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The Open Group

How an agile focus for Enterprise Architects builds competitive advantage for digital transformation

How an agile focus for Enterprise Architects builds competitive advantage for digital transformation

A discussion on how Enterprise Architects should embrace agile approaches to build more competitive advantage for their companies.

Where the rubber meets the road: How users see the IT4IT standard building competitive business advantage

Where the rubber meets the road: How users see the IT4IT standard building competitive business advantage

A discussion on how the IT4IT Reference Architecture for IT management works in many ways for many types of organizations and the demonstrated business benefits that are being realized as a result.

The Open Group panel explores ways to help smart cities initiatives overcome public sector obstacles

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The next BriefingsDirect thought leadership panel discussion focuses on how The Open Group is spearheading ways to make smart cities initiatives more effective.

Many of the latest technologies -- such as Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, big data analytics, and cloud computing -- are making data-driven and efficiency-focused digital transformation more powerful. But exploiting these advances to improve municipal services for cities and urban government agencies face unique obstacles. Challenges range from a lack of common data sharing frameworks, to immature governance over multi-agency projects, to the need to find investment funding amid tight public sector budgets.

The good news is that architectural framework methods, extended enterprise knowledge sharing, and common specifying and purchasing approaches have solved many similar issues in other domains.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

BriefingsDirect recently sat down with a panel to explore how The Open Group is ambitiously seeking to improve the impact of smart cities initiatives by implementing what works organizationally among the most complex projects.

The panel consists of Dr. Chris Harding, Chief Executive Officer atLacibusDr. Pallab Saha, Chief Architect at The Open Group; Don Brancato, Chief Strategy Architect at BoeingDon Sunderland, Deputy Commissioner, Data Management and Integration, New York City Department of IT and Telecommunications, and Dr. Anders Lisdorf, Enterprise Architect for Data Services for the City of New York. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Chris, why are urban and regional government projects different from other complex digital transformation initiatives?

Harding

Harding

Harding: Municipal projects have both differences and similarities compared with corporate enterprise projects. The most fundamental difference is in the motivation. If you are in a commercial enterprise, your bottom line motivation is money, to make a profit and a return on investment for the shareholders. If you are in a municipality, your chief driving force should be the good of the citizens -- and money is just a means to achieving that end.

This is bound to affect the ways one approaches problems and solves problems. A lot of the underlying issues are the same as corporate enterprises face.

Bottom-up blueprint approach

Brancato: Within big companies we expect that the chief executive officer (CEO) leads from the top of a hierarchy that looks like a triangle. This CEO can do a cause-and-effect analysis by looking at instrumentation, global markets, drivers, and so on to affect strategy. And what an organization will do is then top-down. 

In a city, often it’s the voters, the masses of people, who empower the leaders. And the triangle goes upside down. The flat part of the triangle is now on the top. This is where the voters are. And so it’s not simply making the city a mirror of our big corporations. We have to deliver value differently.

There are three levels to that. One is instrumentation, so installing sensors and delivering data. Second is data crunching, the ability to turn the data into meaningful information. And lastly, urban informatics that tie back to the voters, who then keep the leaders in power. We have to observe these in order to understand the smart city.

Saha

Saha

Saha: Two things make smart city projects more complex. First, typically large countries have multilevel governments. One at the federal level, another at a provincial or state level, and then city-level government, too.

This creates complexity because cities have to align to the state they belong to, and also to the national level. Digital transformation initiatives and architecture-led initiatives need to help. 

Secondly, in many countries around the world, cities are typically headed by mayors who have merely ceremonial positions. They have very little authority in how the city runs, because the city may belong to a state and the state might have a chief minister or a premier, for example. And at the national level, you could have a president or a prime minster. This overall governance hierarchy needs to be factored when smart city projects are undertaken. 

These two factors bring in complexity and differentiation in how smart city projects are planned and implemented.

Sunderland: I agree with everything that’s been said so far. In the particular case of New York City -- and with a lot of cities in the US -- cities are fairly autonomous. They aren’t bound to the states. They have an opportunity to go in the direction they set. 

The problem is, of course, the idea of long-term planning in a political context. Corporations can choose to create multiyear plans and depend on the scale of the products they procure. But within cities, there is a forced changeover of management every few years. Sometimes it’s difficult to implement a meaningful long-term approach. So, they have to be more reactive. 

Create demand to drive demand

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Driving greater continuity can nonetheless come by creating ongoing demand around the services that smart cities produce. Under [former New York City mayor] Michael Bloomberg, for example, when he launched 311 and nyc.gov, he had a basic philosophy which was, you should implement change that can’t be undone. 

If you do something like offer people the ability to reduce 10,000 [city access] phone numbers to three digits, that’s going to be hard to reverse. And the same thing is true if you offer a simple URL, where citizens can go to begin the process of facilitating whatever city services they need. 

In like-fashion, you have to come up with a killer app with which you habituate the residents. They then drive demand for further services on the basis of it. But trying to plan delivery of services in the abstract -- without somehow having demand developed by the user base -- is pretty difficult.

By definition, cities and governments have a captive audience. They don’t have to pander to learn their demands. But whereas the private sector goes out of business if they don’t respond to the demands of their client base, that’s not the case in the public sector. 

The public sector has to focus on providing products and tools that generate demand, and keep it growing in order to create the political impetus to deliver yet more demand. 

Gardner: Anders, it sounds like there is a chicken and an egg here. You want a killer app that draws attention and makes more people call for services. But you have to put in the infrastructure and data frameworks to create that killer app. How does one overcome that chicken-and-egg relationship between required technical resources and highly visible applications? 

Lisdorf

Lisdorf

Lisdorf: The biggest challenge, especially when working in governments, is you don’t have one place to go. You have several different agencies with different agendas and separate preferences for how they like their data and how they like to share it.

