Tag Archives: trends

The current environment

The run up to the General Election in 2015 saw very little in the form of legislation and little change in the sector. The year since has been far busier with the publication of the Green Paper Teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice, the introduction of the Counter Terrorism duty on higher and further education institutions (the PREVENT duty), the drafting of the Investigatory Powers Bill and consultations on the information provided to students and the HESA Data Futures programme. The proposals within the Green Paper require refinement – it is not clear what the impact will be on institutions and it is anticipated that there will be further consultation during 2016. Although the Paper only applies to higher education in England, it is probable that a number of the measures proposed will also be introduced in time in the other countries of the UK.

The publication of the Green Paper in November demonstrated that the Westminster Government is looking to shape the English Higher Education sector rather more than it has in the past with emphasis on teaching excellence, better information for students and widening participation. The Green Paper contained little detail and it is not clear how soon detailed proposals will be presented. The BIS Select Committee, whilst welcoming the approach in principle in its recent report, urged caution over the pace of implementation, noting that the second stage of the Teaching Excellence Framework “should only be introduced once Government can demonstrate that the metrics to be used have the confidence of students and universities”. The Green Paper also noted that universities needed to be more accountable for how student fees are spent. This reflects a theme first visited in a Private Members Bill tabled by Heidi Allen, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire so it is perhaps not surprising to see elements of her proposals feature in the Green Paper.

Despite the emphasis on a light touch approach, it is evident that universities and colleges will need to make effective use of data in order to meet the anticipated requirements of the Green Paper. There are a number of other developments that will place similar demands on our institutions. The HESA Data Futures programme is seeking to redesign and transform the collection of student related data. The programme is in its early stages with a recent procurement to appoint an organisation to design and deliver the future business process, technology and application architecture. UCISA will continue to ensure that suppliers of student records systems are engaged with this initiative. Further, the Higher Education Commission’s report From Bricks to Clicks notes that data analytics has the potential to transform the higher education sector, but cautions that UK institutions are currently not making the most of the opportunities in this area.

There continues to be funding pressure on all UK higher education institutions. In Northern Ireland funding has reduced by 28% in real terms since 2010/11 leading to downsizing by the universities in the province. In Wales, a cross-party review of higher education funding and student finance arrangements is due to report in the autumn. Although funding cuts proposed by the Welsh Government have been rescinded, it is likely that there will be some rationalisation within the sector over the coming year. The Scottish Funding Council has also cut the level of funding with some institutions noting that continued cuts put “pressure on institutional viability”. In England, the introduction of competition has resulted in some big winners and losers – those institutions which have seen a fall in student numbers are now having to cut their cloth accordingly. In the Further Education sector, the outcome of the Area Reviews is expected to be mergers between further education colleges.

There may be a lull in the development of policy as elections for new administrations in Scotland and Wales take place in May followed by the referendum on the UK’s EU membership in June. It remains to be seen if changes in the constituency of those Governments are reflected in changes in education policy. It goes without saying that a vote to leave the EU will also have a significant impact on universities and governmental policies. 2016 promises to be an interesting year.

Benefits of a UCISA bursary – six months later

Allister Homes Profile pic - small

 

 

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.

Networking

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?

 

Looking to the future: sustainable IT and HE web presence

simon

Simon Geller
Senior Project Manager
University of Sheffield
Member of UCISA-PCMG

Day Two at Educause

I started the day at 8am – the Yanks get up early! – with a session on Google Apps. Sheffield was an early adopter of Google so I had an in on this but the session got a bit bogged down in questions about account creation and deletion rather than the potential for collaboration.

Sustainable IT
Then I moved on to a discussion session about sustainable IT. This doesn’t get talked about so much these days – I think one of the reasons for this is that the movement into cloud services means that institutions aren’t quite so conscious of their energy footprint. Also, IT shouldn’t beat itself up too much about how green it is – we enable so much green activity in other areas, from maps and journey planners on smartphones that make people feel more comfortable about walking and using public transport rather than driving, pool bike schemes that you register for online, to smart energy management systems and systems that make industrial processes much more efficient. The future is Green IT that you don’t even notice.

A presentation from the University of Edinburgh on helping non-project managers to deliver success
In the afternoon, I thought I’d better support our Edinburgh colleagues and went to their presentation  on how they provide support for non-vocational project managers. Although the AV wasn’t being helpful the level of resource they had brought to the issue was impressive.

Then I continued on my quest to discover where the web would take us in the next 10 years. The key message from What Will Your .Edu Site Look Like in 10 Years?  is that your web presence will be going out and looking for your customers rather than waiting for them to come to you.

Later I found myself in a compliance session I hadn’t really intended to go, but thought I’d take risk and stick with it. The message I took away from that is that there are two types of institutions – those that have been hacked, and those that had been hacked and don’t know about it. Scary!

