Enterprise Architecture for e-Government

IDA eGovernment News, March 2004, p 7-12
By Dr John Gøtze

With the development of e-government, an increasing number of governments around the world are trying to define a high-level architectural framework for re-engineering their information systems and business processes. To do so, they need to define an ‘Enterprise Architecture’ (EA) showing how their e-government vision is expressed through the structure and dynamics of their organisation, and how all parts of the organisation work together to achieve it. This article explains some of the main issues raised when Enterprise Architecture concepts are applied to government.

When e-government needs architects

Successful and mature e-government can only be achieved through a process of building organisational infrastructures that enable innovative action strategies to thrive in the culture of interoperability.

Architecture, not technology, should be the main driver in the modernisation of government. Enterprise Architecture is about integrating business strategy planning and IT strategy. Basically, the message is that we must focus less on IT, per se, and more on the process of organising and managing IT across government agencies.

The 2003 OECD e-Government Project uses the term “the e-government imperative” to describe the use of IT as a tool to achieve better government. To the OECD, e-government is not about business as usual, but focuses on using IT to transform the structures, operations, and, most importantly, the culture of government. Modernising government structures, governance frameworks and processes to meet the e-government imperative will have fundamental impacts on how services are delivered, how policies are developed and how public administrations operate. The OECD continues:

‘As the impacts of e-government become more profound, government will have to strike equilibrium between protecting citizens’ rights and better meeting their needs with more efficient, integrated services and policy engagement processes. What starts as a technical exercise aimed at developing more responsive programs and services becomes an exercise in governance’.

Where commercial enterprises are reengineering to adjust to dynamically changing economic and market conditions, governments and public organisations must adapt to support both business and citizens’ needs for improved services and the demands of the new e-economy. Governments are restructuring their e-government initiatives according to these demands. In this process we often see Enterprise Architecture coming in as a strategic governance tool.

What is Enterprise Architecture?

Whether or not we call it Enterprise Architecture, there is no doubt that we must find an integrated architectural approach that goes beyond IT and incorporates all aspects of the public sector when we implement and renew our IT systems. EA is basically about using IT strategically, and about integrating business development and IT development.

Nicholas Carr, in his 2003 Harvard Business Review article called “IT Doesn’t Matter”, argues that the opportunity for strategic differentiation through IT is rapidly diminishing. While he acknowledges that IT is essential for business operations, he makes the case that IT should be managed as a commodity input, squeezing cost out of IT budgets while at the same time ensuring that IT platforms deliver the necessary reliability and security to avoid business disruptions. Carr refers to previous technology innovations like the railroad and electricity to make the claim that rapid early investment in the technology is soon followed by commoditisation.

From another perspective, John Seely Brown has championed a perspective he describes as ‘radical incrementalism’. This perspective emphasises the role of architecture in facilitating the ability to rapidly build and deploy radically new components and services. With an appropriate architectural framework, these ‘radical’ individual components can significantly amplify their joint impact, and hence finally realise a truly service-oriented architecture.

Priorities and principles

The term service-oriented architecture, SOA, is often connected to the technical development of web services and XML interfaces. But, as Denmark recently proved, SOA is really about more than technology when set as a fundamental e-government strategy. We must get our e-government priorities right; and as former US e-government ‘czar’ Mark Forman said: “It’s about architecture, it’s about focus on the customers, and it’s about results”.

Enterprise Architecture is fundamentally a disciplined approach to understanding how components of an enterprise communicate, change, and function together as a whole. A fully articulated architecture constitutes Enterprise Architecture: the integration of business, data, information, and technology into a coherent whole.

A good architectural process is principle-driven. The most important product that comes out of the process is perhaps the set of documented principles that turn policy to practice.


Several approaches to EA exist, including the Zachman Framework, the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF) in the USA, similar frameworks in other countries, and an increasing number of proprietary frameworks by vendors and consulting organisations.

Although these frameworks differ in some of their descriptive techniques, they all focus on the necessity of integrating a business model with technology, information, and data models that support it.

A Danish Framework

Denmark has worked actively with Enterprise Architecture at a cross-governmental level. A national white paper on EA was published in June 2003. The white paper has been prepared by a working group with representatives from the State, the counties and the municipalities, and was commissioned by the Coordinating Information Council.

Its main recommendations are:

  • The public sector – at agency level and at large – should take a more active responsibility for its own Enterprise Architecture.
  • Government should create a joint EA framework for the planning of government IT systems with a particular focus on securing interoperability.
    A pronounced effort should be made to raise awareness, spread knowledge and develop competencies with regard to EA, especially around joint government initiatives.

The white paper and additional information about the Danish EA initiative are available on ea.oio.dk.

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