This is a challenge for any Enterprise Architecture (EA) because you can’t work from the top-down, you can’t specify your architecture roadmap. You have to pick the ways that it’s convenient to do a project that fit into your larger picture, and so on. 

It’s very different working in an enterprise and putting all these data structures in place than in a city government, especially in New York City.

Gardner: Dr. Harding, how can we move past that chicken and egg tension? What needs to change for increasing the capability for technology to be used to its potential early in smart cities initiatives? 

Framework for a common foundation 

Harding: As Anders brought up, there are lots of different parts of city government responsible for implementing IT systems. They are acting independently and autonomously -- and I suspect that this is actually a problem that cities share with corporate enterprises. 

Very large corporate enterprises may have central functions, but often that is small in comparison with the large divisions that it has to coordinate with. Those divisions often act with autonomy. In both cases, the challenge is that you have a set of independent governance domains -- and they need to share data. What’s needed is some kind of framework to allow data sharing to happen. 

This framework has to be at two levels. It has to be at a policy level -- and that is going to vary from city to city or from enterprise to enterprise. It also has to be at a technical level. There should be a supporting technical framework that helps the enterprises, or the cities, achieve data sharing between their independent governance domains.

Gardner: Dr. Saha, do you agree that a common data framework approach is a necessary step to improve things? 

Saha: Yes, definitely. Having common data standards across different agencies and having a framework to support that interoperability between agencies is a first step. But as Dr. Anders mentioned, it’s not easy to get agencies to collaborate with one another or share data. This is not a technical problem. Obviously, as Chris was saying, we need policy-level integration both vertically and horizontally across different agencies.

Some cities set up urban labs as a proof of concept. You can make assessment on how the demand and supply are aligned. 

One way I have seen that work in cities is they set up urban labs. If the city architect thinks they are important for citizens, those services are launched as a proof of concept (POC) in these urban labs. You can then make an assessment on whether the demand and supply are aligned.

Obviously, it is a chicken-and-egg problem. We need to go beyond frameworks and policies to get to where citizens can try out certain services. When I use the word “services” I am looking at integrated services across different agencies or service providers.

The fundamental principle here for the citizens of the city is that there is no wrong door, he or she can approach any department or any agency of the city and get a service. The citizen, in my view, is approaching the city as a singular authority -- not a specific agency or department of the city.

Gardner: Don Brancato, if citizens in their private lives can, at an e-commerce cloud, order almost anything and have it show up in two days, there might be higher expectations for better city services. 

Is that a way for us to get to improvement in smart cities, that people start calling for city and municipal services to be on par with what they can do in the private sector?

Public- and private-sector parity

Brancato

Brancato

Brancato: You are exactly right, Dana. That’s what’s driven the do it yourself (DIY) movement. If you use a cell phone at home, for example, you expect that you should be able to integrate that same cell phone in a secure way at work. And so that transitivity is expected. If I can go to Amazon and get a service, why can’t I go to my office or to the city and get a service?

This forms some of the tactical reasons for better using frameworks, to be able to deliver such value. A citizen is going to exercise their displeasure by their vote, or by moving to some other place, and is then no longer working or living there. 

Traceability is also important. If I use some service, it’s then traceable to some city strategy, it’s traceable to some data that goes with it. So the traceability model, in its abstract form, is the idea that if I collect data it should trace back to some service. And it allows me to build a body of metrics that show continuously how services are getting better. Because data, after all, is the enablement of the city, and it proves that by demonstrating metrics that show that value.

So, in your e-commerce catalog idea, absolutely, citizens should be able to exercise the catalog. There should be data that shows its value, repeatability, and the reuse of that service for all the participants in the city.

Gardner: Don Sunderland, if citizens perceive a gap between what they can do in the private sector and public -- and if we know a common data framework is important -- why don’t we just legislate a common data framework? Why don’t we just put in place common approaches to IT?

Sunderland: There have been some fairly successful legislative actions vis-à-vis making data available and more common. The Open Data Law, which New York City passed back in 2012, is an excellent example. However, the ability to pass a law does not guarantee the ability to solve the problems to actually execute it.

In the case of the service levels you get on Amazon, that implies a uniformity not only of standards but oftentimes of [hyperscale] platform. And that just doesn’t exist [in the public sector]. In New York City, you have 100 different entities, 50 to 60 of them are agencies providing services. They have built vast legacy IT systems that don’t interoperate. It would take a massive investment to make them interoperate. You still have to have a strategy going forward. 

Sunderland

Sunderland

The idea of adopting standards and frameworks is one approach. The idea is you will then grow from there. The idea of creating a law that tries to implement uniformity -- like an Amazon or Facebook can -- would be doomed to failure, because nobody could actually afford to implement it.

Since you can’t do top-down solutions -- even if you pass a law -- the other way is via bottom-up opportunities. Build standards and governance opportunistically around specific centers of interest that arise. You can identify city agencies that begin to understand that they need each other’s data to get their jobs done effectively in this new age. They can then build interconnectivity, governance, and standards from the bottom-up -- as opposed to the top-down.

Gardner: Dr. Harding, when other organizations are siloed, when we can’t force everyone into a common framework or platform, loosely coupled interoperability has come to the rescue. Usually that’s a standardized methodological approach to interoperability. So where are we in terms of gaining increased interoperability in any fashion? And is that part of what The Open Group hopes to accomplish?

Not something to legislate

Harding: It’s certainly part of what The Open Group hopes to accomplish. But Don was absolutely right. It’s not something that you can legislate. Top-down standards have not been very successful, whereas encouraging organic growth and building on opportunities have been successful. 

