Editorial: Dressing up EA's mission

Dick Burk has done much for enterprise architecture and linking EA to agency missions

It is sometimes said that our weaknesses are merely our strengths in excess. If that is true, Richard Burk’s stylish looks may have been his weakness because it may have led some to not take him seriously. Yet Burk was a force for enterprise architecture and, more important, for strengthening that crucial link between enterprise architecture and agency mission.

Burk announced this month that he will be stepping down after 35 years of government service, most recently as the Office of Management and Budget’s chief architect.

Enterprise architecture has been stiffed for several reasons. One is that people outside the information technology arena just don’t get it, and the IT community — including us in the technology press — has not done a good job of helping by showing IT specialists how to make architecture more accessible.

Adding to that, enterprise architecture has been stovepiped, its practitioners almost becoming a clique. Architects have tended to hang out with other architects, speaking their own jargon of terms and acronyms.

All of this made the important task of enterprise architecture more difficult because, rather than being an important tool that allowed agencies to carry out their missions, it became just another government mandate. It became an esoteric exercise, separate and apart from the business of agencies. Frustrated architects screamed that nobody appreciated them, and program managers grew frustrated that they faced yet another obstacle to accomplishing what they needed to get done.

In many ways, Burk has been the peace-maker. He pressed architects to work on their enterprise architecture elevator pitch by asking what their 30-second answer would be if the head of their agency asked, “So, what do you do?” But he also proselytized about the importance of enterprise architecture, not only for IT but also as an insurance policy for successful systems.

The next person to spearhead the government’s enterprise architecture efforts has big — and well-polished — shoes to fill.

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