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U.S. federal government leaders still grapple with modernizing systems and infrastructure, ranking it among their top business priorities (see CGI’s annual Client Global Insights report). With additional funding available through the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) and, for some agencies, through direct appropriations, agencies have renewed focus on reducing operational spend on legacy systems and driving modernization objectives forward to support their missions.

Enterprise architecture (EA) allows agencies to apply architectural principles to navigating business priorities, data management and technology decisions—all keys to successful modernization. Whether the enterprise architecture organization sits within the chief information officer’s shop or within an office or business line, the goal should be the same—apply a lens, inclusive of both business needs and technology drivers, to move the mission forward. An effective EA practice provides the structure and expertise needed to support informed, data-driven modernization decisions.

The EA team plays a vital role in helping connect business and technology requirements when selecting frameworks and technologies for modernizing systems or developing new solutions. The IT landscape constantly changes and vendors and service providers continually invest in their products, introducing new capabilities. Whether the project involves software development, procuring a COTS product or a complete infrastructure overhaul, deciding on a technical solution or approach can sometimes feel daunting.

Evaluating alternatives through DAR

The Decision Analysis and Resolution (DAR) process—part of the Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI) Level 3—supports organizations in identifying EA options and selecting the best approach. A mature DAR process promotes objective, informed decision-making, which reduces risk and promotes success.

DAR is also useful for evaluating specific components of the architecture, either iteratively or on an ad hoc basis.

The DAR process guides the activities necessary to select the optimum frameworks, technologies, platforms or products to meet business needs. Using DAR, EA teams help organizations analyze possible decisions using a formal evaluation process, comparing the merits of identified alternatives against established criteria. DAR applies to build/buy analysis, options analysis and the feasibility of various approaches to achieving both technical and business objectives at the enterprise level or for a given modernization initiative.

Applying the DAR process with confidence and collaboration

With certifications at CMMI Maturity Level 3 and 5, CGI Federal has extensive experience applying the DAR process. While often considered a technical evaluation process, an effective DAR requires collaboration so that all stakeholders have confidence in decisions made. An open, transparent DAR process encourages active participation in decisions while supporting holistic and well thought out decision-making based upon objective criteria.

When collaborating with clients to establish an effective DAR, we look to instill the following principles within the process:

  • Define a consistent approach for use across the organization. You should formally define, document and deploy your DAR structure and process to ensure consistency and institutionalization across your organization. This enables IT and business teams to make effective use of the process without confusion over how to begin. Leadership buy-in to the DAR process is vital to instilling confidence in the decision-making process.
  • Develop evaluation criteria that are traceable and easy to understand. DAR teams must establish traceable evaluation criteria for requirements, scenarios, business case assumptions, business objectives or other documented sources. Spend ample time on establishing your evaluation criteria to ensure a targeted, yet holistic, focus. Typical criteria types include business requirements, technology limitations, environmental impact, risks, initial investment, lifecycle costs and compliance with agency-level or federal-wide standards.
  • Apply organizational priorities to shape evaluation criteria. DAR members should represent the broad stakeholder community including business, technology, security and compliance. The EA lead can support the DAR team in arbitrating the importance of each stakeholder’s priorities as they work to establish thorough evaluation criteria. Involve your key decision makers throughout the DAR process, particularly when establishing evaluation criteria, to avoid late identification of requirements. This prevents subsequent debate regarding evaluation outcomes, based upon what some might see as incomplete or inappropriately prioritized criteria. Include security and compliance criteria to avoid selecting an alternative that cannot achieve authority to operate.
  • Evaluate based upon demonstrable results and complete information. Avoid using only vendor product materials when evaluating against criteria. Instead, perform your simulations, modeling, prototypes and pilots as necessary to exercise evaluation criteria, methods and alternative solutions. Agencies should apply the most thorough evaluation process possible in selecting a solution. Changing criteria partway through the DAR can affect the measurement work already completed and force re-evaluation of tools against the new criteria. If you a must make a decision with incomplete information, due to schedule and resource constraints, identify the risks, monitor them closely and re-analyze the alternatives later.
  • Document, document, document. Teams must document the results of the evaluations, carefully and fully. If your team identifies new alternatives during the DAR, document the rationale for the addition of these new alternatives or methods, as well as any changes to the evaluation criteria based upon interim evaluations. Document the results and rationale for the recommended solution. As responsibility for a system or technology changes from one resource, team or organization to another, it is important that people joining your project team can readily access data showing how they reached previous decisions.
     

We draw on our years of experience and always consider your specific needs in our approach to federal digital transformation. Learn more about it here.

About this author

Dave Fladung, CGI Federal

Dave Fladung

Director, Consulting Expert

Dave Fladung partners with clients to deliver digital transformation through technology adoption, including cloud-based services and DevSecOps

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