The prime example is the Internet that we all love. It grew organically at a time when governments around the world were trying to legislate for a different technical solution; the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model for those that remember it. And that is a fairly common experience. They attempted to say, “Well, we know what the standard has to be. We will legislate, and everyone will do it this way.”

That often falls on its face. But to pick up on something that is demonstrably working and say, “Okay, well, let’s all do it like that,” can become a huge success, as indeed the Internet obviously has. And I hope that we can build on that in the sphere of data management. 

It’s interesting that Tim Berners-Lee, who is the inventor of the World Wide Web, is now turning his attention to Solid, a personal online datastore, which may represent a solution or standardization in the data area that we need if we are going to have frameworks to help governments and cities organize.

A prime example is the Internet. It grew organically when governments were trying to legislate a solution. That often falls on its face. Better to pick up on something that is working in practice. 

Gardner: Dr. Lisdorf, do you agree that the organic approach is the way to go, a thousand roof gardens, and then let the best fruit win the day?

Lisdorf: I think that is the only way to go because, as I said earlier, any top-down sort of way of controlling data initiatives in the city are bound to fail.

Gardner: Let’s look at the cost issues that impact smart cities initiatives. In the private sector, you can rely on an operating expenditure budget (OPEX) and also gain capital expenditures (CAPEX). But what is it about the funding process for governments and smart cities initiatives that can be an added challenge?

How to pay for IT?

Brancato: To echo what Dr. Harding suggested, cost and legacy will drive a funnel to our digital world and force us -- and the vendors -- into a world of interoperability and a common data approach.

Cost and legacy are what compete with transformation within the cities that we work with. What improves that is more interoperability and adoption of data standards. But Don Sunderland has some interesting thoughts on this.

Sunderland: One of the great educations you receive when you work in the public sector, after having worked in the private sector, is that the terms CAPEX and OPEX have quite different meanings in the public sector. 

Governments, especially local governments, raise money through the sale of bonds. And within the local government context, CAPEX implies anything that can be funded through the sale of bonds. Usually there is specific legislation around what you are allowed to do with that bond. This is one of those places where we interact strongly with the state, which stipulates specific requirements around what that kind of money can be used for. Traditionally it was for things like building bridges, schools, and fixing highways. Technology infrastructure had been reflected in that, too.

What’s happened is that the CAPEX model has become less usable as we’ve moved to the cloud approach because capital expenditures disappear when you buy services, instead of licenses, on the data center servers that you procure and own.

This creates tension between the new cloud architectures, where most modern data architectures are moving to, and the traditional data center, server-centric licenses, which are more easily funded as capital expenditures.

The rules around CAPEX in the public sector have to evolve to embrace data as an easily identifiable asset [regardless of where it resides]. You can’t say it has no value when there are whole business models being built around the valuation of the data that’s being collected.

There is great hope for us being able to evolve. But for the time being, there is tension between creating the newer beneficial architectures and figuring out how to pay for them. And that comes down to paying for [cloud-based operating models] with bonds, which is politically volatile. What you pay for through operating expenses comes out of the taxes to the people, and that tax is extremely hard to come by and contentious.

So traditionally it’s been a lot easier to build new IT infrastructure and create new projects using capital assets rather than via ongoing expenses directly through taxes.

Gardner: If you can outsource the infrastructure and find a way to pay for it, why won’t municipalities just simply go with the cloud entirely?

Cities in the cloud, but services grounded

Saha: Across the world, many governments -- not just local governments but even state and central governments -- are moving to the cloud. But one thing we have to keep in mind is that at the city level, it is not necessary that all the services be provided by an agency of the city.

It could be a public/private partnership model where the city agency collaborates with a private party who provides part of the service or process. And therefore, the private party is funded, or allowed to raise money, in terms of only what part of service it provides.

Many cities are addressing the problem of funding by taking the ecosystem approach because many cities have realized it is not essential that all services be provided by a government entity. This is one way that cities are trying to address the constraint of limited funding.

Gardner: Dr. Lisdorf, in a city like New York, is a public cloud model a silver bullet, or is the devil in the details? Or is there a hybrid or private cloud model that should be considered?

Lisdorf: I don’t think it’s a silver bullet. It’s certainly convenient, but since this is new technology there are lot of things we need to clear up. This is a transition, and there are a lot of issues surrounding that.

One is the funding. The city still runs in a certain way, where you buy the IT infrastructure yourself. If it is to change, they must reprioritize the budgets to allow new types of funding for different initiatives. But you also have issues like the culture because it’s different working in a cloud environment. The way of thinking has to change. There is a cultural inertia in how you design and implement IT solutions that does not work in the cloud.

There is still the perception that the cloud is considered something dangerous or not safe. Another view is that the cloud is a lot safer in terms of having resilient solutions and the data is safe.

This is all a big thing to turn around. It’s not a simple silver bullet. For the foreseeable future, we will look at hybrid architectures, for sure. We will offload some use cases to the cloud, and we will gradually build on those successes to move more into the cloud.

Gardner: We’ve talked about the public sector digital transformation challenges, but let’s now look at what The Open Group brings to the table.

Dr. Saha, what can The Open Group do? Is it similar to past initiatives around TOGAFas an architectural framework? Or looking at DoDAF, in the defense sector, when they had similar problems, are there solutions there to learn from?

Smart city success strategies

Saha: At The Open Group, as part of the architecture forum, we recently set up a Government Enterprise Architecture Work Group. This working group may develop a reference architecture for smart cities. That would be essential to establish a standardization journey around smart cities. 

One of the reasons smart city projects don’t succeed is because they are typically taken on as an IT initiative, which they are not. We all know that digital technology is an important element of smart cities, but it is also about bringing in policy-level intervention. It means having a framework, bringing cultural change, and enabling a change management across the whole ecosystem.

