?

SACHS: I’m fortunate to have a multifaceted background, starting early in my career doing hands-on systems development for Andersen Consulting.

Since then I’ve been in both the congressional and executive branches of government. I was with the General Accounting Office for a number of years, assessing federal IT for Congress, and then worked in the executive branch as the director of IT planning for the Education Department’s student loan program.

My initial exposure to enterprise architectures was at GAO with the IRS modernization. I assessed some initiatives that were redundant, and there was no real master plan for the IRS to follow. I was part of a review that recommended that they really needed to look at it from a higher level.

GCN: What were the lessons learned from the IRS modernization plan?

SACHS: They needed to look toward consolidation and look at it more strategically. At that time when electronic filing was coming into being, the systems were based on scanning paper forms and there was no relationship between the long-term planning for the paper systems and the marketing and planning for electronic filing, which over time has displaced a lot of paper submissions.

The IRS at that time was floundering. They were not making much progress despite fairly large expenditures of money. When I was with GAO, Congress actually put the brakes on a lot of that spending because there was no master plan associated with it. Of course, the IRS has made significant improvement since that time.

I think the key lesson is that the agency really needed a master plan to integrate the efforts, so that the efforts don’t move forward in a stovepipe fashion. And that master plan has really become its enterprise architecture.

GCN: Can you define enterprise architecture?

SACHS: There are a couple facets to it. You really can’t divorce business planning from IT. It in essence lays out the blueprint for an agency or organization to more effectively perform its mission.

EA develops a target state to leverage the commonality within the organization at the enterprise level. That leads to cost savings down the road from not building redundant systems and from enhancing mission performance. That commonality better facilitates the sharing of information and the integration of processes.

GCN: How mature is the concept of enterprise architecture?

SACHS: The concept really came to the fore in the early and mid-1990s. I think it grew out of the recognition that a lot of large-scale, high-profile modernizations were not succeeding and that a more integrated approach was necessary.

The initial forays involved gathering information about what was there, with the idea of identifying opportunities that weren’t known because there hadn’t been a global assessment. It has since moved from this informational stage to the point where EA efforts begin to affect decisions. Those decisions initially are architectural in nature and then become investment-oriented.

We are moving away from the pure informational stage now into the decision stage. The performance-based stage is something we need to move to in the future.

GCN: What is the performance-based stage?

SACHS: What distinguishes it is that the architectural decisions and the target architecture become rooted more directly into improving mission performance. There is a cost-benefit causal relationship between the architectural decisions and the performance.

GCN: What is driving adoption of enterprise architectures in government? Is it primarily a government concept?

SACHS: It is in the Clinger-Cohen Act and other legislation as a key planning vehicle in mission-critical systems and to help address complexity. It rose out of the challenges of modernization, where things were done in a stovepipe fashion.

EA has become more pronounced in the government sector. In the private sector things are a little less complex, simply because the financial and profit incentives there tend to clarify things. The government is a more complex environment, so EA becomes an even better tool to use.

GCN: How is your company involved in developing an enterprise architecture for the Homeland Security Department?

SACHS: We are working on parts of the entire process as part of the team. We are working in all areas of EA development and transition plan work.

DHS faces a monumental, generational challenge. It’s probably a larger reorganization than the Defense Department.

In addition to consolidation and merger, there is an immediate change in mission as well. Of the 22 agencies that have been merged into DHS, none of them originally were created for [domestic defense] mission. They were all created over time for different reasons. DHS began development of an enterprise architecture almost immediately after its creation last March.

We supported the development of Version 1 architecture, done over last summer. It was a four-month effort to develop a target architecture and a transition strategy. It was purely business-driven, focusing on identifying and leveraging commonalities and planning for the future. A large technical challenge is that it is component-based.

GCN: What is the challenge of making it component-based?

SACHS: In the long run it will simplify things. The challenge is the technical challenge of making the components reusable, identifying them and cataloging them so they will be accessible, across the department and perhaps the federal government.

GCN: DHS has been criticized for the pace of integration. How important will the enterprise architecture be in facilitating this?

SACHS: The architecture plays a key role, and the fact that the project was started two months after the department was formed is testimony to this fact. It is the first enterprise view of the department. This will be a key lever for change and moving the department forward.

GCN: How far along is the project?

SACHS: We are pretty much on schedule. We did Version 1 back in the summer. We are now in the process of working on Version 2. Version 2, together with the transition plan, is on track for an early fall completion. Version 2 will provide more detail on the target architecture and advance the transition strategy to a more specific plan.

GCN: How unified an architecture can be expected from as diverse an enterprise as DHS?

SACHS: We believe that establishing the architecture is the key enabler. That said, this is a dynamic process. Things aren’t holding still.

The department will steadily build toward the unified architecture and will get there, but the world will change at the same time.

About the Author

Connect with the GCN staff on Twitter @GCNtech.


  • IT Modernization
    shutterstock image By enzozo; photo ID: 319763930

    OMB provides key guidance for TMF proposals amid surge in submissions

    Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat details what makes for a winning Technology Modernization Fund proposal as agencies continue to submit major IT projects for potential funding.

  • gears and money (zaozaa19/Shutterstock.com)

    Worries from a Democrat about the Biden administration and federal procurement

    Steve Kelman is concerned that the push for more spending with small disadvantaged businesses will detract from the goal of getting the best deal for agencies and taxpayers.

Stay Connected