Over the last 5-10 years enterprise architecture (EA) has gained momentum in the Higher Education (or Further Education) sector, with many University and College institutions establishing an EA practice to help get on top of constantly changing and complex IT strategy and business strategy requirements.
Universities are in an especially unique situation of being both a research business and education business, with a degree of overlap between the two (researchers are also often the educators). And the added dichotomy of Universities both competing and at the same time collaborating with each other.
There are many complexities to doing EA in Higher Education, with tightening budgets, pressure to rationalize IT and related support and services. At the same time they must provide flexibility to cope with changing requirements, deliver innovative services to students and academics, and prepare for whatever is next on the horizon.
This is where agile enterprise architecture helps. But first, let’s briefly look at the current state of EA in Higher Education.
There are varying levels of EA maturity in the University/College ecosystem. Less mature organizations will often utilize Visio, Powerpoint or UML modelling tools to complete architecture-related tasks. However, there are major challenges with these tools around consistency of multiple diagrams, the effective communication and collaboration of architecture assets with stakeholders, and the timeliness of assets for use in decision making.
At the opposite end, the more mature institutions have purchased specialist tools and established an EA practice, and are using a common EA language such as ArchiMate® to build, manage and communicate assets in a consistent manner.
So what’s next for Higher Education institutions?
Every year EDUCAUSE, the non-profit organization whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of IT, publish a list of Top 10 IT Issues. One major theme from the 2015 list is the shift in Higher Education IT’s focus from technical problems to business problems, along with the growing interdependence between the IT organization and business units.
How Higher Education institutions respond to this acceleration of changing IT and business requirements is a top issue for Enterprise Architecture. To simply keep pace with the rate of change in 2015 and beyond, organizations must develop the capability to act with agility, to learn, respond and take action in shorter amounts of time.
What’s required is a new approach to enterprise architecture that’s focused on producing just the right amount of architecture assets for senior stakeholders and decision makers – communicating architecture quickly and only when it is valuable to do so for more agile IT and business decision making.
In the past, architects have often been guilty of producing detailed EA documentation but much of it providing little value to senior decision makers. Universities need to move away from this and adopt an agile enterprise architecture approach.