Enterprise Architecture Is the Steak to Cloud's Sizzle for Feds

The U.S. Agency for International Development is the only federal agency among 27 recently surveyed by the Government Accountability Office to map out an enterprise architecture strategy, define metrics to measure its progress and actually go back to see if the plan worked. (It did.) Here's what your company can learn from USAID's enterprise architecture efforts.

By Jason Bloomberg
Mon, November 05, 2012

CIO — Ever since 2010, when President Barack Obama's administration released a 25-point implementation plan to reform federal IT management and called for broad-based IT reform that included a cloud-first mandate, federal agencies have been scrambling to move applications to the cloud and meet the aggressive deadlines set forth in the plan.

In the rush to find the low hanging fruit—relatively straightforward capabilities like moving email to the cloud—agencies have risked losing sight of the big picture: supporting the priorities of government with flexible, cost-effective IT strategies that break with the big-money legacy monstrosities of the past. After all, reforming IT is about more than the technology. Get it right and the government itself will run better, achieving greater levels of agility while dramatically reducing costs.

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However, too many agencies are so bureaucratic and their existing IT environments so complex, that developing a comprehensive plan of attack is a Herculean task. That's without even considering the challenge of measuring the effectiveness of such a plan.

Enterprise Architecture Tough Requirement for Federal Agencies

The federal government has risen to these challenges by requiring all agencies to implement enterprise architecture (EA). Ever since the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 called for EA at the federal level, agencies have been hammering out detailed EA strategies that describe each organization's initial as-is state, desired future state and actionable plans for getting from one to the other. Such plans call for streamlining business processes, and the organization itself, in order to maximize operational performance, as well as optimizing technology environments to be more agile and cost-effective in the face of the ongoing evolution of mission priorities.

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Federal EA efforts are intended to help agencies realize cost savings through consolidating and reusing shared services, eliminating obsolete and redundant mission operations, enhancing information sharing through data standardization and system integration, and optimizing service delivery by streamlining and normalizing business processes.

It's a tall order for any organization. For government agencies, however, achieving real value from their EA efforts has been a struggle of immense proportions. In fact, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, only one agency among the 27 surveyed has managed to achieve all the goals set forth in the federal EA strategy that Clinger-Cohen laid out 16 years ago—the U.S. Agency for International Development.

USAID is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. The agency provide economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. It works with volunteer organizations, indigenous organizations, universities and other organizations to promote national security, reduce the risk of terrorism and address global poverty.

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