Skip to main content

My MidWest tour (Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan and Miami)


I very much enjoyed my recent trip to visit the EA teams at three Universities in the American Midwest.  My hosts were generous with their time and gladly shared their knowledge and experience of establishing Enterprise Architecture practices.  I learnt a lot about EA techniques and even more about the soft skills required to establish an EA practice for a large and diverse institution with a limited budget.

The topics of our discussions reflected the different priorities that the three institutions have set for their EA teams.  The UM-W team focus on major initiatives rather than try to map the overall space.  They provide EA input to assess which aspects of the current state need most attention and then helping with the transition to the new processes.  This seems to reflect the steer I was given by a Gartner consultant, to show some immediate business outcomes.

The other two institutions are taking a more systematic approach in that they are attempting to define certain artefacts across all organisation units of their respective universities.  In the case of UMich, the EA team is helping organisational units across the university to define and clarify their (IT) strategies.  They have a common framework for presenting this information and this has proved especially useful for those units who are developing a strategy for the first time.  The resulting catalogue provides context for the prioritisation and implementation of projects.  

The team at Miami U is mapping the current state of five domains: business capabilities, applications, data entities, infrastructure, and security, in order to provide a context for decision making.  For example, their CIO wants to use this map of the “as-is” state to avoid (or at least discourage) the procurement of new systems that reproduce existing functionality.

Apart from showing me a variety of EA techniques, this diversity illustrated the importance of clear goals for the EA practice.  EA is an immensely flexible discipline, so we need to agree what we want to achieve, depending on the strategy of the institution.

For the University of Edinburgh, our goal is to emphasise the development of our data architecture.  To this end, I intend to produce conceptual data model, a business vocabulary, and high-level target architectures for both BI and operational data.  As data cannot exist in isolation, we will also look at the business processes that produce and consume data, and the applications that produce, store and consume data.

This runs alongside the development of EA processes themselves, of course.  A secondary goal of mine is to define a roadmap for achieving level 2 in the EA maturity model.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Presentation: Putting IT all together

This is a presentation I gave to an audience of University staff: 

In this seminar, I invite you to consider what the University’s online services would be like, if we worked together to design them from the perspective of the student or member of staff who will use them, instead of designing them around the organisational units that provide them. I’ll start with how the services might appear to that student or member of staff, then work back from there to show what this implies for how we work, how we manage our data, and how we integrate our IT systems. It might even lead to changes in our organisational structure.

Our online services make a vital and valued contribution to the work of our students and staff. I argue that with better integration, more consistent user interfaces, and shared data, this contribution could be significantly enhanced.

This practice is called “Enterprise Architecture”. I’ll describe how it consults multiple organisational units and defines a framework …

Not so simple...

A common approach to explaining the benefits of Enterprise Architecture is to draw two diagrams: one that shows a complicated mess of interconnections, and one that shows a nicely layered set of blocks. Something like this one, which came from some consultants:


I've never felt entirely happy with this approach.  Yes, we do want to remove as much of the needless complexity and ad-hoc design that litters the existing architecture.  Yes, we do want to simplify the architecture and make it more consistent and intelligible.  But the simplicity of the block diagram shown here is unobtainable in the vast majority of real enterprises.  We have a mixture of in-house development and different third-party systems, some hosted in-house, some on cloud infrastructure and some accessed as software-as-a-service.  For all the talk of standards, vendors use different authentication systems, different integration systems, and different user interfaces.

So the simple block diagram is, basically, a l…

2016 has been a good year

So much has happened over the last year with our Enterprise Architecture practice that it's hard to write a succinct summary.  For my day-to-day experience as enterprise architect, the biggest change is that I now have a team to work with.  This time last year, I was in the middle of a 12-month secondment to create the EA practice, working mainly on my own.  Now my post has been made permanent and I have recruited two members of staff to help meet the University's architectural needs.

I have spent a lot of the year meeting people, listening to their concerns and explaining how architecture can help them.  This communication remains vital, the absolute core of what we do and we will continue to meet people in this way.  We also talk to people in other Universities in order to learn from what they are doing and to share our own experience back.  A highlight in this regard was my trip to the USA last January.

Our biggest deliverable for the past year was the design of the data wa…