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Meeting: Science & Engineering Computing Professionals

Last week I gave a short presentation about my EA work to the Computing Professionals Advisory Group in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE).  Each academic school in the college has one representative in the group, so these meetings are a good way to find out what is happening across the college.  Representatives from IS attend in order to share our news and to hear what issues are being raised in the schools.

My contribution on this occasion was to give a brief overview of the plans and intent for the EA practice.  I chose to show some example artefacts from our work and from elsewhere, and to highlight some of the existing catalogues that we could incorporate into the planned architecture repository.  I added an appendix to the slides listing our draft EA Principles, for comment, but I did not talk through those in the meeting.

The CSE computing professionals are very keen to have access to download and update data on central systems.  They queried my applications architecture diagram, which shows arrows leading from central systems to the portal, apps and school systems but not the other way around.  The diagram reflects the work we are doing at the moment to build lightweight APIs, which are mainly conceived as supplying data from central systems and less concerned at present with updating them in response.  It was a good point to raise.

I agree that we should provide the capability for local systems to update central systems.  This would help keep centrally held data up to date and would allow the applications in the presentation layer to give a joined-up view of relevant data.  The draft EA Principles do support this, in tension with the corresponding principles that business processes should be standardised and that central systems should be used wherever local needs do not require extra support.

However, the implementation of this idea goes well beyond the technological questions of designing appropriate APIs and authorisation systems.  It runs into the problem I blogged about last week: you can only create reusable business components when your organisation has reached an appropriate level of agreed understanding.  Business processes need to be designed from the ground up to be fully online – the current buzzword for this is “digital first”.

The technology underlying these processes also needs a certain level of maturity, and several of the HE-specific software systems supplied by vendors are built on rather old technology.  So while I support the idea of two-way APIs, we need to recognise that we have limited capability in this regard and that other areas of work may need to take precedence.  As the HBR analysis noted, we have to develop our capability one phase at a time.

This is one of many talks and presentations that I am giving to different groups in the University.  I spoke to the equivalent group in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in December (before I rebooted this blog) and I will attend the meeting of the corresponding group in the remaining college, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, at the end of the month.  I intend to post short notes about these and other meetings here on this blog.

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