Enterprise Architecture and language

ian-ellery-head-small

 

 

Ian Ellery
Head of IT Architecture
Canterbury Christ Church University

 

 

 

 

Mark Heseltine was the next speaker I heard; talking about enterprise architecture for innovation and change, linking EA with Lean and Agile concepts. He made a really interesting observation early on in his talk: the very language of enterprise architecture causes problems. EA is based on an architectural metaphor, but because the people who are listening to us have physical, building architecture as their mental starting point there is a danger that they will (unconsciously) conflate the analogy with reality. A point I will certainly consider when talking to those outside IT.

The other interesting aspect of his talk for me was discussion around technical debt. He showed a slide of a four quadrant model for technical debt and used a financial debt metaphor for dealing with it. There is the interest we pay on technical debt – the effort in managing it – which has to be balanced against paying off the debt, in other words removing or replacing technology.

I also spotted a tweet which quoted another speaker in a parallel session: “don’t aspire to be the best airline in the world at recovering lost luggage”. I think this is something many organisations, and departments within those organisations are guilty of. We need to have appropriate goals. Let’s not be the IT department who are brilliant at fixing things when they break, let’s be the IT department who deliver services which don’t break.

The final two sessions I chose to attend were probably the least useful. The first was from the Swedish national electricity grid, and the second from the UK national air traffic control service. Both had huge problems and were undergoing massive change and transition programs. However, the very scale what they were trying to achieve made it difficult for me to see anything applicable to, or transferable to HE. The only comment I did like was from the Swedish speaker who pointed out that a target architecture is a direction of travel not “The Truth”. Something it’s easy to forget when it’s been through endless committees and gained the rubber stamp of SMT approval.

Overall, a very useful and enjoyable two days. This is not a cheap conference, so I am very grateful for UCISA funding my place. Would I recommend other HE architects to attend? Yes I would. Getting out of our own sector is always useful and the commercial challenges of disagreeing business units, limited funding, and pressure to deliver are no different to HE.

UCISA has an Enterprise Architecture community of practice which may be of interest.

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