A new generation for EA modeling

The lowdown on EA tools

What are they? Software that helps collect, model, and interact with information about an organization's business processes and IT infrastructure.

Who uses them? Budget planners to validate IT spending levels and other budget plans; business analysts and managers for budget planning and to search for ways to improve organizational efficiency.

What should I look for? Support for Extensible Markup Language schemas and other aspects of the World Wide Web Consortium's XML standards. Next, look for workflow capabilities. Also, look for software with an easy-to-use interface.

How much do they cost? Commercial products generally range from around $100 per user seat into the thousands of dollars, depending on the product and configuration.

There are plenty of good reasons for creating enterprise architectures: Such models can take the sting out of integrating agency functions, launching new initiatives or just optimizing existing functions and IT investments.

The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 mandated an overall blueprint for agencies' IT systems. This year, the Office of Management and Budget has made completing enterprise architectures of agency systems and processes ? and aligning spending requests with those models ? a requirement for getting new funding.

Unfortunately, most of the work agencies have done so far isn't easily leveraged for things such as operational analysis and integration planning. Most of the enterprise architecture documents now being sent to OMB were produced in nothing more sophisticated than a word processor, according to government IT managers.

But a new generation of tools is helping organizations quickly turn information about their business processes, organizational structure and information infrastructure into not just documents, but dynamic models that can be used for analysis, to simulate changes and find new ways to increase organizational efficiency.

Some software can even automate much of the implementation of new business processes in enterprise software.

The largest effort to date by the government to handle the data related to enterprise architecture is I-TIPS, at www.itips.gov. A Web decision-support application initially developed by the Energy Department, I-TIPS is now a self-sustained activity, funded through service-level agreements with participating agencies.

But the tools available don't completely take the sting out of going the final mile to meet OMB's requirements today. "Right now, there's a lot of pain and heartache," said Ira Grossman, IT architect at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Kevin Jonah, a Maryland network manager, writes about computer technology.

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