At The Open Group work group level, we would like to develop a reference architecture. At a more practical level, we would like to support that reference architecture with implementation use cases. We all agree that we are not going to look at a top-down approach; no city will have the resources or even the political will to do a top-down approach.

Given that we are looking at a bottom-up, or a middle-out, approach we need to identify use cases that are more relevant and successful for smart cities within the Government Enterprise Architecture Work Group. But this thinking will also evolve as the work group develops a reference architecture under a framework.

Gardner: Dr. Harding, how will work extend from other activities of The Open Group to smart cities initiatives?

Collective, crystal-clear standards 

Harding: For many years, I was a staff member, but I left The Open Group staff at the end of last year. In terms of how The Open Group can contribute, it’s an excellent body for developing and understanding complex situations. It has participants from many vendors, as well as IT users, and from the academic side, too.

Such a mix of participants, backgrounds, and experience creates a great place to develop an understanding of what is needed and what is possible. As that understanding develops, it becomes possible to define standards. Personally, I see standardization as kind of a crystallization process in which something solid and structured appears from a liquid with no structure. I think that the key role The Open Group plays in this process is as a catalyst, and I think we can do that in this area, too.

Gardner: Don Brancato, same question; where do you see The Open Group initiatives benefitting a positive evolution for smart cities?

Brancato: Tactically, we have a data exchange model, the Open Data Element Framework that continues to grow within a number of IoT and industrial IoT patterns.  That all ties together with an open platform, and into Enterprise Architecture in general, and specifically with models like DODAF, MODAF, and TOGAF.

Data catalogs provide proof of the activities of human systems, machines, and sensors to the fulfillment of their capabilities and are traceable up to the strategy.

We have a really nice collection of patterns that recognize that the data is the mechanism that ties it together. I would have a look at the open platform and the work they are doing to tie-in the service catalog, which is a collection of activities that human systems or machines need in order to fulfill their roles and capabilities.

The notion of data catalogs, which are the children of these service catalogs, provides the proof of the activities of human systems, machines, and sensors to the fulfillment of their capabilities and then are traceable up to the strategy.

I think we have a nice collection of standards and a global collection of folks who are delivering on that idea today.

Gardner: What would you like to see as a consumer, on the receiving end, if you will, of organizations like The Open Group when it comes to improving your ability to deliver smart city initiatives?

Use-case consumer value

Sunderland: I like the idea of reference architectures attached to use cases because -- for better or worse -- when folks engage around these issues -- even in large entities like New York City -- they are going to be engaging for specific needs.

Reference architectures are really great because they give you an intuitive view of how things fit. But the real meat is the use case, which is applied against the reference architecture. I like the idea of developing workgroups around a handful of reference architectures that address specific use cases. That then allows a catalog of use cases for those who facilitate solutions against those reference architectures. They can look for cases similar to ones that they are attempting to resolve. It’s a good, consumer-friendly way to provide value for the work you are doing.

Gardner: I’m sure there will be a lot more information available along those lines at www.opengroup.org.

When you improve frameworks, interoperability, and standardization of data frameworks, what success factors emerge that help propel the efforts forward? Let’s identify attractive drivers of future smart city initiatives. Let’s start with Dr. Lisdorf. What do you see as a potential use case, application, or service that could be a catalyst to drive even more smart cities activities?

Lisdorf: Right now, smart cities initiatives are out of control. They are usually done on an ad-hoc basis. One important way to get standardization enforced -- or at least considered for new implementations – is to integrate the effort as a necessary step in the established procurement and security governance processes.

Whenever new smart cities initiatives are implemented, you would run them through governance tied to the funding and the security clearance of a solution. That’s the only way we can gain some sort of control.

This approach would also push standardization toward vendors because today they don’t care about standards; they all have their own. If we included in our procurement and our security requirements that they need to comply with certain standards, they would have to build according to those standards. That would increase the overall interoperability of smart cities technologies. I think that is the only way we can begin to gain control.

Gardner: Dr. Harding, what do you see driving further improvement in smart cities undertakings?

Prioritize policy and people 

Harding: The focus should be on the policy around data sharing. As I mentioned, I see two layers of a framework: A policy layer and a technical layer. The understanding of the policy layer has to come first because the technical layer supports it.

The development of policy around data sharing -- or specifically on personal data sharing because this is a hot topic. Everyone is concerned with what happens to their personal data. It’s something that cities are particularly concerned with because they hold a lot of data about their citizens.

Gardner: Dr. Saha, same question to you. 

Saha: I look at it in two ways. One is for cities to adopt smart city approaches. Identify very-high-demand use cases that pertain to environmental mobility, or the economy, or health -- or whatever the priority is for that city.

Identifying such high-demand use cases is important because the impact is directly seen by the people, which is very important because the benefits of having a smarter city are something that need to be visible to the people using those services, number one.

The other part, that we have not spoken about, is we are assuming that the city already exists, and we are retrofitting it to become a smart city. There are places where countries are building entirely new cities. And these brand-new cities are perfect examples of where these technologies can be tried out. They don’t yet have the complexities of existing cities.

It becomes a very good lab, if you will, a real-life lab. It’s not a controlled lab, it’s a real-life lab where the services can be rolled out as the new city is built and developed. These are the two things I think will improve the adoption of smart city technology across the globe.

Gardner: Don Brancato, any ideas on catalysts to gain standardization and improved smart city approaches?

City smarts and safety first 

Brancato: I like Dr. Harding’s idea on focusing on personal data. That’s a good way to take a group of people and build a tactical pattern, and then grow and reuse that.

In terms of the broader city, I’ve seen a number of cities successfully introduce programs that use the notion of a safe city as a subset of other smart city initiatives. This plays out well with the public. There’s a lot of reuse involved. It enables the city to reuse a lot of their capabilities and demonstrate they can deliver value to average citizens.

