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Project Leadership

When I look back over recent projects that I've been involved in, it seems that one key to making a project successful is having someone on the team who really drives it forward: someone who is invested in the project as a whole and not just their own part in it.

We (by which I mean the University's Applications division) have a well-defined project process, with defined roles, required milestones, deployment standards, and so forth.    All these are useful, but if the team doesn't have a leader, it seems a project can lose its way, perhaps not responding to changing circumstances, getting stuck on a technical problem, or not securing a needed resource in time to meet some external constraint.

The leader can be any member of the team - it could be a developer, a project manager, or the sponsor, or someone in another role.  A team can include several people who are this committed to the project; it doesn't have to be a single person.  

As an example, one of our senior …

New Blog

I have created an official blog for the Enteprise Architecture service at the University of Edinburgh.  You can follow it at the link below.  The new blog is intended for updates and news from the EA team (not just me).  So far, I've just posted an introductory article linking to Gerben Wierda's animation "Why Enterprise Architecture", and I may repost some of the older articles from this Distributed Thinking blog.

https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/enterprisearchitecture

As the new blog will be the place for all official news, I'll save this Distributed Thinking blog for more personal reflections and perhaps for some more opiniated pieces that have no place on an official site.

Data governance at the core

Among all the topics discussed at the Gartner Data & Analytics summit, one undercurrent caught my attention.  It came up at least twice, in very different talks.

The first occurrence was in a presentation by an e-commerce company which made all of its data open to all employees and encouraged them to create innovative analyses of that data.  The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) last year has caused the company to restructure its data platform with stricter access policies, as they can't reasonably make the personal information of all their customers available to everyone in the organisation.

The other time was in a talk by a Gartner analyst, about different data architectures (e.g. data warehouses, data lakes, & data hubs).   In an aside, the speaker remarked that, in the past, IT departments have tended to collects all their data together first and worry about governance later.  He said that design of a data hub should instead start with data …

A festival of data

Last month, I attended the Festival of HE Data at the University of Huddersfield.  This one-day event had a number of speakers in the morning and an afternoon session in which various Universities (including Edinburgh) and other services demonstrated some of their projects and services.

"Data" is rather a broad topic and the emphasis of the day was on how to use data to enhance University services, providing dashboards for staff and for students.

Matt Hiely-Rayner explained how the Guardian's university guide determines its "value-added" score,and described how Kingston University used this understanding to improve their score, while simultaneously improving the outcomes for a particular group of students. He noted that students' final results tend to be correlated with the qualifications when they arrive at University.  The value-added measure looks for progress beyond this correlation, i.e. how many students who were less well qualified on entry achieve g…

Creating a responsive BI service

We're looking at how we can create a reporting and analytics service that can respond quickly to new requests for information.  The motivation for this is that business intelligence requirements change quickly; managers and data analysts frequently come up with questions for which they require access to new data in order to answer.

Many organisations have a dedicated BI team who can concentrate on the needs of their data analysts and other users. The most effective BI teams - by which I mean those teams who provide the most useful information to the people who need it - are multi-disciplinary teams that include business users, data analysts, data architects, and ETL developers.

Unfortunately, our current structure hinders this integrated approach.  We don't have the resources to dedicate a team to each of our services, because we run over 100 application services.  Instead, we have development teams and a support team, and a planning process that lets us assign staff effort t…

Changing our integration mindset

Over the last few weeks, we've been working with some consultants to assess our approach to integrating business processes that involve multiple IT systems.  We have an ambition to replace many old point-to-point data transfers with more modern integration technology, enabling a more responsive user experience.  As we are consolidating many of our existing applications and gradually moving to more cloud-based services, we will need to replace many of our existing integrations and this provides an opportunity to transform our approach.

We're planning to support three types of integration:
Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) for message-based, inter-system processesAPI Management for enabling portals and innovative user-facing appsExtract-Transform-Load (ETL) for where we still need to move large amounts of data On the technical front, the consultants recommend that we adopt one of a small number of cloud-based integration platforms.  The next step is to plan and execute the…

"No more us & them"

WonkHE recently posted an interesting opinion piece with the title Academics and Administrators: No more ‘us and them’. In that post, Paul Greatrix rebutted criticisms of professional services (administrative) staff in Universites from some academics. To illustrate his point, he quoted recent articles in which administrators were portrayed as a useless overhead on the key tasks at hand (teaching and research).

This flows both ways, as Greatrix himself points out. As Enterprise Architect, I work with Professional Services colleagues and I have heard some of them express opinions that clearly fail to understand the nature of academic work. Academics cannot be treated as if they were factory workers, churning out lectures on a treadmill.

I think these comments reveal a fundamental clash of ideas about how a University should work. Some people who come into management positions for other sectors tend to frame the University as a business, with students and research funders as customers t…