Skip to main content

Enterprise Architecture at the University of Edinburgh

So, what is Enterprise Architecture (EA) and why are we bringing it to the University?  Let me set aside formal definitions and detailed explanations - after all, there is plenty of background information on the web, which you can read should you wish.  Instead, let’s keep this informal and look at what it can do for our university.

Essentially, the goal of EA is to link all IT and administrative services together to provide a joined-up, easy-to-use suite of services.  Times have changed from when students dealt with IT systems separately -  logging in to the back-office finance system for one task, the timetabling system for another, teaching systems during the day, and so forth.  Instead, people do everything online, using smartphones or laptops or desktops.  We rarely think about the ”IT” systems underpinning these services, we just do the processes online without really thinking about the IT.  Enterprise Architecture is about making the “business processes”, the data, the applications and the underlying technology all line up to provide this modern, integrated service.

We need to design processes to prioritise the user’s point of view, rather than the administration staff  (including IT staff).  We may need to change the way we do things, and we need to align the underlying IT so that we can make these changes as easy as possible.

We also need agreed data models and data definitions, so that anyone accessing data via any of our systems see the same information and understand the information presented to them.  We need management information (MI) so that the University makes decisions based on accurate and timely information.

Enterprise Architecture provides a range of techniques to aid all this.  An EA practice brings people together to achieve shared understanding and common goals.  It creates templates so that we can define standards, processes and data models using common approaches.  It produces reusable data schemas and APIs so that IT systems can integrate with each other more simply, and so that projects don’t replicate similar work.

This gives me plenty of scope for future blogs posts.  I can write about particular techniques and what they can do for us.  I can give examples of the work we do as we do it.  I can discuss some of the challengers we face as an institution.  First of all, I’ll be writing about enterprise architecture experiences from other universities, which may give us some guidance of what can be achieved in our sector.


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…