Federal CIOs Say Enterprise Architecture Needs Better Business Focus

Amid an ongoing overhaul of federal IT, top government leaders stress the need to align enterprise architecture with the mission of departments and agencies. This may mean it will be necessary to bring together two groups that speak fundamentally different languages.

By Kenneth Corbin
Fri, November 30, 2012

CIO — WASHINGTON -- As the federal government presses ahead with an array of initiatives to cut costs and improve efficiencies throughout its sprawling IT apparatus, agency staff who oversee enterprise architecture must work to align their efforts with the business objectives of their organizations, a panel of federal IT leaders said at a government technology conference yesterday.

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Enterprise architecture, traditionally the province of a narrow silo of the IT department, can no longer operate in a vacuum, says Scott Bernard, who coordinates enterprise architecture initiatives across agencies and departments in his role as federal chief enterprise architect at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

"What I wanted to do when I came in ... was help the community turn a corner and become relevant in the key initiatives that we need in the federal government," Bernard says, who explains that he set a goal to "make sure architecture was relevant, it became more agile, it continued to move to have a more business and more strategy focus."

In May, OMB rolled out its sweeping "Shared Services Strategy" as a blueprint for federal CIOs to identify and consolidate duplicative and wasteful programs, a streamlining effort aimed at breaking down the stovepipes that have arisen as departments, agencies and bureaus have independently developed their own internal systems, applications and infrastructure.

The administration touted the Shared Services Strategy as a path to "improve the return on investment for IT spending, close productivity gaps [and] increase communications with the managing partners and customers of shared services," among other objectives.

Included in that effort was a separate document entitled "The Common Approach to Federal Enterprise Architecture," guidance that "promotes increased levels of mission effectiveness by standardizing the development and use of architectures within and between federal agencies."

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With watchwords like "scalability," "repeatable architecture" and "agility," the common approach document mirrors the broader administration goals of consolidating the $80 billion federal IT infrastructure to cut costs while tapping into technologies like cloud computing and virtualization to generate new efficiencies in service of the larger agency missions.

"It really is an issue of creating all these linkages between architecture and these broader goals, deeper goals and objectives that agencies are trying to reach," says Simon Szykman, CIO at the Department of Commerce.

Szykman's message to an audience heavy with government employees and contractors could well resonate with private-sector CIOs working to integrate their team into the business operations of the company.

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