>Doomsday Clock Architecture

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There is something fascinating to me about the doomsday clock—where we attempt to predict our own self-destruction and hopefully prevent it!

The chart in this post from the Mirror in the U.K. shows the movement of the Doomsday Clock over the last 60 plus years.

Currently in 2010 (not shown in the chart), we stand at 6 minutes to midnight (midnight being a euphemism for the end of the world or Armageddon).

Since 1947, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has hypothesized and visualized with the dials on the clock how close they believe mankind is to self-extinction.

The closest we’ve gotten is 2 minutes to midnight in 1953 after the U.S. and Russia test the first nuclear devices.


The furthest we’ve gotten from midnight is 17 minutes in 1991, when the Cold War was over, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed, and the U.S. and Russia took their fingers off the hair-trigger alert on their nuclear arsenals pointed at each other.

While some may take the Doomsday Clock as a morbid or pessimistic reminder of our human frailties, missteps, and movement toward potential calamity, I see it as a tool that attempts to keep us—as humankind—from going over the edge.

This is very architecture-like, to me. We look at where we are and (implicitly here) set targets for ourselves to move the hands backward away from Armageddon. The architecture piece that we need to concentrate on is a crystal clear plan to get those hands on the clock way back to where we can feel more secure in our future and that of our children and grandchildren.

Wired Magazine (October 2010) has an article called “Suspend the Deathwatch,” calling for the measurement of “a wider variety of apocalyptic scenarios” and for the addition of a “Doom Queue, with a host of globe-killing catastrophes jockeying for slot number one.” The main idea being that we “do more than predict The End; it would organize our collective anxieties into a plan of action.”

I definitely like the idea of a plan of action—we need that. We need to plan for life, continuity, and a flourishing society that goes beyond the limits of sustainability of our situation today.

We are aware of the world’s growing population (aka the population explosion), the scarcity of vital resources like water, energy, arable land, etc. and the potential for conflict that arises from this. We need to plan for the “what ifs” even when they are uncomfortable. That is part of responsible leadership and a true world architecture. That is a big, but meaningful job indeed.

>Toward A Federal Enterprise Architecture Board

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A Federal Enterprise Architecture Board (FEAB) would provide “teeth” to further implementing enterprise architecture across government.

We have a Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) that provides a government wide framework for architecture strategy and planning, but we do not have a FEA Board to govern the subsequent IT investments through capital planning and investment control (CPIC). CPIC is the governance process whereby we select, control, and evaluate new IT investments.

Interestingly, The Federal CIO Council’s Architecture Alignment and Assessment Guide (October 2000) specifically calls for complementary EA and CPIC functions (see graphics).

In this paradigm, the enterprise architecture (EA) informs, guides, drives the CPIC, and in turn the decisions from the CPIC governance process updates the EA planning, so that the EA and CPIC processes are seen as mutually supportive.

In the federal government, we have departmental and agency architectures and boards that serve to plan and govern IT investments at their respective levels. However, as we seek to build greater standardization, interoperability, and reuse across government with IT initiatives that cut across traditional government boundaries driven and guided by the Federal CIO and Federal CIO Council, there is a need for a FEAB to review new and major changes to IT investments.

There would be many purposes for the FEAB.

  • Strategic alignment: One would be to ensure strategic alignment not to any single department or agency mission, but rather to the greater federal government strategy and policy. Some examples of this would be data center consolidation, green IT, open government, and more.
  • Streamlining of investments: Additionally, the FEAB would assess IT investments to ensure that there is no overlap or opportunities for consolidation of initiatives. OMB performs some of this function today, but a FEAB would augment their capability with IT subject matter experts from across the government.
  • Other key benefits: Of course, the FEAB would also look at things like return on investment measures, risk mitigation plans, technical compliance to federal architecture standards and mandates (security, privacy, records, FOIA, Section 508, etc.).

The FEAB would not be a substitute for the EA Boards that provide oversight functions at the department and agency levels, but would provide governance for the largest and riskiest IT initiatives and those that cut across different agencies.

While the OMB currently assesses IT investments using Exhibits 300s and 53s, which include EA assessment questions, the FEAB would provide a governance board made up of cross-cutting governmental IT subject matter experts to vet these business cases from an EA perspective thoroughly and provide recommendations to the Federal CIO Council and the OMB on approval or denial. Therefore, and not unimportantly, the stand-up of a FEAB would add an important human factor to the Federal Enterprise Architecture and make it “real.”

Of course, with a portfolio of some 10,000 IT systems, the FEAB would not be able to govern every new Federal IT investment. Therefore, it would be critical to establish thresholds that would be practical for implementation.

I would envision the FEAB being chaired by the Federal Architect and the board being a recommendation body to the Federal CIO Council and the Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President.

Critical initiatives by Federal CIO Vivek Kundra to effectively manage (i.e. CPIC control phase) IT investments through the Federal IT Dashboard and TechStat sessions would be augmented by the FEAB work to carefully recommend for selection (i.e. CPIC select phase) new federal IT investments.

Together, I see the federal select and control mechanisms of CPIC functioning in harmony to enhance governments IT planning, investment decision-making, and execution. Essentially, the FEA (architecture) and FEAB (governance) on the “front-end” will guide new IT investments, and the IT Dashboard and TechStat sessions on the “back-end” will ensure IT investments are properly progressing for the taxpayer based on cost, schedule, and performance measures.

In summary, the Federal Enterprise Architecture Board would be the governance arm of the Federal Enterprise Architecture, and serve as a support to the IT leadership of the Federal CIO, the Federal CIO Council, and the IT budgetary functions performed by the Office of Management and Budget.