Blog post

US Federal CIO Faces a Daunting Challenge

By Brian Burke | March 11, 2009 | 0 Comments


Ten years ago I coined the term ‘federated architecture’ to describe an approach to enterprise architecture that allows interoperability and information sharing between semi-autonomous business units.  Since then hundreds of companies and governments have adopted this approach.  I remain a big supporter of the idea, but I am also aware of the difficulties to implement this approach, and the challenge facing the New US Federal CIO Vivek Kundra is daunting to say the least.

According to the White House, the Federal CIO “establishes and oversees enterprise architecture to ensure system interoperability and information sharing and ensure information security and privacy across the federal government.”  This will require departments and agencies to agree on standards for interoperability (at least) and/or to harmonize and integrate business process and technologies (even more difficult). The problem is that the departments and agencies of the US Government are fiefdoms that are reluctant to give up control over investments.  Harmonizing enterprise architectures creates winners and losers and departments will likely fight to avoid sub-optimization of the department to achieve of the optimization of government.  I have seen many government-wide EA programs that have failed primarily because they underestimated the political, cultural and financial challenges.

Over the years, I’ve met quite a few national government CIOs and they all have the same problem. They are given the responsibility to optimize whole of government architectures without the authority to get it done.  In most cases they have influence over government departments but no real control.  In many cases they play the role of advisor and cajoler but lack the backing to make real change.  Clearly there have been some successes, but in most cases those successes occur after several failed attempts.

But I’m cheering for Kundra.  I have never met Vivek Kundra but several of my colleagues have and the feedback is that he is very bright, innovative and driven.  Andrea DiMaio knows him and has written several blogs on Kundra’s appointment. My hope is that Kundra gets the support that he needs to achieve the goals that the White House has set out for him.

For additional background on Federated Architectures review this research note:  Management Update: Managing a Federated Architecture

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