US federal departments and agencies are plagued by inefficiencies. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that overlapping and duplicative government activities generate billions of dollars in unnecessary spending each year. Many government inefficiencies can be traced to the siloed nature of government organizations, processes, and systems. Although government missions often cross organizational boundaries, each department and agency is organizationally structured around siloed functions without regard for how processes and systems interrelate to meet higher-level mission needs. Siloed organizations create siloed systems that hinder information sharing, slow operational processes, and undermine opportunities for exploiting shared data and collaborating on shared mission responsibilities. Consequently, siloed systems not only drive up costs, but they also diminish mission capabilities.
Senior leaders have attempted to reduce inefficiencies through initiatives such as Better Buying Power 2.0, the Joint Information Environment, and the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise. These efforts aim to break down silos by promoting shared standards and infrastructures, open architectures, and other policies to improve interoperability among information systems. These new policies and initiatives are necessary and helpful but they are not sufficient, largely because they are too conceptual and leave too much room for varying interpretations among organizations building new systems. The critical missing element is an “enterprise blueprint” that clearly details critical inter-system interfaces and dictates the design specifics for each systems developer within the enterprise. When designing and implementing systems, organizations will need to think (and act) in terms of an “enterprise” that is comprised of multiple systems that interoperate seamlessly as a system-of-systems (SoS). US Navy Vice Admiral David Dunaway, Commander of Naval Air Systems Command, recently wrote: “The government must take control of the critical inter-system interfaces and dictate the design specifics, similar to how the smartphone business controls its interoperability. This involves standardizing critical interface requirements, implementing government-defined and -controlled interface reference designs, and directing industry to build them to open architecture standards.”2 In an era of increased mission sharing and collaboration, an enterprise SoS approach standardizes interfaces, breaks down silos, and integrates processes and systems to drive out inefficiencies and enable true mission integration.