The final session I attended that day was a trend analysis run by journalists from the Chronicle of Higher Education , and the takeaway from that was that we used to talk about the for-profit sector, now, in the US at least, the whole area is for-profit. Plus two questions to ask suppliers: “What research is (that assertion) based on? and “What’s the upgrade cycle?” – cutting edge tech doesn’t stay there for long.

 

Post-conference reflections from a bursary award winner

Allister-Homes-Profile-pic---small

 

 

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.

Enterprise Architecture Trends and Strategies

Allister-Homes-Profile-pic---small

 

 

Allister Homes
Senior Systems Architect
University of Lincoln

Gartner EA Summit Day 2

I’ll take the same approach as the blog post for day 1, summarising the sessions I attended.

Top 10 strategic technology trends for 2015

top 10

I thought this session brought together some of yesterday’s themes quite nicely – I’m not sure if that’s how it was intended or whether it was a coincidence (or even just my interpretation), but that’s how it came across to me.

First of all the presenter explained the traits that the Vanguard Enterprise Architect – Gartner’s term for the architect of tomorrow – will need to have:

  • Futurist, trend spotter
  • Business visionary
  • Technology analyst
  • Strategist (social connector)
  • Educator, communicator
  • Vendor watcher
  • Leader, collaborator
  • Evangelist, catalyst
  • Salesman

We were told that if you see trends in a spectrum, the enterprise architect should consider adopting trends, and how they can help the organisation, during their growth phase – after the emerging phase (when disruption is uncertain) and before they become mainstream (when the disruption is happening or has happened).

The top strategic trends Gartner identified as being of greatest important to EA over the coming years are:

  • Merging Real World and Virtual World
    • 1 – Computing everywhere (think mobile people instead of mobile devices)
    • 2 – Internet of Things
    • 3 – 3D printing
  • Intelligence everywhere
    • 4 – Advanced, pervasive and invisible analytics
    • 5 – Context-rich systems
    • 6 – Smart machines
  • New IT reality emerges
    • 7 – Cloud/client computing
    • 8 – Software-defined application and infrastructure
    • 9 – Web-scale IT (our IT world will look more like Google)
    • 10 – Risk-based security and self-protection

Business outcome driven application strategy
The focus of this session was bimodal application strategies, particularly the use of mode 2. Most IT departments are generally seen as good at identifying savings and efficiencies that an organisation can make, but not necessarily as good at supporting new revenue opportunities and taking advantage of new opportunities. Organisations need to take advantage of business moments – that is, opportunities that arise suddenly and are transient – and if the IT department is not good at responding to those opportunities with the business then they will become marginalised and bypassed. We heard how business moments are human-centric, transient, ad-hoc and blur the physical and digital boundaries. The difficulty for enterprise architects is that it is hard to plan the target state for these business moments when we have no idea what the state will look like until the transient opportunity arises. Instead, we have to design the architecture to be able to respond to opportunities rapidly as they arise.

In bimodal IT, mode 1 is the more traditional way of doing things, is consistent, has steady governance controls and does things ‘the right way’; mode 2 on the other hand has no simple path, is flexible and adaptive. Mode 3 looks more chaotic but it doesn’t have to be. Mode 1 might use a waterfall methodology (but might use Agile) whereas mode 2 can only succeed with Agile methodologies.

It was suggested that when starting out with a bimodal approach, we should first pick a specific project or projects to experiment with. Use agile approaches, devops, create an innovation lab and use small vendors. Then, as competence with mode 2 and a more unstructured world grows, mode 2 can start to be applied in more situations. There are significant differences in characteristics between mode 1 and mode 2 approaches, including funding arrangements, which are less predictable but can be less risky with mode 2. In an Agile project it will be known much earlier whether a project is likely to fail than would be the case in a waterfall project (called failing fast), and much less of the budget would have been spent, meaning the financial risk can be lower. Organisations will probably always have some mode 1, but a bimodal approach will start to displace it to some extent.

This session was presented by the same person who presented Application Architecture for Digital Business yesterday, and the information about app and service style application architecture from that session was repeated in this one. It was suggested that the likes of Nginx and in-memory computing are used for scale and performance. There was also a comment that, for integration, don’t assume the ESB is centre of universe. It is still good for core systems, but gateways (e.g. with APIs) can be faster and easier for mode 2 applications.

Orchestrating Ideation: Creating Breakthrough Innovation Opportunities
The ‘nuts and bolts to drive innovation’ were presented in this session, which concentrated on thoughts for an innovation pipeline. Innovation in many large businesses used to be driven by a small group, perhaps a dedicated Research and Development team. Businesses need to, and are, changing this approach now, partly because it is increasingly possible for someone with a good idea to simply go out and build it with tools at their disposal (cloud-based services in the case of IT tools) without the involvement of specialist teams in the organisation and without any kind of governance or approval. The change of approach needs to move from the likes of R&D teams to the wisdom and diversity of the crowd, and from managing innovation to orchestrating, engaging and motivating the right set of people and guiding them through an innovation pipeline.

