Building with vision

In 1999, the government of Alberta had 24 ministries that operated independently when it came to IT. As a result, many duplicate systems were operating in each department, with a lot of duplicate information stored in silos.

The response to the situation was the Government of Alberta Enterprise Architecture Foundation Project, known as GAEA.

John Chandler, the province’s chief enterprise architect, stresses that the two most important words in the GAEA initiative are “enterprise architecture.” They refer, he says, to “an engineering discipline” where an organization adopts a strategy and establishes “guidance for how to implement that strategy.”

“In IT, we use a lot of different types of models. They all have to be integrated together into a cohesive whole that actually implements the strategy.”

“In the IT industry you can get swayed by a lot of different things and do technology for technology’s sake. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re supposed to do what the business wants.”

Building support

But how did the 24 ministries feel when they were told enterprise architecture was coming? Some were less than pleased, according to Liam Barry, the executive director for enterprise standards, who recalls the top three responses:

“Number one: You’re the corporate entity, what do you know about our business? Number two: What is the benefit? Number three: You’ve got to be kidding.”

Of course, Chandler and Barry were not kidding and they set out to alleviate concerns by meeting with anyone in the government who was prepared to talk with them.

“We listened to their concerns and then formulated a response based on the RFP request we put out and said, ‘This is what the deliverables are,'” Barry explained. “We opened up the participation in the delivery and design of the objective. We wanted to demonstrate that this was not being done by the CIO office per se. It was being enabled by the CIO office.”

Building benefits

By the time GAEA was launched in November 2001, Chandler and Barry had found 129 common business activities, 82 areas of common data and 70 common applications that could address the common elements.

“If you look at any government or any large corporate body, it’s incredibly difficult – if not impossible – for them to see the whole,” Barry said. “Consequently, they cannot see opportunities for sharing assets [and] for delivering common solutions to common business requirements.”

Thanks to GAEA, Barry said, ministries can now decide whether they will build a solution several times to suit their needs or once to suit the entire organization.

“The consequence of that is that we are able to save money and build towards more open standards,” he said. “We can also deliver a single solution to all ministries, for the ministries, and with the ministries.”

Building the future

As for the GAEA project itself, Barry said a permanent architecture team has been established under the leadership of the CIO office. A transition plan has been completed and the team is now trying to implement it in cooperation with the ministries.

Barry said he is very pleased with the work that has been completed through the project.

“It’s the first time – we believe – that any government has been able to create a picture that represents the best common business opportunities across all ministries,” he said. “We have a tendency to look for differences. What we’ve done is ask, ‘Where are the similarities?'”