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University & Education Enterprise Architecture

by Bunny Tharpe       • April 12, 2016

Universities and higher education institutions, just like other complex organizations, must develop an efficient and cost effective method of collecting, building and sharing information to accomplish its strategic goals.

With a coordinated approach to investing in technology, processes and people across the organization they can deliver change and transformation initiatives; improving the student experience, digitizing traditional student and staff services, addressing security concerns, etc. Enterprise Architecture (EA) provides a way to achieve this.

Part of the university’s strategic planning process, enterprise architecture helps build a blueprint of the overall business and technology strategies and objectives. These objectives rely more than ever before on IT to become reality. Enterprise architecture also helps all different departments to make decisions that are more cost effective, avoid duplication of capabilities or expenditure and achieve better returns on investments.

In the past, technology-related decisions have often been siloed with each department having budget and making independent purchases. By engaging and collaborating with IT and enterprise architecture, each department’s planning and investment decision-making can benefit directly from certain risks and solutions already being identified.

It becomes much quicker and easier to align capabilities across different departments and ensure technology-enabled solutions are focused on transforming the teaching and learning experience for both students and staff.

Why Focus on Enterprise Architecture Today?

Universities benefit a lot from having all departments making coordinated technology investments that support their strategic goals and meet the requirements of the wider stakeholder groups.

Enterprise architecture supports this by providing an overarching view of the organization’s technology, business, information and application requirements.

Education institutions who are yet to employ a recognized EA function tend to have the IT organization build and manage a plethora of different diagrams and lists to help manage change, and over time they become more mature in this work until they put in place dedicated EA resources to support planning and decision-making.

Otherwise, University EA teams tend to be formally established in anticipation of an upcoming transformation or change event. Either way, enterprise architecture can be introduced as part of the existing strategic planning approach as a way to improve strategic business outcomes.

There is a wide range of opportunities and/or challenges that can drive an organization to become more mature in its enterprise architecture efforts such as:

  • Managing the increasing trend of business departments, selecting and adopting Software-as-a-Service applications independent of IT (also known as shadow IT).
  • Enabling new digital learning capabilities and personalized learning tools.
  • Better organization, availability and timeliness of data related to students, enrollment, finance, staffing etc.
  • Improved planning and visibility of the impact of budget changes on student services.
  • Ensuring that all departments can support and share data with students and staff where Bring Your Own Device is prevalent.
  • Desire to better integrate multiple different applications and solutions into a single, consistent platform.

Getting Started on University / Education Enterprise Architecture

If you’re starting out from nothing, it’s critical to secure backing from senior-level stakeholders to secure the resources required to get started, but also to help champion EA across the organization – this is often down to the CIO.

You can increase your chances of success by focusing on a small area of the organization at first with enterprise architecture, since its very important to prove the value of EA to the wider organization before tackling enterprise-wide initiatives. Focus on one or two a manageable key areas that will deliver benefit, and then gradually increase the scope of enterprise architecture over time.

There are many identifiable areas where EA can help to increase efficiency and eliminate costs across the university:

  • Identifying and reducing duplicate systems and capabilities, where different departments each have their own systems that provide similar functions. Moving to one single system across all departments can reduce costs and complexity.
  • Ensuring that technology investment decisions are aligned with the requirements of its stakeholders so that it is fully utilized. This helps to avoid wasting time and budget on solutions that are not aligned with strategic objectives.
  • Identifying areas for collaboration and teamwork in designing, acquiring and implementing new systems and technology-enabled capabilities. Often, different departments within the university have similar needs that can be met in a more cost-effective manner when the different stakeholders collaborate through EA.

Outcomes of University and Education Enterprise Architecture

Whether focusing on a small area of the organization or the entire enterprise, the same high-level process applies to achieving strategic outcomes.

Firstly, build a blueprint of the current-state architecture (how the enterprise looks today). Secondly, define the desired future-state architecture (how you want the enterprise to look like tomorrow). Thirdly, identify the gaps between the two and create a roadmap that outlines how you will move forward (gap analysis and roadmapping).

