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The Open Group is partnering with a United Nations agency to create government-specific standards, best practices, guides, case studies and training materials to help resource-constrained countries architect their digital transformation initiatives.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a U.N. agency that focuses on information and communications technologies, and The Open Group, a global consortium that develops technology standards, joined forces to address requests from countries for guidance on how enterprise architecture (EA) could help with their digital government efforts, according to Pallab Saha, chief architect at The Open Group.
Saha said the first work product of the multiyear agreement between The Open Group and ITU would likely be a handbook providing a step-by-step approach on how a national government should use architecture to build a digital governance strategy. He said a first draft of the guide could be ready by mid-2021.
The handbook will be vendor- and technology-agnostic and incorporate standards developed by The Open Group, with a special focus on government- and public-sector use, Saha said. Standards that would be applicable include The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF), the ArchiMate modeling language, the IT4IT Reference Architecture for IT departments, and the new Open Agile Architecture for organizations that want to transition to Agile in a digital context.
More than 50 countries use TOGAF
Saha said he is aware of at least 50 countries that already use TOGAF formally or informally for their digital initiatives, but many require additional government-specific contextual guidance. Although the new guides and handbooks will target countries with limited resources, they will also be broadly applicable for government use, Saha said.
"One of the things that we have discussed with ITU is that we need to go beyond the handbook and actually provide multiple case studies, examples and learnings from other countries, which could be transferred with some tailoring to specific contexts," Saha said.
The Open Group established a Government EA Work Group to develop the standards and best practices and facilitate information sharing. The working group is currently open to all members of The Open Group's Architecture and ArchiMate Forums, but plans call for the project to be opened up to other forums in the future.
Most of the current body of knowledge on enterprise architecture originated in the government sector, not in corporations, Saha noted. He said governments stand to benefit from an architecture-based approach to reduce the chances of solving the same problems over and over due to a lack of communication between different departments and agencies.
Pandemic accelerates digital efforts
Saha said the 2008 financial crisis drew attention to enterprise architecture, as governments had to "do more with less." Now the COVID-19 pandemic is serving as a catalyst for The Open Group's collaborative work with ITU, as countries recognize that "digital is the way to go" to share information across state and country borders, Saha said.
"The pandemic has made many governments realize the need for whole-of-government thinking," Saha said. "Countries and states have to come together to create a common policy [and] a common set of requirements to enforce those policies uniformly across different geographies. In a nutshell, that's what architecture wants to do. Architecture is nothing but a whole-of-government, holistic thinking."
Hani EskandarSenior coordinator of digital services, International Telecommunication Union
Another goal for The Open Group Government EA Work Group is to help countries achieve UN sustainable development goals, including ending poverty and hunger, promoting good health and well-being, and supporting quality education.
"We would love to democratize the use of enterprise architecture in the domain of the government," said Hani Eskandar, senior coordinator of digital services in ITU's telecommunication development bureau. "I think there is still a lack of awareness about why enterprise architecture approaches and methodologies are needed. There is a perception that those approaches are expensive and lengthy."
Advocating for Agile
During an Open Group sponsored webinar yesterday, Eskandar advocated for a minimalistic, "fit-for-purpose" Agile approach that would allow for "quick wins" along with longer-term planning to help countries set the right foundation for digital government infrastructure, services and innovation. He said many countries struggle to move from high-level strategies to the implementation of real systems. He sees enterprise architecture as "the missing link."
"We definitely don't have the luxury anymore to duplicate effort, lose time, repeat the same mistakes, reinvent the wheel. This is not an option," Eskandar said.
Eskandar said the collaborative work that ITU and The Open Group plan to do could be a "game changer" for resource-constrained countries that do not have the capacity to develop their own fit-for-purpose government enterprise architectures to suit their individual needs and reflect distinctive priorities.
The Open Group and ITU will repeat their government enterprise architecture webinar Dec. 9. Until the working group's new guides and handbooks become available, countries can access government-specific materials that The Open Group and ITU have produced and published on an independent basis, Saha said.