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General government

Enterprise architectures: key mechanisms for identifying potential overlap and duplication

Why Area Is Important

An enterprise architecture is a modernization blueprint that is used by organizations to describe their current state and a desired future state and to leverage information technology (IT) to transform business and mission operations. In light of the importance of developing well-defined enterprise architectures, GAO recently issued a seven-stage enterprise architecture management maturity framework that defines actions needed to effectively manage an architecture program. The alternative, as GAO's work has shown, is the perpetuation of the kinds of operational environments that burden most agencies today, where a lack of integration among business operations and the IT resources supporting them leads to systems that are duplicative, poorly integrated, and unnecessarily costly to maintain.

What GAO Found


Historically, federal agencies have struggled with operational environments characterized by a lack of integration among business operations and IT resources supporting them. A key to successfully leveraging IT for organizational transformation is having and using an enterprise architecture—or modernization blueprint—as an authoritative frame of reference against which to assess and decide how individual system investments are defined, designed, acquired, and developed. The development, implementation, and maintenance of architectures are widely recognized as hallmarks of successful public and private organizations, and their use is required by the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 and the Office of Management and Budget.

GAO's experience has shown that attempting to modernize (and maintain) IT environments without an architecture to guide and constrain investments results in organizational operations and supporting technology infrastructures and systems that are duplicative, poorly integrated, unnecessarily costly to maintain and interface, and unable to respond quickly to shifting environmental factors. For example, GAO's reviews of enterprise architecture management at federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as reviews of critical agency functional areas, such as Department of Defense financial management, logistics management, combat identification, and business systems modernization have continued to identify the absence of complete and enforced enterprise architectures, which in turn has led to agency business operations, systems, and data that are duplicative, incompatible, and not integrated; these conditions have either prevented agencies from sharing data or forced them to depend on expensive, custom-developed system interfaces to do so.

GAO's framework provides a standard yet flexible benchmark against which to determine where the enterprise stands in its progress toward the ultimate goal: having a continuously improving enterprise architecture program that can serve as a featured decision support tool when considering and planning large-scale organizational restructuring or transformation initiatives. In addition, it also provides a basis for developing architecture management improvement plans, as well as for measuring, reporting, and overseeing progress in implementing these plans.

In August 2006, GAO reported on its work in applying its prior framework across 27 major federal departments and agencies. This work showed that the state of enterprise architecture development and implementation varied considerably across departments and agencies, with some having more mature architecture programs than others. However, overall, most departments and agencies were not where they needed to be, particularly with regard to their approaches to assessing each investment's alignment with the enterprise architecture and measuring and reporting on enterprise architecture results and outcomes.

Accordingly, GAO made recommendations to departments and agencies that are aimed at improving the content and use of their respective architectures. Nonetheless, while some progress has been made, more time is needed for agencies to fully realize the value of having well-defined and implemented architectures. Such value can be derived from realizing cost savings through consolidation and reuse of shared services and elimination of antiquated and redundant mission operations, enhancing information sharing through data standardization and system integration, and optimizing service delivery through streamlining and normalization of business processes and mission operations.

Actions Needed

If managed effectively, enterprise architectures can be a useful change management and organizational transformation tool. The conditions for effectively managing enterprise architecture programs are contained in GAO's enterprise architecture management maturity framework. To advance the state of enterprise architecture development and use in the federal government, senior leadership in the departments and agencies need to demonstrate their commitment to this organizational transformation tool, as well as ensure that the kind of management controls embodied in GAO's framework are in place and functioning. Collectively, the majority of the departments and agencies' architecture efforts can still be viewed as a work in progress with much remaining to be accomplished before the federal government as a whole fully realizes their transformational value. Moving beyond this status will require most departments and agencies to overcome significant obstacles and challenges, such as organizational parochialism and cultural resistance, inadequate funding, and the lack of top management understanding and skilled staff. One key to doing so continues to be sustained organizational leadership. As GAO's work has demonstrated, without such organizational leadership, the benefits of enterprise architecture will not be fully realized.

In GAO's prior work, most departments and agencies reported they expect to realize the benefits from their respective enterprise architecture programs, such as improved alignment between their business operations and the IT that supports these operations and consolidation of their IT infrastructure environments, which can reduce the costs of operating and maintaining duplicative capabilities, sometime in the future. What this suggests is that the real value in the federal government from developing and using enterprise architectures remains largely unrealized. GAO's framework recognizes that a key to realizing this potential is effectively managing department and agency enterprise architecture programs. However, knowing whether benefits and results are in fact being achieved requires having associated measures and metrics. In this regard, it is important for agencies to satisfy the core element associated with measuring and reporting enterprise architecture results and outcomes. Examples of results and outcomes to be measured include costs avoided through eliminating duplicative investments or by reusing common services and applications and improved mission performance through re-engineered business processes and modernized supporting systems. GAO's work has shown that over 50 percent of the departments and agencies assessed had yet to fully satisfy this element. On the other hand, some have reported they are addressing this element and have realized significant financial benefits. For example, the Department of the Interior has demonstrated that it is using its enterprise architecture to modernize agency IT operations and avoid costs through enterprise software license agreements and hardware procurement consolidation. These architecture-based decisions have resulted in financial benefits of at least $80 million. This means that the departments and agencies can demonstrate achievement of expected benefits, to include costs avoided through eliminating duplicative investments, if enterprise architecture results and outcomes are measured and reported. The Office of Management and Budget can play a critical role by continuing to oversee the development and use of enterprise architecture efforts, to include the measurement and reporting of enterprise architecture results and outcomes across the federal government.

GAO plans to follow up with those departments and agencies that reported having satisfied the element associated with measuring and reporting return on enterprise architecture results and outcomes to identify associated dollar savings resulting from elimination of duplicative investments.

Framework for Analysis

The information contained in this analysis is based on the related GAO reports listed under the "Related GAO Products" tab.

Area Contact

For additional information about this area, contact Valerie C. Melvin at (202) 512-6304 or

Related GAO Products