The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, founded in
1970 as an agency in the Commerce Department, is at the forefront of
the United States’ environmental monitoring and research efforts. Key
to the success of NOAA’s mission is an infrastructure of observing
systems and practices that spans the planet. NOAA’s observing systems
include satellite imagers, weather radar systems, and sensor-laden
ocean buoys; fleets of aircraft, ships and submarines; and even an
army of volunteers who have been manually recording observations and
taking measurements every day for decades.

>Currently, NOAA’s observing infrastructure comprises over 100
different systems encompassing 30,000 platforms. The observing systems
use sensing technologies that take measurements of more than 200
environmental parameters such as air temperature and pressure, wind
speed and direction, ocean salinity, solar radiation, total electron
content of the upper ionosphere, etc. Data from the various sensors is
processed and converted into observations, which are passed on to
upwards of 80 information handling systems that perform data analysis,
environmental prediction, data archiving, etc.

The resulting environmental information is distributed at no cost
to the end users — anyone who utilizes weather forecasts and climate
prediction in their work, including farmers, sailors, fishermen, TV
meteorologists, and military operations planners. Much of the
information is accessible through NOAA’s Web site at

In the summer of 2002, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and
Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, retired Vice Admiral Conrad C.
Lautenbacher, ordered the creation of a functional architecture
depicting the agency’s myriad observing systems. Now in development,
the NOAA Observing Systems Architecture will provide a comprehensive
view of all of the observing systems and their interrelationships for
the first time. This unprecedented ‘As-Is’ model will provide the
foundation for the continuing evolution of the ‘To-Be’ architecture
over the years. As such, it is an important part of NOAA’s roadmap to
the future.

Ensuring the Observing Systems Architecture’s Usefulness in the
Larger Enterprise Architecture

Development of the Observing Systems Architecture was assigned to
NOAA Satellites and Information Service, the agency that acquires and
manages the Nation’s operational environmental satellites, provides
data and information services, and conducts related research. Greg
Withee, NOAA Satellites and Information Service Administrator, says,
“The Observing Systems Architecture is crucial as NOAA develops a
roadmap for combining satellite data with other types of observations.
The resulting increases in effectiveness will improve the overall
quality of data, information and services that can be made available
to NOAA’s customers to enhance our Nation’s public safety and quality
of life.”

“The Observing Systems Architecture we are building really shines
on the output end, with displays that are intuitively understandable
and visually appealing,” says team leader Mike Crison, Director of
Requirements, Planning and Systems Integration at NOAA Satellites and
Information Service. The modeling tool being used to create the
architecture is the Metis® Enterprise visual modeling toolset from
Computas NA, Inc., Sammamish, Wash. “It’s a great graphical tool
that’s easily usable by anyone doing even complex tasks such as
analyzing budgets and allocating manpower.”

Early on, the architectural development team saw the need to link
their model to the larger Enterprise Architecture of NOAA — also
being developed and modeled using the Metis software. “We saw that the
Observing Systems Architecture had to be considered a component of the
Enterprise Architecture because changes in the observing systems often
reflect and impact policies, requirements, applications and
infrastructure throughout the agency,” Crison says.

An important part of ensuring that the Observing Systems
Architecture is a useful element in the Enterprise Architecture was
the adoption of a business requirements-driven approach to model
development. Accordingly, development team members visited groups in
every discipline — e.g., IT, business management, strategy and
planning, scientific applications — that would be impacted by any
restructuring of the observing systems. The team representatives
explained how the Observing Systems Architecture could improve the
line offices’ work, and provided the stakeholders with online survey
forms that, when completed, would provide essential information for
building an architectural model.

Before beginning the modeling process itself, the team spent
several weeks doing business analysis of the survey data. They tried
to identify the questions that business managers would be asking of
the model, in order to be able to design a model capable of answering
those questions. “We felt that an up-front effort to figure out the
conceptual framework of the model was critical,” Crison says. “An
important benefit is that we can know what is most essential to model,
given that we don’t have time to model everything.”

The modeling effort, which is ongoing, is facilitated by the
capability of the Metis software to automatically extract the survey
information from the database and translate it into XML (Extensible
Markup Language) script. A key benefit of using XML is that, as a
standard being adopted by the federal government, it will simplify
integration of the Observing Systems Architecture with NOAA’s
Enterprise Architecture and other Commerce Department architectures as

Model Provides Intuitively Understandable and Visually Appealing
Displays for Analysis

With the data captured in XML format, the Observing Systems
Architecture model can be flexibly queried and analyzed by authorized
users. Accessible on NOAA’s intranet, the model presents users with
customized graphical views of the precise data they need. Typical
queries might be for displays of: observing systems owned by a
particular line office; organizations that own buoys; observing
systems that support the ability to measure ocean temperature; systems
that address the requirements of a stakeholder (e.g., airline pilots);
geographic coverage of a particular system; acquisition costs of all
systems associated with a certain strategic goal, etc. The modeling
software has been linked to a Geographical Information System (GIS) so
that queries can produce maps showing the locations of systems.
Relationships between multiple entities in the model (e.g.,
requirements, platforms, users, environmental parameters) can be
displayed in graphical diagrams.

The baseline Observing Systems Architecture was completed in
January 2003, six months after the project began. This model covers
currently deployed systems and those to be deployed in the 2003-04
budget cycle. Since then, work has focused on the target architecture,
which will reflect NOAA’s expected requirements through 2015.

“With the Observing Systems Architecture, we have a powerful tool
for use in optimizing our existing systems, building new ones, and
staying within budgets because we can see how everything fits together
and where the gaps and overlaps are,” Crison says.