Is enterprise architecture finally on the cusp of helping to accelerate sustainable, global development?

Kate Wilson with Doreen Bogdan-Martin from the ITU

After a decade at Microsoft, I started my career in global development focusing on public health. I had come from one of the largest technology platform companies in the world, so naturally, my first focus for the Digital Health solutions team I led at PATH was expanding the potential for using technology platforms at the government level. We recognized the need for a robust enterprise architecture that could truly scale essential health solutions and worked closely with Ministries of Health in Africa and Asia who were attempting to rationalize their health information systems. We supported them as they explored how enterprise architecture principles could be used to make complex, disparate and unconnected systems more interoperable in the pursuit of Universal Health Coverage as well as the delivery of immunizations and other health services.  Early on, we ran into a BIG problem that continues to be a challenge to this day in the work we are doing at The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL).   

Most people find the subject of enterprise architecture excruciatingly boring and believe it to be unrelated to their work in improving lives or the planet. The reality is that the implementation of enterprise architecture at the country level both in governance and technology solutions, has the potential to speed up our ability to advance sustainable, global development. Never before have I been more excited about the possibilities of how *existing* technology can help us — right now. Technology as part of the solution is no longer a future-focused dream. Yet, it’s not just about the technology. It’s about how technology can help solve the challenges we face.

The progress that I and many others working in the information and communications technology for development (ICT4D) space are seeing is anything but boring. A few country governments – like India, South Korea, and Estonia – are leading the way in their use of whole-of-government enterprise architecture frameworks. These countries are showing us how to leverage enterprise architecture to do the things we all care about – delivering better healthcare, agricultural services, and education or tackling the challenges of climate change – by taking a coordinated approach to their investments in technology.  Just last week, the Government of India shared the Shillong Declaration  which, on top of the impressive work that India has done with India Enterprise Architecture (INDea) stack, puts service delivery at the core of their work. 

The Indian government is focused on creating a seamless user experience with single sign on and access, reducing the many state level applications and building out configurable applications that others can build on. This turns the government’s IT infrastructure role from being a service provider to a service enabler. This, coupled with their work to strengthen data protection features, like layering citizen permissions into their work, makes this a model something to keep an eye on. 

Enterprise architecture is the difference between continuing to do small pilots using narrowly focused digital solutions that never scale beyond 10K users or having a global impact that achieves the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Enterprise architecture is, at its core, the ability for an organization, or a government to put technology to work to achieve its mission and business objectives. The technology isn’t what matters, the work is what matters, and enterprise architecture allows that to happen at a scale that improves the lives billions of people every day.

Despite this long-known IT truism, few governments (e.g., Estonia, India) have embraced a whole-of-government approach (WGA) to enterprise architecture. Which is why I found this buried announcement from the Government of India last week so powerful. 

I know that progress like this is what will accelerate global development. When more countries take ownership of their digital transformation agendas, the cusp we are on will turn into a true tipping point for global development. 

At DIAL, along with our partners at the ITU, we are advocating for this same whole-of-government approach to enterprise architecture. We are using the global SDGs to map the cross-cutting ICT building blocks and digital public goods (e.g., digital id, wallet) that have the potential to drive digital transformation within each country. 

We hope that India’s example with INDea stack and the Shillong Declaration is viewed by others as an exciting step forward so that every person, everywhere, has access to health services, food, water and education. Because at the end of the day, this is what it is all about. I will remain a committed advocate for the promise of enterprise architecture and – working with the ITU and others – build on this important work. My hope is that one day everyone has access to lifegiving services and lives on a planet that can sustain us.