About 25 years ago I had the chance to play a leading role in planning the transformation of the U.S. Air Force’s overall business model. The key questions the whole Department of Defense was asked to answer in the 1995-1997 time frame were rather military personnel should be in certain roles or whether civilians in government should be in them, as well as whether the government needed to be doing a particular activity at all versus having the private sector do it in the form of outsourcing or privatization, or whether a hybrid public-private partnership arrangement would be best. To fully appreciate the context for these questions, it is important to know that they were being pushed by the Secretary of Defense in 1995, Les Aspin, who seemed to be biased toward the idea that the private sector, because of a business mindset and its pursuit of best practices, should be the default for most business operations of the Department of Defense. Therefore, there was a sense of urgency from the top of the agency. Added to this was the overarching “threat” that if the military/government couldn’t make a good business case within some constrained time frames for continuing in certain roles, that the private sector would become the default.
On behalf of the Air Force, I managed the relationships with 2 think tanks and 2 Federal contractors in pursuit of a plan to deal with the above mandate and associated questions. Put into the perspective of Enterprise Architecture (EA), there was no such thinking in play at that time in addressing these questions of fundamental business transformation. There was also no modeling. Plus, we were far from a world of agile enterprise thinking at that time; instead, everything was framed in a waterfall approach to requirements gathering. In short, even the two think tanks and seasoned Federal contractors lacked the most basic familiarity with EA, which is understandable because the Zachman Framework, TOGAF, and DODAF were in their infancy. Plus, systems modeling (other than related to operations management, which was focused more in the area of major systems acquisitions) was not even considered for the kind of challenge we were given for major business transformation.
Therefore, the decision making on such fundamental business issues in the Department of Defense was very immature, ad hoc, inconsistent, and, in hindsight, rather embarrassing. But there was a sense of urgency. One of the think tanks observed that with a sense of urgency directed at any large government organization, one could conservatively assume operational savings of at least 20% without any loss of performance. That sense of urgency is generally missing from U.S. government business operations except in actual emergencies, undercutting the kind of strategic transformations that EA could help deliver to government.
In the private sector, one can make a business case for change, even radical change, generally tied to aggressive timing, even considering the cost of delay, as well as, of course, the return on investment (ROI). In short, a sense of urgency can be introduced in such situations and EA can be ultimately seen as a critical discipline to support the visioning and roadmapping to the desired target state. Therefore, EA has a much better chance of being successful in the private sector than it does in most government agencies, unless enlightened leaders -- who know the value that EA methods and modeling can bring –drive and sustain their inclusion in the decision making process.
Authored by Dr. Steve Else, Chief Architect & Principal Instructor