FlipSide: A case for EA

A case for EA

No agency wants to be without an enterprise architecture, according to a recent book on the topic whose authors focus on its strategic benefits.

“Enterprise Architecture as Strategy” avoids much of the mind-numbing detail associated with books on enterprise architecture. It focuses instead on the importance of good leadership in achieving the benefits of enterprise architecture.

Published last year by Harvard Business School Press, the book is based on research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School Center for Information Systems.

Its authors, Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill and David Robertson, acknowledge the contributions of Con Kenney, the Federal Aviation Administration’s enterprise architect, among others.

The authors identify nine signs that indicate an agency or business is having trouble adhering to an enterprise architecture or establishing one in the first place:

  • A single question from the public elicits multiple and conflicting answers.

  • Compliance with a new policy or reporting requirement requires a major effort.

  • New capabilities take a long time to develop.

  • The information technology shop is consistently a bottleneck.

  • The use of various processes and systems to perform the same function is common.

  • Information necessary for making decisions is not available.

  • Employees spend their time moving data from one system to another.

  • Senior executives dread discussing IT issues.

  • Senior executives don’t know whether the agency gets good value from IT.

According to the book, the way to avoid experiencing those signs of poor strategic management is to make hard choices in establishing an enterprise architecture — and then stick to that architecture.

It’s a matter of putting a stake in the ground and building there.

The book recommends that agencies avoid enterprise architecture plans that look like circuit diagrams. Instead, an enterprise architecture plan should be a simple, one-page diagram that depicts the agencywide mission capabilities deemed desirable, the basic automation technologies and data standards necessary to achieve those capabilities, and the agency’s primary interfaces to the public or other agencies.

A one-page diagram requires leaders to formulate a simplified vision of a complex organization, and that’s difficult to do, according to the book.

Ross, Weill and Robertson wrote that the two most important aspects of an enterprise architecture are standardized and integrated business processes. Agencies can have as their goal standardized or integrated processes — or both — and they can choose to implement each to varying degrees.

The authors identify four stages of enterprise architecture maturity, and they recommend management practices appropriate to each stage. They also discuss the various skills that chief information officers should have at each stage.

Ross, Weill and Robertson argue that the most difficult growth phase of enterprise architecture occurs at Stage 3, when different parts of an agency or government try to integrate their data by adopting standard definitions and formats. “These can be difficult, time-consuming decisions,” the authors wrote. But the benefits are worth it: better customer service, better data for management decisions, easier data exchanges and speedier transactions.

The book defines enterprise architecture in a way that’s easy to comprehend. It states that an enterprise architecture plan should show the business processes and IT infrastructure necessary to support an organization’s requirements for standardization, integration and innovation.

The plan, the authors wrote, should be simple and to the point.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group