Victoria University is embarking on a journey to map its enterprise data-flows from users to sources and has hired a former US Department of Energy enterprise architect to lead the expedition.
The university is seeking a high-level view of its business and functional architecture, data sources and data use. The project aims to ensure the university gets real benefits from the information it produces and holds, as well as maximum efficiency in its production of data.
The university’s new enterprise architect, Todd Forsythe, arrived from the US in October searching for a better lifestyle for his family. At the Department of Energy he worked on contract for a division charged with funding scientific research on behalf of the Federal Government.
“There was a growing realisation of the need for someone to bring IT issues across the university together,” Forsythe says.
He says that in the end the project will boil down to issues of standards and interoperability but the technology architecture is just part of the picture.
“There’s the business and functional architectures as well,” he says. “When you map that you can begin to see redundancies and functions across the organisation.”
For example, he says, there may be separate areas where student marks are being inputted. Also there will be data spread across the university with interfaces created in between these stores.
Forsythe, who reports to the director of IT services Stuart Haselden, says the project will concentrate at first on systems within the control of the core IT group.
His first task is to make sure people understand the concepts of architecture and the implications of this.
“Enterprise architecture is a process. It is a map and a map is something you always use,” he says.
“My job is to be the map-maker.”The process is also very much a people and organisational issue. The architect does not dictate things like standards or structures, but rather has to persuade and prove to users, functional groups and faculties that there is a benefit in doing things differently.
“A school or faculty is not going to do what I say. We have to clearly demonstrate the cost and benefits to them,” he says.
That’s something Forsythe knows about only too well. In a past role he spent some time resisting architecture proposals that did not pass the benefit test.
It isn’t all about technology either.
“Organisations typically look to technical solutions, but in my experience it’s best to work from the business needs — the data and functional needs — and use those as the basis for solving problems rather than casting about in the marketplace for a technology solution,” he says.
“People tend to think of architecture as technology, but architecture is about how the business is built.”
Architecture projects are also about much more than efficiency. They are about getting full value from the organisation’s information, Forsythe says.
“One way is by bringing the information together. If it is scattered on different platforms it is harder to get full value.”
To do that its vital to take a good look at the data and define at a high level the strategic value of that information. Once standards are defined, not just for technology but for data formats, one can begin to consolidate and reap the benefits.