July 13, 2008

Secure Border Initiative and Enterprise Architecture

The enterprise architecture change process starts with requirements generation and management. Requirements become business cases and business cases become decision requests for new or changes to IT projects, products, and standards that go before the enterprise architecture board (EAB) and ultimately to the IT investment review board (IRB). The decision requests get vetted against the architecture for business alignment and technical compliance by the EAB. The IRB takes the findings of the EAB and also looks at return on investment and risk management. Approved changes to the IT environment get added to the enterprise architecture.

So mission-business requirements from the program sponser/end user are the starting point for changes to the EA.

What happens though when requirements are unclear?

Obviously, if the requirements are unclear, then proposed changes to the enterprise are sort of like shooting in the dark, and the ability to develop viable technical solutions is a guessing game.

An article on Secure Border Initiative in National Defense Magazine, July 2008, demonstrated how the architecture does not add up, when the “Border Calculus” is a big question mark.

After 9/11, securing the border became a more publicized issue. With the formation of DHS, the Secure Boarder Initiative (SBI) was set up in 2005.

SBI is supposed to secure the border, okay. But secure it against what is the question. What are the requirements for securing it?

  1. Illegal immigrants—“For many Americans—especially these who don’t live near the border—illegal immigration is what prompts their calls for a beefed up border.” While some say that “the U.S. economy depends on cheap labor…others claim illegal immigrants are a drain on the economy.”
  2. Terrorism—“For the Department of Homeland Security, charged with protecting the nation, keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the United States is the priority.”
  3. Drugs—“for many who live north and south of the four states that border Mexico, the real threat is narcotics.”

Each of these purposes, changes the equation. If the primary purpose you are securing the border is to protect against a genuine threat of weapons of mass destruction, then some may argue for highly secure border, one that is truly non-porous, without regard to cost. However, if the goals are more for controlling illegal immigration, perhaps a less perfect and less costly border security solution is acceptable. And if drugs are the issue, then maybe the money is better spent going after the source, rather than building fences that can be circumvented.

So understanding and building consensus on the true requirements are critical to developing a business case and a technical solution.

As it stands now, SBI is going in two directions:

  1. Physical fence—“to stop those on foot or on vehicles.” Estimates by the Congressional Research Service “say that maintaining those fences may cost up to $49 billion.” While critics say that these physical barriers “only delay an illegal crosser three to four minutes,” so is this worth it?”
  2. Virtual fence—“Sensors, cameras, improved communication systems and unmanned aerial vehicles.” According to the article, “no one seems know how much it will cost to set up and maintain these high-tech systems throughout their lifespan.”

Additionally, “plans call for doubling the number of border patrol agents.”

I guess without a clear consensus on what we’re trying to accomplish, any solution will get us there or not. Isn’t this what an enterprise architecture is supposed to help with—establishing a clear roadmap or blueprint? Of course, but it’s got to start with the requirements generation process and with the business owners.


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