The Case for Strategic Architecture in Higher Education
Summary: As part of the next phase of digital transformation, institutions and Information Technology (IT) departments will need to understand their entire architecture and be responsible for overseeing a consistent investment toward improving their digital experience and ecosystem.
Part 1: Digital Transformation and the role of an architect
When discussing digital transformation, I find that deliberations quickly move to digital technologies and how new products and technologies can improve efficiencies in an organization. However, “(w)hen companies go all in on digitization the number of point-to-point connections among systems rises almost 50 percent, the quality of business-process documentation deteriorates, and services get reused less often”, according to McKinsey & Company. This can occur for many different reasons. For example, at many institutions, IT is not seen as a strategic partner. Software purchases often occur without IT’s knowledge, leaving the technology teams scrambling to meet deadlines, provide training, and, most importantly, integrate the purchased software product with the rest of the campus technology ecosystem, which becomes increasingly complex over time. This type of scrambled integration often leads to doing things as fast as possible, which involves creating quick fixes, i.e. point-to-point integrations. Relying the on quick fixes when in a perpetual fire-drill mode is the standard operating procedure at most institutions, including IT departments who are viewed as a strategic partner. Institutional and IT leaders need help because this process increases technical debt significantly, at a time when the digital experience plays an increasing role in student decisions.
As an institution invests in its digital infrastructure, integrating best-of-breed solutions, and incorporating user-centered design to provide a unified student experience, all of these solutions need to integrate to provide a unified student experience. Reliance on point-to-point integrations will almost certainly create a fragile, piecemeal architecture that will be very expensive to maintain. It will require a lot of “band-aid” fixes simply to keep the lights on, rather than creating a foundation built to last into the future.
An Enterprise Architect is someone proficient in technology, but that is only one small aspect of the role. The Enterprise Architect plays a leadership role that not only influences business strategy but also provides leadership across the organization, ensuring that the investment of time and resources into the institution’s digital experience yields an architecture that is maintainable, scalable, and future proof. Additionally, the Enterprise Architect must ensure that technology decisions align with business objectives, delivering what the institution needs to enhance its student experience. This individual will also establish standards and best practices to maintain the integrity of the Enterprise architecture, ensuring that it will continue to be successful, today and for many years to come.
Without an Enterprise Architect driving these best practices, it’s not surprising that McKinsey & Company saw the number of point-to-point connections rising by almost 50%. This often results from investments in best of breed solutions from different vendors, rather than limiting the number of vendors you rely upon to service your institution’s needs. In order to provide a unified student experience, an institution’s systems will need to be well integrated. An enterprise architecture built haphazardly, with no plans, will likely result in a plethora of point-to-point integrations that end up being fragile and expensive to maintain, and make future upgrades to integrated systems a challenge. This spider web of point-to-point integrations – imagine a diagram taking all of your campus systems interconnected by lines representing all of the individual system integrations – means that you no longer just upgrade a system in isolation, but rather you also need to upgrade all of the integrations connected to that system.
If you have a capable Enterprise Architect on staff in a leadership role, you can rely on them to drive a system architecture that moves away from point-to-point integration – leveraging technologies like an Enterprise Service Bus (ESBs) that inherently support creating reusable integrations, rather than unique point-to-point interconnections. This helps bring down not only the cost of building new integrations, but also the cost of maintaining them. Additionally, ESBs will help drive standards that emphasize service reuse and ensure that your institution has a maintainable, scalable, future proof architecture moving forward.
This is the first in a three-part series. Please return to read the next part, which will dive deeper into the value of an Enterprise Architect and cover the specific skill sets you should seek when you add one to your team.
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