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Report finds agencies are better aligning IT and business systems

Federal officials are increasingly keeping their agencies' missions in mind as they design computer networks, according to a new report from a market research firm.

Based on a survey of 400 public and private sector officials, Forrester Research Inc. concluded more organizations in both sectors are taking pains to ensure their IT systems and business processes are closely aligned. But Gene Leganza, co-author of the report and vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, said the federal government is slightly ahead in adopting this approach.

Thanks in part to Office of Management and Budget oversight, federal information technology and management officials have grown accustomed to working together when developing business plans, he said.

"Now the trend is it's become necessary to do business planning a lot more collaboratively, which requires a formal look at what's going on in the business," Leganza said. "For IT to fulfill its mission of providing a technology strategy, they really can't do it anymore without knowing about the business ... The business folks can better plan the future by knowing what technology brings to the table."

Leganza said the shift away from simple compliance with the requirements for the federal enterprise architecture toward a more mission-focused approach began late in the administration of George W. Bush.

"You hear less about what you need to do for the federal enterprise architecture and more [about the] various ways in which agencies are getting involved in program roles," Leganza said. "Things are getting pushed down to a more pragmatic level."

The Bush administration's quarterly management score card created much of the impetus for adoption of the federal enterprise architecture, Leganza said. The potential for cost savings and increased efficiency also were compelling reasons to embrace it, he noted.

"Enterprise architecture brings about more consistency and less risk for IT-related projects," Leganza said. "With all that being said, I think the real value is its ability to support transformational changes [within] an agency. It brings together at a very intimate level folks on the business side with folks that understand technological capabilities. There can be a variety of aha moments that make processes significantly more efficient."

The Obama administration has abandoned the Bush-era score cards, but federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra has repeatedly stressed the importance of implementing the federal enterprise architecture to ensure agencies can communicate with each other.

Leganza said continued progress would help the Obama administration's push toward cloud computing, in which on-demand hardware and software services are provided by vendors or other agencies. The approach also has the potential to accelerate IT procurements, he added, but only if the people developing the IT infrastructure have access to state-of-the-art tools to ensure connectivity and security.

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