Benefits of a UCISA bursary – six months later

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Allister Homes
Senior Systems Architect
University of Lincoln




I have attended a number of HE-sector EA events over past few years, and applied for the UCISA bursary hoping that the Gartner EA summit would help me learn more from experts outside the HE sector, and perhaps help me to consider different perspectives. I didn’t see official figures, but I estimated that there were roughly 400-600 attendees. The same summit also takes place in the USA on different dates (with, I would imagine, an even larger number of delegates). As you would expect, there were a lot of sessions running in parallel, so it was impossible to get to everything, and I cherry picked what I thought likely to be the most interesting and useful sessions.

It wasn’t surprising to find that the EA practice of universities is more modest than that a lot of other organisations represented by delegates at the conference. I mentioned in the reflections blog post that there was often an unvoiced assumption that delegates were part of teams with significant numbers of architects and developers, with suggestions such as “when you get back, why not assemble a small team of 5 people to go and investigate X, Y and Z”. It’s good to see how EA is being done outside the sector, but equally important to remember that we need to use it appropriately by learning and adapting from billion-pound organisations, rather than hoping to replicate.

I found the summit helpful to maintain my thinking as an architect on how the architecture we implement now can support the changes that we will need to implement in coming years. Nobody knows exactly what these changes will be, but nonetheless we need to make the best decisions we can now in order to be flexible for whatever change comes along later.

Cloud maturity

Gartner’s views on cloud maturity were interesting and seemed sound. Things such as breaking through vendor fog and hype to get the real information about what offerings are available, the fact that many vendors now offer new services as cloud first, the need to frequently update cloud strategies, and the fact that it’s a case of the “degree of cloudiness” rather than whether to take a cloud approach or not, all ring true.

There was useful insight into changes that Gartner Analysts expect to see over the next few years. Information about strategic trends was also interesting and useful as background information to keep in mind when considering enterprise architectures over the next few years. So too was the session on making sure the architecture is flexible enough to respond to business moments as rapidly as possible; in a setting such as HE, I think getting to that point of the intuition’s architecture being flexible is itself a significant undertaking that will take a long time to achieve, and has to come about gradually, but with deliberate direction, as things are introduced, removed and changed.

Software architecture

In retrospect, I’d categorise several sessions as being about software architecture rather than enterprise architecture; for example, more than one session looked at designers splitting applications into smaller applications and using micro-services for massive web-scale SOA.  Cases in point included Netflix and Facebook, but I think the enterprise architect would be more interested in the services Netflix delivers, how it interacts with other services and how people interact with it, than the detailed software architecture of how Netflix works internally.


Unlike many of the HE events I’ve attended, I didn’t make any useful contacts at the conference with whom I could occasionally keep in touch to share information. I mentioned in the reflections blog that conversations appeared to be mainly limited to people who already worked together, and a bit of people-watching seemed to reveal that others who, like me, tried to strike up conversations with ‘strangers’ didn’t get much of a flow going. This may well be the norm for a large conference with people from diverse organisations, the vast majority of which would be profit making entities less inclined to openly share.

Attending the summit has not fundamentally changed what I (or we at the University) do or how I think, and it’s a conference that would be useful to attend every two or three years rather than annually, but overall it was beneficial and an interesting experience.

Perhaps one of the most thought-provoking things was that Gartner estimates that by 2017 60% of global 1000 organisations will execute at least one revolutionary and currently unimaginable business transformation effort. Of course, there are no universities in that list, but I wonder – what the proportion of universities that will undergo such a transformation by 2017 will be, and what that transformation will be?


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