When it’s time to make order out of an often-chaotic environment with hundreds or even thousands of systems in use, IT professionals turn to enterprise architecture (EA), the discipline that synthesizes key business and technical information across the organization to support better decision-making.


User-centric EA represents a new and improved way of practicing this discipline. It extends and expands the goal of traditional EA by providing useful and usable information products and governance services to the end user. In user-centric EA, information is relevant (current, accurate and complete), easy to understand and readily accessible. Also, in user-centric EA, decision-making is improved on behalf of all stakeholders in the organization, not just the IT function.


I developed user-centric EA first at the Secret Service and later at the Coast Guard. Here’s how I did it.


The Origin of User-Centric EA


I have been an enterprise architect with the federal government since 2000; I was there shortly after the Department of Homeland Security was formed and had the opportunity to participate in the development of architecture products for the new department at that time. And I remember seeing architecture products that spanned the length and height of entire conference rooms: Many of us at that time used to joke that we would defy anyone in the room to make sense of what these information artifacts said or meant.


So my first decision when I became chief enterprise architect at the U.S. Secret Service was that I would not develop any EA information products that did not have a clear use and a defined user. If nobody wanted it, we weren’t going to spend time developing it, regardless of what any framework told us to do.


This is not to say that user-centric EA breaks completely with the discipline. In fact, it is based on the other common frameworks such as the Zachman Framework, the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA), the Department of Defense Architecture Framework (DODAF), and the Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF). But it diverges in its unequivocal focus on developing useful and usable products to the end user.


EA User Requirements - Getting Started


As we prepare to work with the users, we have a user-centric framework for capturing, viewing and processing information.


A Framework for Capturing Information


Before we ever identify a single user need or requirement, we use a simple, basic framework for all of the information products that we will provide the users. This is known as the EA framework and has six perspectives through which one can look at business and IT information. It is relatively common to all enterprise architectures:


  • Performance: The results of operations or outcomes that we are trying to achieve (EA is a proponent of the development and tracking of performance metrics).
  • Business: The functions, processes, activities and tasks to produce those outcomes (EA is striving for business-technology alignment).
  • Information: The information required to perform mission-business functions (EA is driving toward information sharing and accessibility).
  • Services: The systems that serve up the requisite information to the business (EA is working for interoperability and component reuse).
  • Technology: The technology (hardware and software) underlying the systems (EA is developing standards, simplifying the infrastructure and realizing cost efficiencies).
  • Security: The assurance of information security (EA is working toward the confidentiality, integrity, availability and privacy of information).

The first five are from the FEA, and the last one, security, is typically considered cross-cutting, but I call it out as a separate perspective due to its criticality, especially to law enforcement and defense readiness, which characterizes the agencies that I have recently worked for, currently the U.S. Coast Guard, and previously the U.S. Secret Service.


A Framework for Viewing Information


A second critical piece we have in place for our users is the framework for how information can be viewed by them - in various layers of detail. I developed this framework for the EA levels, which consists of three basic user views - profiles, models and inventories - in such a way that it is meaningful to a broad array of users in the enterprise. They offer information as follows:


  • Profiles are high-level, big-picture, strategic views of the information for the executive decision-maker; they capture a great deal of information in a visual way that executives can quickly grasp, analyze and use to identify problem areas or to make decisions.
  • Models are midlevel information views for the midlevel manager; they shows the relationships of EA information with each other - such as how functions interrelate, how systems interoperate and how information is exchanged.
  • Inventories or catalogs are the detailed view for the analyst. It the trees versus the forest, the distinct configuration items with lots of information about each.

The presentation of the information in multiple layers of detail makes it understandable and usable by everyone from the executive decision-maker down to the staff analyst. The ultimate vision is for all of these to be interactive, linked and drillable so that one can maneuver up or down or across the architecture information products seamlessly.


A Framework for Processing Information


The process for developing the substance of the EA content is heavily focused on the end user. Therefore, it is highly collaborative between the EA team and the subject matter experts in the organization. Every EA perspective (and product) has not only an EA product manager who is responsible for the structure and configuration management of that EA area, but also has an EA product owner who is the subject matter expert and is responsible for the content of the EA products and for supporting the development and maintenance of those.


User-Centric Products and Services


For specific individuals and departments at the U.S. Coast Guard, we categorize the enterprise architecture into two user-based functions that we provide.


