Organizational structure and executive leadership continues to be one of the key challenges faced by agencies trying to make their enterprise architecture efforts successful, according to attendees and speakers at the 2006 Enterprise Architecture conference held in Washington, D.C., this fall.

Bill Roth

Kansas Chief Information Architect Bill Roth, who attended the conference, feels the approach taken in his state might help provide some guidance to the federal effort as well as other states working to see more return from their enterprise architecture initiatives.

Kansas has organized EA by assigning the chief architect to support all three branches of government. "The alignment of the chief architect with the three branch chief information technology officers (CITOs) is one of the key differentiators between the current federal EA program and the state of Kansas," Roth said.

Roth contrasted his state's tripartite approach with the "strong involvement of the executive branch" in the federal enterprise architecture efforts. The tripartite approach means that "every major IT investment involves review of the three branches of government in the state of Kansas."

Roth thought the generally federally oriented D.C. conference was useful, but that "everything was a panel discussion and we really didn't get much depth [as to] what the agencies have actually accomplished." He thought that more detail about agency enterprise architectures would have made the meeting more useful for the practicing architect. "It appears that 9/11 forced us to come together as a nation but has also forced everybody to keep a close hold on how we do things." While security needs to be taken into consideration, Roth pointed out that one of the promises of EA has been the way it can help individual offices and agencies to share data and to identify common problems and solutions. Too much security concern could eventually "handicap the evolution of this discipline," according to Roth.

To help forward the idea of data sharing, Kansas has made available presentations about its governance model, business models and high level context models. "We want to provide transparency for our process and what we're doing," said Roth. "Hopefully, our experience might help other EA efforts either by following what we've found successful or avoiding the problems we encountered."

While frustrated with some aspects of the federal effort, Roth doesn't underestimate the magnitude of the task at hand; instead he views state efforts as a possible way to help identify problems and discover solutions that might be applicable to the federal government.

"Because the state governments are not as huge as the federal government, they have the ability to get the right people together and implement the processes and approaches that will work to build the EA," Roth notes. "Challenges at the state and local level for EA may be more manageable. We can take insight from what the federal government has learned and use it locally. And, in their turn, the states can serve as a proving ground for many EA concepts and initiatives simply because we are not as huge and, even though we are complex, we can make progress rapidly on a daily basis."

Roth feels that more also needs to be done to link states, including EA conferences or forums aimed specifically at state and local government. One suggestion he feels has merit is to extend the federal EA conference to include line of business (federal/state/local) discussions along with cross-functional discussions.

"We in state and local government also need to move forward ourselves," said Roth, "learning from the federal experience and providing feedback on what works and what doesn't."

Laura Edens is a federal enterprise architect with over 15 years experience in strategic planning of information technology. She is currently working for the NRC data architect as the enterprise data architecture lead for Webworld Technologies.