Enterprise architecture matters

As agencies embrace initiatives, integrators adjust services

Ensuring interoperability is an important part of Computer Associates International Inc.'s EA practices, said Walter Jones of Computer Associates.

Rick Steele

"When we speak of enterprise architecture, it's not an IT construct at all. It's a construct for organizational reform or transformation." ? Michael Farber, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.

Rick Steele

It's a question that crops up with increasing frequency: How does industry stay relevant to agencies' enterprise architecture initiatives when EA has largely become an issue of internal management practices?

The question came up again this month during an industry panel at the Government Computer News 2004 Enterprise Architecture Conference in Washington. Government Computer News and Washington Technology are published by PostNewsweek Tech Media.

Early EA efforts required software that could discover and model agencies' IT infrastructures as they related to business functions. Integrators found numerous opportunities deploying EA tools and helping agencies formulate their initial architectures. But now that agencies understand the methodologies and tools, the integrator's role is changing.

"We need to stop talking about enterprise architecture and start talking about business problems and the mission of the organization," said Michael Farber, principal at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va. "When we speak of enterprise architecture, it's not an IT construct at all. It's a construct for organizational reform or transformation."

Farber said acceptance of EA-related tools and processes represented a good opportunity for small contractors to win what remains of the discovery and modeling work. But in the bigger picture, experts said it was a mistake to lead with products when it comes to pursuing work on EA projects.

"A big misstep people make when starting their architectural work is to leap straight into producing products for whatever framework they've been told or decided they want to pursue," said Andrew Norris, director of enterprise architecture at Planet Technologies Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md. Planet Technologies has partnered with Microsoft Corp. to offer agencies a federal enterprise architecture assessment.

Technology development will continue moving forward to support EA initiatives, but it will be at a more foundational level. For now, executives said, EA is largely about compliance with the Office of Management and Budget's directives.

Walter Jones, director of strategic planning, warfighting integration and transformation at Computer Associates International Inc., said ensuring interoperability was an important part of his company's EA practices. Computer Associates is also mapping its product lineup to the federal enterprise architecture in order to help agencies make the case that their infrastructures fit the OMB's framework.

Microsoft also has mapped its products against the services component reference model so it can analyze agencies' enterprise licenses to help determine compliance with the FEA.

As industry's role evolves, experts said it would be important for companies to absorb the various architectures that agencies are producing and fold them into their own projects.

"We're even taking requirements out of the FEA and giving it to our product division," said Mike Connor, group product manager at Adobe Systems Inc. "The FEA is driving development."

[IMGCAP(2)]Executives agreed that even as industry's role in EA has changed from just a few years ago, it would change again as agencies put architectures to better use. Defining and mapping assets against an EA can take agencies only so far. Eventually technology will be back in the foreground in the shape of service oriented architectures and other integration layers that will let agencies realize the benefits of reusable components.

"It's one thing to talk about discovery, leverage, exposure and net-centricity," said Farber. "But absent a mechanism you can actually hold, touch, and use to get at the goods and services, to get at the components and leverage them, you're not going to have anything."

A service oriented architecture, built on industry standards such as extensible markup language, is what will link an agency's business mission to its IT infrastructure. Farber said service provisioning and integration would become major technology initiatives in the coming months.

Ultimately, the success of EA will depend on agencies creating service components they can share, integrate and reuse. Farber said a real measure of whether EA becomes an operational practice or not will be the number of components that agencies publish in repositories such as Core.gov.

"We have to help government go through the process and come up with solutions," he said. "We have to help them get past paper-based EAs."

Brad Grimes is an assistant managing editor of Government Computer News. He can be reached at bgrimes@postnewsweektech.com.

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