One is information products, or insight, which provide EA information to end users to enhance their decision-making capability. The information takes the form of a current (or baseline) architecture, target architecture and a transition plan.


The second is governance services, or oversight, delivered through the Enterprise Architecture Board that reviews proposed new IT projects, products, and standards and provides findings and recommendations to the IT Investment Review Board that authorizes, prioritizes and funds IT investments.  


User-Centric Principles of Design and Communication


An architect has to be a true master of communication - above and beyond anything else. That is the essence of good architecture.


Here are the core design and communication approaches that we have implemented:


  • All information products should enhance decision-making by the end user.
  • Simplify complex information.
  • Categorize information into consumable chunks.
  • Unify information by creating a common look and feel.
  • Maximize use of information visualization.
  • Provide accessibility through multiple robust delivery mechanisms.

All of these are derived from the basic principle of marketing: know your customer and serve and satisfy your customer so well that they not only provide repeat business, but also enthusiastically refer others to you.


The Role of Management Controls


There are also IT aspects to our user-centricity. For example, in our EA, we have a configuration management plan that describes the process for identifying, collecting, reviewing and implementing changes to published information products. This contributes to satisfying quality assurance parameters and to effectively communicating changes. This is very user-centric because again, with shelfware, nobody cares if the data is controlled and kept current. But in user-centric EA, the change management is critical to keeping the information relevant to the end user. Similarly, we have a regular release schedule so that users are not making decisions based on outdated, incomplete or inaccurate information.


The Importance of Performance Metrics


To measure our impact on users, performance metrics are a key area for user-centric EA. Most EA programs do not have or regularly track performance measures. User-centric EA uses both program metrics and product metrics.


Program metrics look at measures of success and accomplishment for all areas of EA, including development, maintenance and use. Under program metrics, we include things like: number of products developed, total products under maintenance, number of EA reviews conducted, end-user information requests fulfilled, EA Web site hits by the end users, and number of segment and solution architectures aligned and supported.


Product metrics show the amount of information captured, cataloged and presented in the EA. These metrics helps to gauge the scope of the EA products and the depth, breadth and complexity.


Primary Benefits to the Organization


Despite the occasional conflicts that arise, at the end of the day, user-centric EA offers a few key primary benefits to the end user over and above traditional EA.


Actionable Architecture


The first one is that user-centric EA is actionable by all people, not just IT people, to enhance business planning and decision-making. The mission of user-centric EA is to improve IT planning and governance. The vision is to make information transparent to enable better decision-making. This is our value proposition.


We develop and maintain only information products that have clearly defined users and uses and enable better decision making.


Human Capital Perspective


Another point is that the FEA does not include a human capital perspective or reference model, and user-centric EA, which is focused on the users, is a strong proponent for adding a human capital perspective. And in fact, the Zachman Framework, which preceded the FEA, did have the equivalent of a human capital perspective, which is what Zachman called “People/Who.”


While some erroneously consider EA an information or documentation endeavor, it is much more than that - it is a planning and governance mechanism for the organization. And to effectively plan and govern (to execute on the mission and achieve success), EA must include a human capital perspective, because people are our organization’s most valuable asset. A human capital perspective to EA would include the following types of information: leadership development, succession planning, performance management, training, recruiting, retention and morale


Sensitivity to Organizational Culture


Related to this, user-centric EA is much more attuned to the organizational culture and change management issues than traditional EA. Traditional EA just sets the technology targets and establishes the plan and seeks compliance. Like the Star Trek Borg, they say, “Resistance is futile.”


User-centric EA is more focused on the user. It looks to understand the organizational culture, the political issues, the various stakeholders, where there may be conflicts, resistance to change and so on. User-centric EA respects the organizational culture in developing the target, transition plan and strategy. The chief enterprise architect learns and understands the values, norms, beliefs, guidelines and expectations that prescribe behavior in the enterprise so that he or she can stand a chance of successfully shaping the future of the organization.


The essence of any EA is common sense and good business and project management. But I argue that the major focus of EA should be on the user - on the development of useful and usable information products and governance services. Unlike traditional EA, a user-centric EA approach focuses not on the process of creating the EA, but on its value to the end user.


In the end, the user-centric EA is defined by our value proposition, which is to enhance business and IT decision-making for the entire organization. We believe we have accomplished this, and though there is more work to be done, we are on the right track in tailoring all products and services to the business needs of end users. 

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access