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Post-conference reflections from a bursary award winner

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Allister Homes
Senior Systems Architect
University of Lincoln

Gartner EA Summit – a week on

It’s been a week since I got back from the Gartner EA Summit in London, so I thought I would provide some reflections on the event. These are purely my opinions, and other people may well have a different take. If you’d like to see more of the detail of the event, have a look at my previous two posts (day 1 and day 2).

I think the focus was on larger organisations, and there was often an unvoiced assumption that there were significant numbers of architects and developers within the organisation (compared with what a typical university would have). It wasn’t unusual for suggestions to be made along the lines of ‘when you get back, why not assemble a small team of 5 people to go and investigate X, Y and Z’; having the capacity to do that sort of thing at short-notice sounds like quite a luxury.

Like many large conferences the non-keynote sessions were categorised into tracks, and at this summit they were A: Delivering Business Outcomes, B: Leveraging and Leading Practices in EA and C: Architecting the Digital Business. Rather than stick to a particular track I moved between them, going to the sessions that sounded most relevant to my work, organisation and sector. Sessions that were in the same stream contained common threads, as you would expect, and – in a couple of cases – some repetition.

I think directly applying what I learnt to day-to-day EA in HE will be more challenging than I initially thought it would be. This is because many of the sessions I attended were future-based (what changes to consider in the coming years) and either very strategic or focussed on large-scale IT development approaches (such as changing paradigms to one of micro-services and web-scale IT). It’s not an event that I would suggest attending every year, but would perhaps provide a useful background of EA direction every two or three years.

Being candid, the networking was not as useful as I had hoped. Conversations seemed to be mostly between people who already knew each other, which of course is only natural for any of us. I tried starting conversations with a number of attendees during breaks, but found that although everyone would give succinct answers to opening questions along the lines of where they were from, what they thought of the previous session, and so on, I couldn’t get a conversation going. I thought perhaps it was just me for a while, but then noticed the same thing happening to other people making such attempts too (which was something of a relief!).

As I mentioned, I selected the sessions that sounded most relevant rather than what sounded most intriguing or interesting from a personal rather than professional point of view – e.g. I went to ‘Business-Outcome-Driven Application Strategy’ rather than ‘Smart Machine Disruptions Will Dominate This Decade’, which ran at the same time. In hindsight the more extravagant sounding sessions may have contained relevant information too and perhaps provided some alternative ways of thinking about things.

The above may sound a little negative but that’s not my intention. It was an interesting and useful conference to attend, and I’m just trying to provide an honest and balanced opinion. I think the main topics and take-away points, based on the sessions I attended, in no particular order, were:

  • The Internet of Things (IoT) will become more important and will need more consideration, including by considering Things in the business domain, not just information systems or infrastructure domains. Also, computing everywhere is becoming the norm, but try to think people first rather than mobile devices.
  • Organisations need to operate in the digital world and interact digitally. Expect significant changes over the next 5-10 years, not just small increments – things you cannot yet imagine.
  • Large-scale application architecture is shifting towards an app and service approach, and a more extreme approach to Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). For new-style web-scale IT (but not enterprise scale core systems so far) there is a shift away from large systems and databases, including moving away from 3NF.
  • Software defined applications and infrastructure should be expected for networks, security, and other core elements to replace less flexible and less responsive infrastructure.
  • Business architecture is a critical element of EA (but we all know this already, don’t we?)
  • Attention needs to be paid to enabling technology to respond to business moments. It is often impossible to predict these business moments, so the approach must be to architect for agility instead.
  • Use the wisdom of the crowd: consider taking advantage of opportunities to crowd source solutions to problems, whether in the business or information systems domains.
  • Make good use of models, roadmaps, stories and personas to engage people, explore with them and explain to them. Use the right tools and techniques for the people in question.
  • Cloud offerings are becoming more complex, so architects need to understand what vendors are really offering, not just the fog and hype. Reasons for moving to cloud are not just cost (and in fact there is often no cost saving) – instead the drivers tend to be technology agility, business agility, offloading responsibilities, and advantages of security and scale. Most organisations are likely to use a hybrid of cloud services.

 

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