As a discipline enterprise architecture strives to move the organization into the future—that is what EA planning and IT governance is all about—and that is also what an organization like DARPA is about.
“The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major impact on the world, including computer networking [the Internet]…DARPA’s original mission, established in 1958, was to prevent technological surprise like the launch of Sputnik, which signaled that the Soviets had beaten the U.S. into space. The mission statement has evolved over time. Today, DARPA’s mission is still to prevent technological surprise to the US, but also to create technological surprise for our enemies. DARPA is independent from other more conventional military R&D and reports directly to senior Department of Defense management. DARPA has around 240 personnel (about 140 technical) directly managing a $3.2 billion budget.” (Wikipedia)
National Defense Magazine, November 2007, states that DARPA “has a reputation for taking on challenges that sometimes seem to defy the laws of physics—or at least common sense.”
“’DARPA Hard’ refer to problems its researchers attempt to solve…’Please tell us that it’s something that can’t be done. It’s science fiction. That is a challenge we can’t resist,’” says Brett Giroir, director of the defense sciences office.
Here are some interesting target architectures that DARPA has set out to tackle:
- Transparent walls—“DARPA wants to defeat rock, concrete and plaster walls—not by blowing them up—but rather by making them transparent. The agency is creating a suite of sensors to map the inside of buildings, tunnels, caves, and underground facilities.” The Visi-building project ,for example, uses radar to detect the inside of buildings, and then DARPA is exploring how to penetrate and destroy without resorting to nukes.
- Inner Armor—“the objective is to fortify the entire soldier against attack from the enemy of the environment.” This includes environmental hardening to “protect soldiers from extreme heat, cold, and high altitudes,” and kill proofing “to protect soldiers from chemical and radiological threats,” as well as safeguarding them from deadly diseases. It’s a comprehensive protection package. DARPA for example envision “universal immune cells that are capable of making anti-bodies that neutralize…hundreds of threat agents.”
- Chemical mapping—“there are about 80,000 commercially available chemicals, and many of them are toxic, DARPA wants to create a map showing where and if they appear in a given area.” This would show forces where chemical labs or weapons caches are. One idea is to use “replace sensors with nano-technology-based samplers that extract chemicals…[and that have ] a GPS device attached [that] could be placed on helicopters, military vehicles, or secretly placed on delivery trucks making rounds through a city”
These are great! You have got to love the “know no bounds” attitude of DARPA. They are truly innovators, and are a model for the rest of government and industry in defining problems and actually solving them.
In enterprise architecture, it is one thing to set targets that are incremental, non-monumental, and the same as everyone else is doing (like moving to Microsoft Vista). But it is an altogether different thing to set targets that are groundbreaking in terms of business process engineering and technology innovation.
While not all our targets can be revolutionary, perhaps a subset of them should be to keep us really innovating and not just copycatting the competition. We need to bring innovation back to the forefront of what we believe, how we think, what we do, and how we compete.