In order to keep cities involved and energetic, we should not lose track of the fact that people move to cities because of all of the cultural things they can be involved with. That comes from education, safety, and the commoditization of price and value benefits. Being able to deliver safety is critical. And I suggest the idea of traceability of personal data patterns has a connection to a safe city.

Traceability in the Enterprise Architecture world should be a standard artifact for assuring that the programs we have trace to citizen value and to business value. Such traceability and a model link those initiatives and strategies through to the service -- all the way down to the data, so that eventually data can be tied back to the roles.

For example, if I am an individual, data can be assigned to me. If I am in some role within the city, data can be assigned to me. The beauty of that is we automate the role of the human. It is even compounded to the notion that the capabilities are done in the city by humans, systems, machines, and sensors that are getting increasingly smarter. So all of the data can be traceable to these sensors. 

Gardner: Don Sunderland, what have you seen that works, and what should we doing more of?

Mobile-app appeal

Sunderland: I am still fixated on the idea of creating direct demand. We can’t generate it. It’s there on many levels, but a kind of guerrilla tactic would be to tap into that demand to create location-aware applications, mobile apps, that are freely available to citizens.

The apps can use existing data rather than trying to go out and solve all the data sharing problems for a municipality. Instead, create a value-added app that feeds people location-aware information about where they are -- whether it comes from within the city or without. They can then become habituated to the idea that they can avail themselves of information and services directly, from their pocket, when they need to. You then begin adding layers of additional information as it becomes available. But creating the demand is what’s key.

When 311 was created in New York, it became apparent that it was a brand. The idea of getting all those services by just dialing those three digits was not going to go away. Everybody wanted to add their services to 311. This kind of guerrilla approach to a location-aware app made available to the citizens is a way to drive more demand for even more people.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: The Open Group.

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How The Open Group Healthcare Forum and Health Enterprise Reference Architecture cures process and IT ills

The next BriefingsDirect healthcare thought leadership panel discussion examines how a global standards body, The Open Group, is working to improve how the healthcare industry functions.

We’ll now learn how The Open Group Healthcare Forum (HCF) is advancing best practices and methods for better leveraging IT in healthcare ecosystems. And we’ll examine the forum’s Health Enterprise Reference Architecture (HERA) initiative and its role in standardizing IT architectures. The goal is to foster better boundaryless interoperability within and between healthcare public and private sector organizations.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn more about improving the processes and IT that better supports healthcare, please welcome our panel of experts: Oliver Kipf, The Open Group Healthcare Forum Chairman and Business Process and Solution Architect at Philips, based in Germany; Dr. Jason Lee, Director of the Healthcare Forum at The Open Group, in Boston, and Gail Kalbfleisch, Director of the Federal Health Architecture at the US Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: For those who might not be that familiar with the Healthcare Forum and The Open Group in general, tell us about why the Healthcare Forum exists, what its mission is, and what you hope to achieve through your work.

Lee: The Healthcare Forum exists because there is a huge need to architect the healthcare enterprise, which is approaching 20 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the economy in the US, and approaching that level in other developing countries in Europe.

Lee

Lee

 

There is a general feeling that enterprise architecture is somewhat behind in this industry, relative to other industries. There are important gaps to fill that will help those stakeholders in healthcare -- whether they are in hospitals or healthcare delivery systems or innovation hubs in organizations of different sorts, such as consulting firms. They can better leverage IT to achieve business goals, through the use of best practices, lessons learned, and the accumulated wisdom of the various Forum members over many years of work. We want them to understand the value of our work so they can use it to address their needs.

Our mission, simply, is to help make healthcare information available when and where it’s needed and to accomplish that goal through architecting the healthcare enterprise. That’s what we hope to achieve.

Gardner: As the chairman of the HCF, could you explain what a forum is, Oliver? What does it consist of, how many organizations are involved?

Kipf: The HCF is made up of its members and I am really proud of this team. We are very passionate about healthcare. We are in the technology business, so we are more than just the governing bodies; we also have participation from the provider community. That makes the Forum true to the nature of The Open Group, in that we are global in nature, we are vendor-neutral, and we are business-oriented. We go from strategy to execution, and we want to bridge from business to technology. We take the foundation of The Open Group, and then we apply this to the HCF.

Kipf

Kipf

 

As we have many health standards out there, we really want to leverage [experience] from our 30 members to make standards work by providing the right type of tools, frameworks, and approaches. We partner a lot in the industry.

The healthcare industry is really a crowded place and there are many standard development organizations. There are many players. It’s quite vital as a forum that we reach out, collaborate, and engage with others to reach where we want to be.

Gardner: Gail, why is the role of the enterprise architecture function an important ingredient to help bring this together? What’s important about EA when we think about the healthcare industry?

Kalbfleisch: From an EA perspective, I don’t really think that it matters whether you are talking about the healthcare industry or the finance industry or the personnel industry or the gas and electric industry. If you look at any of those, the organizations or the companies that tend to be highly functioning, they have not just architecture -- because everyone has architecture for what they do. But that architecture is documented and it’s available for use by decision-makers, and by developers across the system so that each part can work well together.

Kalbfleisch

Kalbfleisch

 

We know that within the healthcare industry it is exceedingly complicated, and it’s a mixture of a lot of different things. It’s not just your body and your doctor, it’s also your insurance, your payers, research, academia -- and putting all of those together.

If we don’t have EA, people new to the system -- or people who were deeply embedded into their parts of the system -- can’t see how that system all works together usefully. For example, there are a lot of different standards organizations. If we don’t see how all of that works together -- where everybody else is working, and how to make it fit together – then we’re going to have a hard time getting to interoperability quickly and efficiently.

It's important that we get to individual solution building blocks to attain a more integrated approach. 

