GAO: Leaders' support essential to success of EA

Sustained executive leadership is the key to advancing enterprise architecture programs within agencies, said Randy Hite, director for information technology architecture and systems issues at the Government Accountability Office.

Adding to that, several leaders in federal enterprise architecture said selling agency decision-makers on the architecture starts by solving business their problems.

“Virtually all the challenges that [departments and agencies] reported can be addressed by such leadership,” states a GAO report on enterprise architecture released Sept. 12.

Enterprise architecture faces challenges such as organizations’ resistance to change and a lack of resources, GAO found. One of the biggest challenges is top mangers who do not understand enterprise architecture and its benefits, according to the report.

“Please, let me suggest something to you,” Richard Burk, the Office of Management and Budget’s chief architect, said Sept. 12 at the Enterprise Architecture Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C. “You start solving business problems, and you won’t have to explain the value” of enterprise architecture.

“Get out of your office,” Burk told architects. “Stop drawing visio-diagrams. Go over and talk to the businesspeople.”

GAO said departments must overcome significant obstacles and challenges to move beyond the current status of enterprise architecture programs, and leadership is a necessity.

“Without such organizational leadership, the benefits of enterprise architecture will not be fully realized,” the report states.

Charles Havekost, chief information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said enterprise architects should be prepared with a two-minute rehearsed speech to give an agency’s senior executive in case they are on an elevator with an executive.

“If you have two minutes with the head of your organization, what would you say and what would you want to have that person remember about what you had to say?” Havekost asked. “You have to practice that story. You’re not going to be able to walk up to somebody and tell them what enterprise architecture means and what the value proposition is in the business area.”

Havekost also suggested that architects carry a laminated card with six talking points in their wallets to make sure they cover those points if they have two minutes with an executive.

Enterprise architecture has benefits, the GAO report stated. Attempts to modernize IT programs without a guiding architecture result in duplicative systems that are poorly integrated, costly to maintain and ineffective in meeting mission goals, the report states.

The report also found that enterprise architecture programs within federal agencies range from very immature programs to more mature programs, while most programs fall between the two extremes.

“Collectively, the majority of these architecture efforts can be viewed as a work in progress with much remaining to be accomplished before the federal government as a whole fully realizes their transformational value,” the report states.

GAO said a well-defined program is essential for maximizing IT to transform business and mission operations.

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