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Showing posts from 2018

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…

Explaining my job to my mother

My mother, who turned 95 years old this month, has never used a computer.  She doesn't even have a mobile phone, let alone a smartphone.  She has only the vaguest idea of what the internet is.  So when she asked me what I do at work, I had to simplify things a bit.

I'd be interested to hear other suggestions for how to explain Enterprise Architecture to someone who doesn't know anything about computers.  Arguably, this is good practice, because in our role we have to convey complicated ideas to people who vary considerably in their knowledge of IT.  Some are IT specialists, while others are specialists in their own areas, and we need to explain our work in language that makes sense to them.

I told Mum that my job is to make all the University computers work together. As an example, I explained that one computer stores information about which courses the students have chosen, and another one handles stores the marks the students score in their coursework and exams.  The fir…

Why the UCISA Capability Model is useful

What do Universities do?

This may seem a strange question to ask and the answer may seem obvious.  Universities educate students and undertake research.  And perhaps they work with industrial partners and create spin-off companies of their worn.  And they may work with local communities, and affiliation bodies for certain degress, and they definitely report on their activities to government bodies such as HEFCE.  They provide student services and support.  The longeryou think about it, the more things you can think of that a University does.

In business, the things that an organisation does are called "capabilities", which is a slightly strange term.  I think it is linked to the HR idea of a combination of the CAPacity and ABILITY to do a task.  Whatever the name, it is a useful concept.  A capability is more basic than a process: a University may change the way it educates students but as long as it remains a University it will educate them one way or another.

A capability …

Changing Principles

In EA, architecture principles set a framework for making architectural decisions.  They help to establish a common understanding across different groups of stakeholders, and provide guidance for portfolios and projects.  Michael Durso of the LSE gave a good introduction to the idea in a webinar last week for the UCISA EA community.

Many organisations take the TOGAF architecture principles as a starting point.  These are based on the four architectural domains of TOGAF: business, information/data, applications, technology/infrastructure.  These principles tend to describe what should be done, e.g. re-use applications, buy in software rather than build it, keep data secure.  See for example the principles adopted at Plymouth University and the University of Birmingham.

Recently though, I encountered a different way of looking at principles.  The user experience design community tend to focus more on how we should do things.  E.g. we should start with user needs, use iterative developm…

Purpose and bureaucracy

According to this article in Scientific American, there is a fair bit of psychological research into how we find meaning and happiness in our lives.  The two are often correlated; feeling that our lives have meaning helps to make us happy, although sometimes short-term happiness has to take back seat to longer term personal development.&nbsp

Purpose is one key aspect of meaning.  It is not surprising that people feel greater satisfaction when they feel their lives have purpose, and that much of the literature on business leadership talks about motivating people by giving them a clear sense of purpose.  The classic (and possibly apocryphal) story is that of the NASA cleaner who, when asked what his job was for, replied that he was helping to send a man to walk on the moon.

My academic friends tend to have a clear sense of purpose for much of their work.  They see their students learn.  They see their research grow, one paper at a time.  In the support groups of Universities, that i…

How to spread architectural thinking?

As I noted in October, my rate of blogging has dropped noticeably, from 34 posts in 2016 to a mere 7 last year.  I don't really adopt new year's resolutions but as a goal for this year, I would like to wrote more posts.  I like to keep this blog both as a means for letting colleagues know what we're working on, and as an area of reflection for myself.

The two main obstacles to writing more stem from the same source: the University has a large number of initiatives under way and we are trying to support them with a architecture team of just three people.  So on the one hand, we have a lot of other demands on our time aside from writing for this blog, while on the the other hand the initatives are large and ongoing, which makes them hard to summarise in succinct posts. 

Yet to make our architecture work yield its best effect, we have to write, and talk, and communicate widely.  And, to be fair, we do this: via board reports, presentations, one-to-one meetings, strategy docum…