Kipf: If you think of the healthcare industry, we’ve been very good at developing individual solutions to specific problems. There’s a lot of innovation and a lot of technology that we use. But there is an inherent risk of producing silos among the many stakeholders who, ultimately, work for the good of the patient. It's important that we get to individual solution building blocks to attain a more integrated approach based on architecture building blocks, and based on common frameworks, tools and approaches.

Gardner: Healthcare is a very complex environment and IT is very fast-paced. Can you give us an update on what the Healthcare Forum has been doing, given the difficulty of managing such complexity?

Bird’s-eye view mapping

Lee: The Healthcare Forum began with a series of white papers, initially focusing on an information model that has a long history in the federal government. We used enterprise architecture to evaluate the Federal Health Information Model (FHIM).  People began listening and we started to talk to people outside of The Open Group, and outside of the normal channels of The Open Group. We talked to different types of architects, such as information architects, solution architects, engineers, and initially settled on the problem that is essential to The Open Group -- and that is the problem of boundaryless information flow.

We need to get beyond the silos that Oliver mentioned and that Gail alluded to. As I mentioned in my opening comments, this is a huge industry, and Gail illustrated it by naming some of the stakeholders within the health, healthcare and wellness enterprises. If you think of your hospital, it can be difficult to achieve boundaryless information flow to enable your information to travel digitally, securely, quickly, and in a way that’s valid, reliable and understandable by those who send it and by those who receive it.  But if that is possible, it’s all to the betterment of the patient.

Initially, in our focus on what healthcare folks call interoperability -- what we refer to as boundaryless information flow -- we came to realize through discussions with stakeholders in the public sector, as well as the private sector and globally, that understanding how the different pieces are linked together is critical. Anybody who works in an organization or belongs to a church, school or family understands that sometimes getting the right message communicated from point A to point B can be difficult.

To address that issue, the HCF members have decided to create a Health Enterprise Reference Architecture (HERA) that is essentially a framework and a map at the highest level. It helps people see that what they do relates to what others do, regardless of their position in their company. You want to deliver value to those people, to help them understand how their work is interconnected, and how IT can help them achieve their goals.

Gardner: Oliver, who should be aware of and explore engaging with the HCF?

Kipf: The members of The Open Group themselves, many of them are players in the field of healthcare, and so they are the natural candidates to really engage with. In that healthcare ecosystem we have providers, payers, governing bodies, pharmaceuticals, and IT companies.

Those who deeply need planning, management and architecting -- to make big thinking a reality out there -- those decision-makers are the prime candidates for engagement in the Healthcare Forum. They can benefit from the kinds of products we produce, the reference architecture, and the white papers that we offer. In a nutshell, it’s the members, and it’s the healthcare industry, and the healthcare ecosystem that we are targeting.

Gardner: Gail, perhaps you could address the reference architecture initiative? Why do you see that as important? Who do you think should be aware of it and contribute to it?

Shared reference points

Kalbfleisch: Reference architecture is one of those building block pieces that should be used. You can call it a template. You can have words that other people can relate to, maybe easier than the architecture-speak.

If you take that template, you can make it available to other people so that we can all be designing our processes and systems with a common understanding of our information exchange -- so that it crosses boundaries easily and securely. If we are all running on the same template, that’s going to enable us to identify how to start, what has to be included, and what standards we are going to use.

A reference architecture is one of those very important pieces that not only forms a list of how we want to do things, and what we agreed to, but it also makes it so that every organization doesn’t have to start from scratch. It can be reused and improved upon as we go through the work. If someone improves the architecture, that can come back into the reference architecture.

Who should know about it? Decision makers, developers, medical device innovators, people who are looking to improve the way information flows within any health sector -- whether it’s Oliver in Europe, whether it’s someone over in California, Australia, it really doesn't matter. Anyone who wants to make interoperability better should know about it.

My focus is on decision-makers, policymakers, process developers, and other people who look at it from a device-design perspective. One of the things that has been discussed within the HCF’s reference architecture work is the need to make sure that it’s all at a high-enough level, where we can agree on what it looks like. Yet it also must go down deeply enough so that people can apply it to what they are doing -- whether it’s designing a piece of software or designing a medical device.

Gardner: Jason, The Open Group has been involved with standards and reference architectures for decades, with such recent initiatives as the IT4IT approach, as well as the longstanding TOGAF reference architecture. How does the HERA relate to some of these other architectural initiatives?

Building on a strong foundation

Lee: The HERA starts by using the essential components and insights that are built into the TOGAF ArchitecturalDevelopment Model (ADM) and builds from there. It also uses the ArchiMate language, but we have never felt restricted to using only those existing Open Group models that have been around for some time and are currently being developed further.

We are a big organization in terms of our approach, our forum, and so we want to draw from the best there is in order to fill in the gaps. Over the last few decades, an incredible amount of talent has joined The Open Group to develop architectural models and standards that apply across multiple industries, including healthcare. We reuse and build from this important work.

In addition, as we have dug deeper into the healthcare industry, we have found other issues – gaps -- that need filling. There are related topics that would benefit. To do that, we have been working hard to establish relationships with other organizations in the healthcare space, to bring them in, and to collaborate. We have done this with the Health Level Seven Organization (HL7), which is one of the best-known standards organizations in the world.

We are also doing this now with an organization called Healthcare Services Platform Consortium (HSPC), which involves academic, government and hospital organizations, as well as people who are focused on developing standards around terminology.

IT’s getting better all the time

Kipf: If you think about reference architecture in a specific domain, such as in the healthcare industry, you look at your customers and the enterprises -- those really concerned with the delivery of health services. You need to ask yourself the question: What are their needs?

