The good and the bad of enterprise architecture

Making enterprise architecture happen isn’t easy.

“Once upon a time, the bad news was nobody had enterprise architectures,” said Gene Leganza, vice president of Forrester Research's public-sector group. “These days the bad news is everybody has an enterprise architecture and you get into religious wars,” he said, speaking today as part of a panel at FCW Events’ Enterprise Architecture conference and exhibition in Washington, D.C.

As a result, attaining enterprise architecture’s goal of standardization will require agencies to begin thinking of their business processes in a new way, said John Sullivan, the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief architect, also on the panel.

“Some of the reasons why there’s such diversity in the way the systems work is diversity in the business processes,” he said. Instead, agencies should look at those processes as if they were commodities, not individual products. “If you look at manufacturing, if I’m going to bring a new line of toasters in the market, it’s going to run on 110 volts, that’s just a given,” he said.

That doesn’t mean that “everything is being done in the same way, that’ll never happen. But there is some universal stuff.”

When convincing agency executives to integrate enterprise architecture into strategic planning, it’s best not to insist that it’s a legal requirement under the Clinger-Cohen Act, said John McManus, deputy chief information officer and chief technology officer at NASA, because then people will just respond by going through the motions.

Creating an architecture governance process that takes advantage of existing power centers can ensure enterprise architecture is not shunted off to an irrelevant side, McManus said. “If we stood up a new enterprise architecture governance board, I would have got a lot of IT geeks,” he said. Instead, NASA decided to flow enterprise architecture decision-making through existing governance boards and include the agency administrator. “People don’t argue with things that he signed out,” McManus said.

Developing an architecture is best done in an iterative, spiral process, he added. Many times architects become fixated on either developing extensive documentation of the current state of the enterprise – the “as is” – or developing a plan for achieving a more rationalized future – the “to be.”

A best practice is to build an initial as-is state and build it to a greater level of detail over time, McManus said.


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About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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