Skip to main content

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.

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…