DOD refines architecture strategy

Mixed predictions about open source's future

Enterprise architecture depends on the ability of systems to communicate with each other, and that means the days of proprietary systems may be coming to an end. Agencies considering large investments in information technology today may forgo systems that can’t easily coordinate with others.

Sun Microsystems, for example, has made most of its products open-source, said Dennis Wisnosky, chief architect for the Business Mission Area in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“I’m not in the prognostication business, but it seems to me if companies that size are making those kinds of decisions to open the kimono and base what they do on open source and open standards, then industry is clearly going in that direction,” Wisnosky said.

However, Richard Burk, former chief architect and manager of the federal enterprise architecture program at the Office of Management and Budget, said the day that open source systems will predominate is still far from becoming reality. Agencies still rely on legacy systems, and those legacy systems need to fit into enterprise architectures.

“What we have to deal with right now is what are those data and business processes that we need to orchestrate across multiple agencies,” Burk said. “

— Michael Hardy

The Defense Department’s Business Mission Area has released a new enterprise architecture road map that marks the culmination of more than a year of planning and revising. Implicit in the new framework is the assumption that the perfect shouldn’t get in the way of the good.

The road map incorporates a federated approach that does not require various components within DOD to integrate their systems. Instead it relies on open standards and service-oriented architecture to facilitate information sharing.

Dennis Wisnosky, chief architect and chief technical officer for DOD’s Business Mission Area, said the department is too large an organization to attempt to encompass all of its activities in a single enterprise architecture.

DOD must achieve business transformation by breaking off manageable components of an enterprise architecture rather than trying to cover everything at once, he said.

“When I came here just about three years ago as a contractor, the department had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on building architectures and the grade they were getting was an F,” Wisnosky said, referring to the Office of Management and Budget’s score card. “My analysis, having done architectures for a couple of decades, was that what they were trying to do was virtually impossible.”

Wisnosky said he chose to limit his office’s efforts to those areas that the Office of the Secretary of Defense could reasonably address.

He identified some essential elements that the enterprise architecture should include, such as machine-to-machine messaging for service discovery.

The goal of an enterprise architecture is to guide future acquisition and implementation plans, Wisnosky said.

“This is much more than academic. This architecture is being used,” he said. “Where we have responsibility at the OSD level, it’s being used to guide our investments. Where we have the right of review [of other components’ decisions], we can check there, either to point them in a better direction or put the brakes on something that doesn’t fit the architecture.”

Richard Burk, former chief architect and manager of the federal enterprise architecture program at OMB and now a consultant at ICF International, said there is no practical way to create a useful architecture for a large organization.

“You can get an overall picture of an agency using an [enterprise architecture] of everything the agency does,” Burk said. “But when you get down to making it operational, at that point you really need to break it down into segments, into lines of business.”

A segmented approach is part of OMB’s federal enterprise architecture plan, Burk said. In 2007, OMB required agencies to identify at least one line of business and develop an architecture for that line of business, with approval from the manager in charge of that business area.

Another architecture policy expert agreed that DOD’s new federated architecture strategy is the right approach. As large organizations go, DOD is one of the most complex, said Mike Tiemann, chief executive officer of EA Werks, an enterprise architecture consulting firm.

With “something as big as DOD, you have multiple layers within the organization,” Tiemann said. “Of all the federated organizations in the government, DOD is probably two or three layers deeper than any other.” 

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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