Federal Enterprise Architecture Will Make IT a Utility: P2C2 Newsletter

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The P2C2 Group, Inc. looks at the Federal Enterprise Architecture in its latest newsletter, reviewing the case for viewing information technology (IT) as a government wide utility. An excerpt from the newsletter follows.

The federal budget will be getting tighter in upcoming years, and the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) offers a long-term solution. This can ultimately benefit agency budgets, particularly true if you act now and get ahead of the transition curve.

However, many federal agencies will need to redirect their EA activities to take advantage of the FEA, because they still don't get it: Enterprise Architecture isn't just about inventorying trees in the agency IT woods, removing deadwood, and tidying up the brush. It's about mission support: structuring information technology to serve as a painless and cost-efficient environment for performing necessary business functions that achieve measurable, mission-driven outcomes.

Unifying Federal Technology

Many of us forget to put the "F" in front of EA. The United States Government is one enterprise, not a Holy Roman Empire of semi-autonomous fiefdoms. Yet too often EA is lost in the woods of agency-level stovepipe solutions. Agencies tend to argue that their IT requirements are unique, which is seldom the case. With the exception of certain national security systems, 80% of government electronics and information technology spending is generic, even though the COTS products may be combined somewhat differently like LEGO™ components.

Much of today's EA activity focuses on inventorying, organizing, and justifying the agency-level IT assets; developing blueprints of how to replace the most egregious legacy systems; and devising a more consistent schema that is peculiar to the agency. The problem with this approach is that agencies are developing dozens and dozens of EA solutions that rationalize and justify individual agency architectures … but may not necessarily fit together in terms of a coherent, simple, federal-wide architecture.

The truth is that there will never be a single FEA until agencies dispense with the notion that their organizations are islands, where IT must be owned internally, and solutions must come from within.

Making IT a Utility

Actually, it would not be terrible if agencies shared control of their information technology. We use electricity for lights, water for toilets, and phones for voice messages without maintaining agency-level control over these utilities.

Today agency mission is the driver in federal IT, and proprietary technology matters less and less. Standards, such as XML and associated specifications, are making IT platforms a commodity, as Scott Berinato pointed out in a recent CIO magazine article, .Net, Web Services, and the End of the Vendor Era (http://www.cio.com/archive/110105/web_services.html).

More pointedly, Karen Evans has stated that "IT is a utility, and it's dependable, and it's there." The Office of Management and Budget administrator for e-government and information technology has made it clear that IT should be seen as a federal-wide enterprise, not something revolving around individual agencies. Her comments were highlighted in Evans: Use IT as a utility (http://www.fcw.com/article91215-10-27-05-Web) in Federal Computer Week.

This line of thinking suggests that agencies should be figuring out how to adopt and align with a collaborative FEA, rather than construct their own EA solution. This would mean that:

  • It does matter for stakeholders to have a voice in how an IT utility is run to meet the needs of customer agencies, taxpayers, and the public
  • Service Level Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding will be the lingua franca of FEA-driven IT utilities... requiring thoughtful negotiation
  • An agency can plug into an existing resource in the federal enterprise without needing to replicate (duplicate) those resources
  • It makes no sense to fight over ownership and control--because it's all owned by the United States Government ... or outsourced by common consent to the private sector
  • It doesn't matter who is running the resource as long as it's available, reliable, and meets requirements.

The IT Utility Network

The federal IT utility won't be like an monolithic electrical power plant. Rather, it will be like a national power grid--where many different plants are generating resources and contributing to

the overall supply. That's exactly where federal IT is already headed: Initiatives for unified human resources, payroll, and financial systems are examples of the many emerging initiatives to put the most efficient solutions online in the federal IT grid.

An agency may operate one or several of these powerhouse solutions, but the overall IT resources for each agency will depend on the federal-wide grid ... most of which will be beyond the individual agency's boundaries.

What the FEA Means for Agency Budgets

There is good news and difficult news: Committing to a federal-wide IT utility will ultimately save money, though probably not immediately.

Read the entire article: Go to http://www.p2c2group.com/nov05nws.html

THE P2C2 GROUP, INC. is an independent management consulting firm offering a team of experts on the business side of Federal technology. Our team is dedicated to the success of our business partners and the mission attainment of the government customer. The firm is based in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

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Jim Kendrick
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