And the need in this industry is a focus on the person and on the service. It’s also highly regulatory, so being compliant is a big thing. Quality is a big thing. The idea of lifetime evolution -- that you become better and better all the time -- that is very important, very intrinsic to the healthcare industry.

When we are looking into the customers out there that we believe that the HERA could be of value, it’s the small- to mid-sized and the large enterprises that you have to think of, and it’s really across the globe. That’s why we believe that the HERA is something that is tuned into the needs of our industry.

And as Jason mentioned, we build on open standards and we leverage them where we can. ArchiMate is one of the big ones -- not only the business language, but also a lot of the concepts are based on ArchiMate. But we need to include other standards as well, obviously those from the healthcare industry, and we need to deviate from specific standards where this is of value to our industry.

Gardner: Oliver, in order to get this standard to be something that's used, that’s very practical, people look to results. So if you were to take advantage of such reference architectures as HERA, what should you expect to get back? If you do it right, what are the payoffs?

Capacity for change and collaboration

Kipf: It should enable you to do a better job, to become more efficient, and to make better use of technology. Those are the kinds of benefits that you see realized. It’s not only that you have a place where you can model all the elements of your enterprise, where you can put and manage your processes and your services, but it’s also in the way you are architecting your enterprise.

It gives you the ability to change. From a transformation management perspective, we know that many healthcare systems have great challenges and there is this need to change. The HERA gives you the tools to get where you want to be, to define where you want to be -- and also how to get there. This is where we believe it provides a lot of benefits.

Gardner: Gail, similar question, for those organizations, both public and private sector, that do this well, that embrace HERA, what should they hope to get in return?

Kalbfleisch: I completely agree with what Oliver said. To add, one of the benefits that you get from using EA is a chance to have a perspective from outside your own narrow silos. The HERA should be able to help a person see other areas that they have to take into consideration, that maybe they wouldn’t have before.

Another value is to engage with other people who are doing similar work, who may have either learned lessons, or are doing similar things at the same time. So that's one of the ways I see the effectiveness and of doing our jobs better, quicker, and faster.

Also, it can help us identify where we have gaps and where we need to focus our efforts. We can focus our limited resources in much better ways on specific issues -- where we can accomplish what we are looking to -- and to gain that boundaryless information flow.

Reaching your goals

Lee: Essentially, the HERA will provide a framework that enables companies to leverage IT to achieve their goals. The wonderful thing about it is that we are not telling organizations what their goals should be. We show them how they can follow a roadmap to accomplish their self-defined goals more effectively. Often this involves communicating the big picture, as Gail said, to those who are in siloed positions within their organizations.

There is an old saying: “What you see depends on where you sit.” The HERA helps stakeholders gain this perspective by helping key players understand the relationships, for example, between business processes and engineering. So whether a stakeholder’s interest is increasing patient satisfaction, reducing error, improving quality, and having better patient outcomes and gaining more reimbursement where reimbursement is tied to outcomes -- using the product and the architecture that we are developing helps all of these goals.

Gardner: Jason, for those who are intrigued by what you are doing with HERA, tell us about its trajectory, its evolution, and how that journey unfolds. Who can they learn more or get involved?

Lee: We have only been working on the HERA per se for the last year, although its underpinnings go back 20 years or more. Its trajectory is not to a single point, but to an evolutionary process. We will be producing products, white papers, as well as products that others can use in a modular fashion to leverage what they already use within their legacy systems.

We encourage anyone out there, particularly in the health system delivery space, to join us. That can be done by contacting me at j.lee@opengroup.org and at www.opengroup.org/healthcare.

It’s an incredible time, a very opportune time, for key players to be involved because we are making very important decisions that lay the foundation for the HERA. We collaborate with key players, and we lay down the tracks from which we will build increasing levels of complexity.

But we start at the top, using non-architectural language to be able to talk to decision-makers, whether they are in the public sector or private sector. So we invite any of these organizations to join us.

Learn from others’ mistakes

Kalbfleisch: My first foray into working with The Open Group was long before I was in the health IT sector. I was with the US Air Force and we were doing very non-health architectural work in conjunction with The Open Group.

The interesting part to me is in ensuring boundaryless information flow in a manner that is consistent with the information flowing where it needs to go and who has access to it. How does it get from place to place across distinct mission areas, or distinct business areas where the information is not used the same way or stored in the same way? Such dissonance between those business areas is not a problem that is isolated just to healthcare; it’s across all business areas.

That was exciting. I was able to take awareness of The Open Group from a previous life, so to speak, and engage with them to get involved in the Healthcare Forum from my current position.

A lot of the technical problems that we have in exchanging information, regardless of what industry you are in, have been addressed by other people, and have already been worked on. By leveraging the way organizations have already worked on it for 20 years, we can leverage that work within the healthcare industry. We don't have to make the same mistakes that were made before. We can take what people have learned and extend it much further. We can do that best by working together in areas like The Open Group HCF.

Kipf: On that evolutionary approach, I also see this as a long-term journey. Yes, there will be releases when we have a specification, and there will guidelines. But it's important that this is an engagement, and we have ongoing collaboration with customers in the future, even after it is released. The coming together of a team is what really makes a great reference architecture, a team that places the architecture at a high level.

We can also develop distinct flavors of the specification. We should expect much more detail. Those implementation architectures then become spin-offs of reference architectures such as the HERA.

Lee: I can give some concrete examples, to bookend the kinds of problems that can be addressed using the HERA. At the micro end, a hospital can use the HERA structure to implement a patient check-in to the hospital for patients who would like to bypass the usual process and check themselves in. This has a number of positive value outcomes for the hospital in terms of staffing and in terms of patient satisfaction and cost savings.

