Getting Started with an EA at Your Institution
The Case for Strategic Architecture in Higher Education
Summary: As part of the next phase of digital transformation from the back office to the front office, institutions will need to understand and manage their entire technology architecture much more strategically, while also overseeing consistent and outcomes-driven investment toward improving their students’ digital experience and ecosystem.
Part 3: Getting Started with an Enterprise Architect at Your Institution
In the first part of this series, we looked at the role of Enterprise Architecture in Higher Education and demonstrated the value of the Enterprise Architect in an organization. The second part explored the skills that one should look for in an Enterprise Architect. Now that you understand what an Enterprise Architect does in Higher Education, and the skills required, let’s explore how to get started with an Enterprise Architect at your institution.
Your decision to hire an Enterprise Architect or bring one on as a consultant means that your institution is ready to think of IT as providing business value rather than as an organization that simply keeps the lights on for the institution. The idea that IT provides business value is the Enterprise Architect’s core objective, and where their attention will be focused. As I wrote in my last article, an Enterprise Architect is more than just a technical guru. What’s really needed is someone who can listen to business users and help translate their vision into an architecture for the enterprise that will satisfy the requirements of both business users and IT. If you are only considering the technical qualities that an Enterprise Architect brings to an organization, I encourage you to read the first two articles in this series. They lay out the value an Enterprise Architect brings to an organization, reaching beyond just IT to serve the business as a whole.
An Enterprise Architect needs to gather lots of information during the onboarding process. Common activities to be expected of a newly hired Enterprise Architect include:
- Meeting with key stakeholders throughout the business;
- Meeting with key stakeholders in IT, all the way up to C-level;
- Formulating a view of the current state of the Enterprise Architecture program, and setting up goals for the future;
- Mastering how to navigate the organization, and establishing relationships with key stakeholders;
- Reviewing whatever architectural documents already exist within the organization.
In order to be successful, the Enterprise Architect must be given time to develop an understanding of the organizational landscape. If you’ve taken the (SEA)Results® digital health assessment, its reports can provide valuable insight into how your organization functions, what its strengths are, and where there are opportunities for improvement. Without such an accurate view of the organization, the Enterprise Architect will not be nearly as effective – less likely to become the visionary within the organization. Their vision must extend beyond IT – and reimagining how to improve its architecture – to also encompass business goals and perspectives. Business stakeholders must view the Enterprise Architect as a key ally and resource, so establishing relationships with them early is crucial. Establishing solid relationships early on with business users will enable the Enterprise Architect to be much more effective at getting buy-in from both business and IT.
In addition to navigating the organization and establishing relationships, you’ll want your Enterprise Architect to start compiling a library of architectural documents that everyone can reference. When I’ve embarked on this mission, I’ve found it very useful to create diagrams as I’m learning the organization and technology. This has helped solidify my foundation of knowledge, let me validate it with other stakeholders to get their buy-in, and start to build the architectural library that every successful institution needs.
Another key role that the Enterprise Architect will take on is to define standards aligned to the overall Enterprise Architecture strategy. These standards aren’t meant to constrain the development team’s creativity in developing solutions. The Enterprise Architect shouldn’t wade into details regarding coding standards, but should instead focus on reuse of technologies, improvement of inter-application connectivity, and the automation of manual business processes. Such standards will enable the Enterprise Architect to manage the Enterprise Architecture transparently across the institution and ensure that development projects adhere to the Enterprise Architecture strategy. These standards will take into account the needs of the business users and the best ways to technologically satisfy their requirements.
This brings us to the relationship between the Enterprise Architect and the CIO at an institution. As the CIO becomes increasingly focused on adding business value, the Enterprise Architect will be a key player in helping marry the business needs of the institution with an architecture that is future proof and scalable, and that satisfies the needs of the business. In many ways, the Enterprise Architect role has shifted to focus on both business and IT, just as the role of the CIO is moving in a similar direction. For an Enterprise Architect to be successful, they must have the ear as well as the support of the CIO. Without it, the Enterprise Architect will struggle to gain the confidence of the business users, and will also face a huge challenge establishing standards. At institutions, I’ve seen Enterprise Architects report directly to the CIO or to a VP of Architecture depending on the size of the institution’s architectural practice. Both ways can be successful if the CIO views architecture as a strategic role at the institution. Enterprise Architects can have great plans, but they’re of little use if nobody pays attention to them.
As you have read, the Enterprise Architect fills a unique and highly visible role at an institution. To be effective, the Enterprise Architect must be given a certain amount of autonomy to get started. Each Enterprise Architect will have their own method of establishing relationships with the CIO and business users, and they need to be given the latitude to form those relationships early in their tenure at your institution. By understanding the function and requirements of the Enterprise Architect, you will be setting up your institution to more effectively utilize them. This is a critical role for any digital transformation project that your institution is undertaking.
This is the final in a three-part series:
- Part 1: Digital Transformation and the Role of an Architect
- Part 2: The Skills of an Enterprise Architect
- Part 3: Getting Started with an Enterprise Architect at Your Institution
Stay tuned for additional articles on other topics of interest to Enterprise Architects and others working on digital and organizational change.