A columnist interviews an IT official who has worked closely with sensitive U.S. government departments who talks about the challenges of Enterprise Architecture

This is the second of three recent interviews I had with experts who shared their deep insights into the enterprise. All are noted enterprise experts in strategy, enterprise architecture, and transformation and operations improvement.

Below are some excerpts from my talk with Robert Damashek, chief architect Binary Group, which provides technology solutions, training, and consulting to the U.S. federal government.  The link is to the full interview.

Q– From your work with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)’s CIO and the OMB (White House Office of Management and Budget) chief architect, what are your top five tips for developing an integrated common approach to Enterprise Architecture?

A–”….Don’t continue to do the same things that failed….We have to learn to think from the outside in and be mission focused….Focus like a laser on mission outcomes….Become an expert at understanding and articulating costs and risks that are involved when you don’t change….Deliver things rapidly (which relates to the previous tip). Deliver insights to the decision-makers within their decision cycles….”

Q- What are your top tips from your work in the Federal Open Government Initiative on strategies and technologies to enhance transparency, collaboration and outcomes?

“….Open government means opening it up to more eyes, across silos that in the past have been blocked, so my tip there relates to how you look at leadership challenges, where they are dealing with these kinds of complexities becoming so overwhelming that they’re stuck and it stands in the way of responding to new disruptions….Embrace openness as a mission enabler, not as lip service. Use these disruptions as opportunities to move the enterprise to get better performance so the enterprise can become less crisis-driven or reactive and become more performance-driven….

“Use cross stakeholder workshops to engage participation to where the openness helps drive out common outcomes….We should look for ways to incrementally influence open government, the idea of thinking globally, but acting locally. You build trust in a smaller, localized community rather than large-scale initiatives….From a technology side, I think people should leave big data in place whenever possible….”

Q –Robert, beyond what we discussed already, can you describe some of your prior roles and some lessons from each role that would be of high value to the audience?

“….For many years I have supported the Enterprise Architecture group which is part of the Army CIO/G-6, and then supported the DoD CIO and the Office of Management and Budget as well as at the federal level. I provided enterprise architecture and my role was as an enterprise architecture strategic advisor to those organizations.

“Lessons learned from the Army is the tremendous cost of not having ready access to the intelligence of the enterprise in time to meet the decision-maker’s cycle….Enterprise leaders (whatever scale enterprise they are dealing with) have to have the intelligence that they need to make decisions rapidly….

“Another lesson learned is that not having common semantics, sustains silos and allows infighting to get in the way of rational and objective thinking….At the OMB level is this whole idea of collaborative planning. Frameworks and tools and architecture methods are just that, they are tools, they support timely analysis and decision-making. We need to think about this as a discipline that will go into the strategic planning offices of our enterprises….

“In trying to introduce technology that is disruptive and strategic, I learned that it’s very important to understand both the mission and what kinds of tolerance for risk and cost that your stakeholders have….”

Q — What are the challenges with EA and where it has failed and what are some of the shortcomings of the existing frameworks that are out there?

“….In some respects what we’ve done with enterprise architecture is that we’ve treated it similarly to data warehouses. We’ve tried to take everything including reference models and architectures that cross everything from strategy down to implementation, etc. all the way down the line and capture all that knowledge with a consistent set of tools and in a consistent way and view with certain artifacts and made the problem that’s common to huge data warehouses — they don’t scale so they don’t work as an enterprise solution….

“It just takes too long and costs too much to reengineer all the data that describes the enterprise and the data; the planning, design, engineering, operational and performance management stages are all captured in these different silos and they are different tools….

“Those are aspects of where things have failed and we need to think about how do we break down the problem and add value for our stakeholders and produce analysis which go into this decision, provide alternatives and courses of action for our leaders in a very short period of time and in a rapid way….”

Q — Throughout this conversation you’ve talked about the challenges, opportunities and some of the work that you’ve done. You’ve given examples of resources that could be used and many case study type scenarios of what and where it’s working and where it’s not. This hints to the controversies in the field. Can you talk a little about some areas of controversy in EA?

“….I’ve talked a little about the role of the CIO changing and the diminishing role in some cases (at least at the lower-level CIOs) and the CIOs would like to have more authority that they have seen go away….Another area of controversy was the continuous push and pull of having a set of standardized architecture views or artifacts that Agencies could use. But largely the controversy has been the cost and time to deliver these very large and complex architectures….

“Another area has been the inflexibility of government procurement and contracting and conflicts with the advancing pace of technology and then how all of these sit in the context of a budget crunch….

The final piece in this series is an interview with Elizabeth Southerlan, an associate with cloud management firm Oliver Wyman.

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