At the other extreme, a large hospital system in Philadelphia or Stuttgart or Oslo or in India finds itself with patients appearing at the emergency room or in the ambulatory settings unaffiliated with that particular hospital. Rather than have that patient come as a blank sheet of paper, and redo all the tests that had been done prior, the HERA will help these healthcare organizations figure out how to exchange data in a meaningful way. So the information can flow digitally, securely, and it means the same thing to those who get it as much as it does to those who receive it, and everything is patient-focused, patient-centric.

Gardner: Oliver, we have seen with other Open Group standards and reference architectures, a certification process often comes to bear that helps people be recognized for being adept and properly trained. Do you expect to have a certification process with HERA at some point?

Certifiable enterprise expertise

Kipf: Yes, the more we mature with the HERA, along with the defined guidelines and the specifications and the HERA model, the more there will be a need and demand for health enterprise-focused employees in the marketplace. They can show how consulting services can then use HERA.

And that's a perfect place when you think of certification. It helps make sure that the quality of the workforce is strong, whether it's internal or in the form of a professional services role. They can comply with the HERA.

Gardner: Clearly, this has applicability to healthcare payer organizations, provider organizations, government agencies, and the vendors who supply pharmaceuticals or medical instruments. There are a great deal of process benefits when done properly, so that enterprise architects could become certified eventually.

My question then is how do we take the HERA, with such a potential for being beneficial across the board, and make it well-known? Jason, how do we get the word out? How can people who are listening to this or reading this, help with that?

Spread the word, around the world

Lee: It's a question that has to be considered every time we meet. I think the answer is straightforward. First, we build a product [the HERA] that has clear value for stakeholders in the healthcare system. That’s the internal part.

Second—and often, simultaneously—we develop a very important marketing/collaboration/socialization capability. That’s the external part. I've worked in healthcare for more than 30 years, and whether it's public or private sector decision-making, there are many stakeholders, and everybody's focused on the same few things: improving value, enhancing quality, expanding access, and providing security.

We will continue developing relationships with key players to ensure them that what they’re doing is key to the HERA. At the broadest level, all companies must plan, build, operate and improve.

There are immense opportunities for business development. There are innumerable ways to use the HERA to help health enterprise systems operate efficiently and effectively. There are opportunities to demonstrate to key movers and shakers in healthcare system how what we're doing integrates with what they're doing. This will maximize the uptake of the HERA and minimize the chances it sits on a shelf after it's been developed.

Gardner: Oliver, there are also a variety of regional conferences and events around the world. Some of them are from The Open Group. How important is it for people to be aware of these events, maybe by taking part virtually online or in person? Tell us about the face-time opportunities, if you will, of these events, and how that can foster awareness and improvement of HERA uptake.

Kipf: We began with the last Open Group event. I was in Berlin, presenting the HERA. As we see more development, more maturity, we can then show more. The uptake will be there and we also need to include things like cyber security, things like risk compliance. So we can bring in a lot of what we have been doing in various other initiatives within The Open Group. We can show how it can be a fusion, and make this something that is really of value.

I am confident that through face-to-face events, such as The Open Group events, we can further spread the message.

Lee: And a real shout-out to Gail and Oliver who have been critical in making introductions and helping to share The Open Group Healthcare Forum’s work broadly. The most recent example is the 2016 HIMSS conference, a meeting that brings together more than 40,000 people every year. There is a federal interoperability showcase there, and we have been able to introduce and discuss our HERA work there.

We’ve collaborated with the Office of the National Coordinator where the Federal Heath Architecture sits, with the US Veterans Administration, with the US Department of Defense, and with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). This is all US-centered, but there are lots of opportunities globally to not just spread the word in public for domains and public venues, but also to go to those key players who are moving the industry forward, and in some cases convince them that enterprise architecture does provide that structure, that template that can help them achieve their goals.

Future forecast

Gardner: I’m afraid we are almost out of time. Gail, perhaps a look into the crystal ball. What do you expect and hope to see in the next few years when it comes to improvements initiatives like HERA at The Open Group Forum can provide? What do you hope to see in the next couple of years in terms of improvement?

Kalbfleisch: What I would like to see happen in the next couple of years as it relates to the HERA, is the ability to have a place where we can go from anywhere and get a glimpse of the landscape. Right now, it’s hard to find anywhere where someone in the US can see the great work that Oliver is doing, or the people in Norway, or the people in Australia are doing.

It’s really important that we have opportunities to communicate as large groups, but also the one-on-one. Yet when we are not able to communicate personally, I would like to see a resource or a tool where people can go and get the information they need on the HERA on their own time, or as they have a question. Reference architecture is great to have, but it has no power until it’s used.

My hope for the future is for the HERA to be used by decision-makers, developers, and even patients. So when an organizations such as some hospital wants to develop a new electronic health record (EHR) system, they have a place to go and get started, without having to contact Jason or wait for a vendor to come along and tell them how to solve a problem. That would be my hope for the future.

Lee: You can think of the HERA as a soup with three key ingredients. First is the involvement and commitment of very bright people and top-notch organizations. Second, we leverage the deep experience and products of other forums of The Open Group. Third, we build on external relationships. Together, these three things will help make the HERA successful as a certifiable product that people can use to get their work done and do better.

Gardner: Jason, perhaps you could also tee-up the next Open Group event in Amsterdam. Can you tell us more about that and how to get involved?

Lee: We are very excited about our next event in Amsterdam in October. You can go to www.opengroup.org and look under Events, read about the agendas, and sign up there. We will have involvement from experts from the US, UK, Germany, Australia, Norway, and this is just in the Healthcare Forum!

The Open Group membership will be giving papers, having discussions, moving the ball forward. It will be a very productive and fun time and we are looking forward to it. Again, anyone who has a question or is interested in joining the Healthcare Forum can please send me, Jason Lee, an email at j.lee@opengroup.org.

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