Current State Architecture

Before you can visualize how you want the university to look and perform tomorrow, it is necessary to build a blueprint of how it looks and performs today.

The goal is to capture enough information to form a baseline architecture of the enterprise that can be analyzed and used to guide strategy decisions for moving toward the desired future state. As a general rule, you try to build “just enough” architecture assets and documentation to support the scope of the work and unnecessarily detailed analysis which will become obsolete very quickly.

Future State Architecture

The future state is a description of how the enterprise should/could look and perform in the future. This should explain how the business, application, information and technology domains will look at a high level.

Its entirely possible to produce multiple future state architectures for scenario planning purposes. Again, it is best practice to build “just enough” architecture assets to model the future state enterprise – it is very easy to get carried away capturing every detail.

Gap Analysis

Gap analysis is the process whereby you identify and document the differences between the current and future state architectures. The idea is to build up a picture of all the elements of the enterprise architecture that need to be addressed in order to bring the desired future organization to reality.

For example, gap analysis will highlight where a new application is required to support a critical business capability, and also highlight any application that is critical today but will be redundant in the future.

You can consolidate similar gaps into a single concept by analyzing their relationships and likely solutions, allowing you to solve multiple gaps with one solution.

Building an Architecture Roadmap

Now that you have identified the gaps in your architecture you can begin to build roadmaps that visually communicate how and when to tackle each piece of work on a timeline based view.

EA Business Capability & Goals Roadmap

But how can you decide which projects to tackle first? Analyzing the business value of each project against the estimated cost of delivering it can help you define the scope of work to implement. This is important since it is highly unlikely that you will have the resources to complete all of projects identified.

The roadmap acts as a schedule for the EA team to work to. The architecture team can collaborate around the roadmap using a kanban board to track the progress of completed tasks that can be shared with all stakeholders.

Collaboration with Stakeholders

A critical enabler of enterprise architecture within any university or education institution is collaboration. With only a small team working on EA, the ability to collaborate easily and effectively with each other and also with the wider stakeholder group is incredibly important to the success of any EA initiative.

By sharing architecture assets with senior decision-makers and/or heads of departments, and capturing their feedback and comments directly, the organization can act with much greater agility when planning and responding to change. 

Enterprise Architecture Supporting Tools

Many universities start out using Excel spreadsheets and Word documents but soon realize that they can’t continue without them constantly getting out of sync. Diagramming tools go halfway to solving the problems by providing a repository to store assets, but they don’t allow you to analyze enterprise architecture information, identify the gaps in your architecture or build a roadmap as outlined above.

Modern Software-as-a-Service EA tools like Corso are helping Universities and Education institutions with smaller EA teams to benefit from robust capabilities that were previously only afforded by corporate enterprises, but with the added benefits of collaboration features built-in to web-based applications. By eliminating the upfront costs in favor of a monthly subscription fee the barriers to adoption are much less (cost, risk, return on investment).We’ve heard many times from different universities that they tried the “traditional” EA tools but they are extremely expensive to acquire and implement, and ongoing maintenance, upgrades and administration work is a big barrier to getting started.

Now, what used to be one of IT’s most fortified Ivory Towers is more accessible than ever. Some modern tools have even taken cues from popular, easy to use and familiar User Interfaces (such as Apple’s iOS/OSX, Google/Android and Windows), meaning the discipline   more collaborative. Even non EA professionals can get involved and make good use of the tool, with varying license types to accommodate levels of usage.


Enterprise architecture provides the critical bridge for any university or higher education institution to achieve its strategic objectives, aligning business requirements with IT capabilities and investments.

By collaborating with all departments, EA helps guide decision-making so that investments and changes are not made in isolation, but instead consider all stakeholders’ requirements for additional benefit.

It also provides a blueprint of the university allowing you to see the real impact of change, identify where gaps and opportunities exist, and understand how and where digital solutions can be implemented for the benefit of all stakeholders (students, staff, partners, community etc).

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