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How enterprise architecture is curing the Census Bureau’s IT issues

17/12/2014 by Sharon Shahzad


When you are working for the agency that is the leading source of data on the U.S. population, a streamlined approach to enterprise software is critical for success. For the Census Bureau, that approach wasn’t always in place.

When Necarsia McKinnon joined the bureau as chief enterprise architect in 2012, she found a Gordian knot when it came to the agency’s systems, finding more than 1,500 IT products and 1,000 business applications that were either overly redundant or one-off solutions that could have easily been shared services. Main program areas had different ways of describing their work, with each office using its own stovepiped solutions. With data that determines over $400 billion in federal funds, Chief Technology Officer Avi Bender tasked McKinnon to install some order.

The Census Bureau’s 10-step framework for Enterprise Architecture. (Credit: Troux)

What resulted was a customized enterprise architecture, or EA, framework that emphasized efficiency and agility, cut out a swath of excessive software, and spread shared solutions throughout the entire bureau.

“[The Census Bureau] did not have an EA program in place,” McKinnon said in an interview with FedScoop. “When I got here and started to understand the complexity of the environment, our mission and how things were set up, we took more of a customized approach to EA framework. We didn’t follow a prescribed way of implementing the EA program. It was more a fit-for-purpose.”

The 10-step framework was built with a focus on governance standards and a vetting process that assured software used by the bureau meets mission needs in the most efficient way possible.

“We started with standards because there was a high proliferation of IT products, mainly [commercial-off-the-shelf] products,” McKinnon said. “Each division would buy COTS products to fit all their needs. From a vendor management perspective, you would have the same product in four or five different areas under separate contracts. So there were some things that we saw that we went after immediately: Project management, software development, general office products and utilities. By doing that, we established some governance.”

Once McKinnon established a governance structure, other pieces of the framework started to fall in place. McKinnon helped create an Enterprise Standards Profile that aimed to reduce the bureau’s hardware and software footprint, a working group that oversaw the standards and a review board that figured out what software could be transformed into a shared solution.

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