Gartner has come up with a way of categorising problems according to their nature and applying different methods to crowd-source solutions depending on that categorisation.

pic 2

Problems can be categorised as complicated (e.g. putting a man on the moon in 10 years), complex (e.g. climate change) or chaotic (e.g. traffic movement). For each categorisation there are different knowledge scopes, and also different approaches:

  • Analysis for complicated, breaking down the problem into smaller pieces
  • Synthesis for complex, aiming for the best outcome to a problem without a way of necessarily knowing if it is ‘solved’ (see yesterday’s blog post for a session that covered analysis vs synthesis)
  • Selection for chaotic, where the whole problem can’t necessarily be solved but solutions can be selected to solve incremental parts of it.

Stakeholders will also vary according to the problem type. This is all much easier to explain using a series of Gartner’s slides, but I don’t think I can reproduce that much copyright material without falling the wrong side of the rules.

When it comes to the type of crowd used to solve the different categories of problems, complicated problems are best solved with specialist teams, e.g. the DARPA robotics challenge; complex problems are solved best with community co-creation, starting with a goal rather than a problem and then selecting the best option, e.g. the way the city of Porto Alegre involves citizens in setting the use of the discretionary budget; and chaotic problems are best solved using the largest possible target audience and giving the community a broad space to get many different ideas rather than setting a specific goal, and then working through filters of selection, development and final launch, e.g. the Department of Work and Pensions’ staff ideas scheme.

All of this needs to be done by putting rules and recognition/reward around a process. Participants are motivated from having autonomy (being part of the change), mastery (developing skills) and purpose (having meaningful contribution). A pipeline provides creative constraints to encourage creativity, because if there are no boundaries or guidance at all it is harder to think of something to be creative with, and organisations should put in place a way of managing innovation portfolios to make the best of crowd sourced ideas.

Digital Business Architecture Fuels Digital Business
At the very beginning of this session, it was emphasised that if you are not doing business architecture you are not doing EA – you’re doing EITA (Enterprise IT Architecture) instead. It was also emphasised that business architects must be part of the EA team, and even if there are reasons why the reporting lines for personnel are different it is still important for business architects to sit with and work with the rest of the EA team in a virtual team. Gartner estimates that by 2017 60% of Global 1000 organisations will execute at least one revolutionary and unimaginable business transformation effort, and if business architects are not an intrinsic part of the EA team then the rest of the architecture will not be able to respond properly to these transformations.

pic 3

My interpretation of this session was that much of it was about what should already be taking place in the business domain of EA, with elements of how to take it a little further. One interesting point is that organisations, people and things (think Internet of Things) will all be equal peers when it comes to digital business designs in future. I thought other aspects, such as how business architects should work on business strategy and goals, fill the gap between strategy and execution, and so on, were what has been suggested for a long time. Business moments were talked about again (see earlier in the day) and likened to lightning strikes of opportunity. The suggestion was made that to gain an advantage and be able to respond more quickly than competitors, business modelling should not stop at the boundary of the organisation; instead, also model the business domain of partners, competitors and customers.

Finally, the presenter urged IT and EA departments NOT to think of, or refer to, the rest of the organisation as customers, because doing so makes IT and EA subservient to the rest of the organisation. IT is intrinsic to most modern organisations and crucial to their futures, and department staff should be thought of as peers.

Three Roadmaps to Guide and Drive Change in Your Organisation
As the title suggests, this session was about roadmaps. The first point was that not every roadmap suits every stakeholder – it’s no good giving a tube map to someone getting the bus. In some cases a particular roadmap might only be relevant to a few technical staff, and there is nothing wrong with that because those people need that roadmap, but it would be a mistake to give the same one to board members. The definition of a roadmap provided by the presenter is that it is graphical, illustrates milestones and deliverables, and shows transition from current to future over specified time. Time is the primary dimension, but additional influencing factors may be shown, and the level of abstraction must be appropriate to the audience and purpose. That leads to the first piece of critical information when creating a roadmap – who and what is it for? By understanding that, an appropriate roadmap can be developed that is fit for the people and for the purpose for which it is being created.

pic 4

At this point similar emphasis to that of the previous session was made about the importance of not thinking of the IT department as separate to the rest of the organisation. You wouldn’t typically talk of the finance department and its relationship to the business, for example, so don’t do it with the IT department.

It was also suggested that staff from within the organisation are sought out for how they can help with roadmaps – many organisations have a marketing department with staff who spend much of their time making things look as appealing as possible, so ask if they can help do the same with your roadmaps for example.

A topology of roadmaps was presented covering quadrants of operational planning, operational execution, strategic planning and strategic execution. Roadmaps tend to fit towards the strategic rather than tactical axis, but lifecycle roadmaps cover some of each because they cover the full life cycle of a capability or system over time. Evolution roadmaps show a specific target state and what components are introduced or removed to support the required business outcomes. An enterprise roadmap shows current and planned strategic change at a contextual level, again including the time dimension. It tracks high level business outcomes linked to KPIs, and indicates change across the whole enterprise rather than just one programme or area of it.