Why enterprise architecture should be on every university’s radar
Jan 16 | 7 minutes read
Strategic planning is the cornerstone of every successful business. With clearly defined objectives and goals, it gives organisations a sense of direction and a structured guide for day-to-day decision-making and resource planning.
Once strategic plans are set, how should organisations go about implementing them? That’s where enterprise architecture comes in. Enterprise architecture is the process that translates business visions and goals into effective change through internal organisational understanding.
These processes are not typically the biggest priority of higher education institutions. Traditionally, universities have been more concerned with producing world-class research, maintaining their cachet among peers, and commercial pursuits rather than the ‘things’ that deliver them.
All this has changed in the age of technological disruption.
Today, digital transformation has become a major business imperative of most modern learning institutions. To improve the user experience for students and other stakeholders, with the ultimate goals of increasing enrolment, retention, and revenue while maximising student experience, universities are investing in new technologies and pivoting to new ways of teaching and learning, as well as leveraging the power of predictive analytics to streamline processes critical to institutional success.
But digital transformation involves a lot more than creating new processes and buying technology. It’s about aligning these critical components with broader institutional goals and designing an execution plan that ensures every function across the university ecosystem is consistent, connected, conversing, and most importantly, delivering value.
The monoliths that they are make this a challenging task for universities – and a big reason why there remains some trepidation among campus leaders about the best way to go about it. Certainly, building this mammoth of a structure requires strategic planning and a partner with expert knowledge of institutional priorities.
This makes enterprise architecture pivotal in higher education.
To gain a clearer understanding of enterprise architecture and how can it help institutions implement successful digital transformation initiatives, U2B caught up recently with Ian Anderson, Enterprise Architect at Ellucian, the global market leader in software solutions and services for higher education.
What is enterprise architecture?
“The way I always try to explain it is like this… If you want to build a house, you can’t just rock up on any old piece of land and start erecting a structure. There is a whole planning process you need to go through first, understanding the need, the overall impact of change, etc. IT development should be the same” Anderson says.
This planning process, he says, is what enterprise architecture is all about.
“Simply put, it’s about being able to clearly articulate ‘how we do things around here’.”
Although it has its roots in the 1960s, enterprise architecture only gained a foothold in business in the 1980s, when computer systems were becoming more commonplace in the workplace. Enterprises realised that to keep pace with technological growth, they would need a more holistic strategic planning approach to achieving business objectives.
The cross-functional applicability of enterprise architecture made all this possible and is the reason why it remains so popular today. More than just shining a spotlight on how things are done, enterprise architecture also provides an overview of the organisation’s ecosystem, i.e. how ‘stuff’ is put together.
“This situational awareness allows for a holistic approach to, and understanding of, change,” Anderson says.
As it is to business, this visibility is important to higher education institutions.
“Soon, it will be on the radar of every CIO in every university,” he tells U2B. “It will be what delivers all elements of the university strategy.”
What are the benefits of enterprise architecture to higher education?
Having been involved in enterprise architecture within UK higher education for over a decade now, Anderson has a good depth of understanding of why it matters.
He says the business of higher education has today become a business in itself, with the survival of learning institutions highly dependent on their ability to deliver the best and most relevant education experience money can buy.
“Students pay a lot of money to enter university, so institutions want to ensure both the best experiences and life opportunities,” Anderson points out.
But for universities already contending with other pressures such as federal budget cuts and increased competition, the best response cannot simply be to spend big on technology.
Enterprise architecture helps by giving the institution a more tactical approach to digital transformation and enabling it to prioritise projects that will deliver on specific goals and to make informed decisions on shelving those that won’t.
It essentially brings discipline into the institution by standardising and consolidating processes for better efficiency and consistency, also showing how people, processes, data and technology work together across the university ecosystem.
“There’s major savings to be had by being able to deliver this,” Anderson says. “It’s not just administrative efficiencies it’s about being able to deliver these new experiences and new ways of working and supporting the technology that is critical to the new learning environment.”
This approach to digital transformation also enables universities to respond much quicker to evolving consumer demands and industry trends.
“There’s going to be a real need for more data-driven decision making within universities. That means there has to be an alignment across all business capabilities and an understanding of the data flows within the organisation so that the right information is at hand for the university to respond more quickly to market trends; something the sector is still struggling to come to terms with.” Anderson says.
Getting ahead in the Cloud
As it has in the world of business, cloud technologies have completely transformed the university ecosystem, driving efficiencies across all functions from IT to administration and teaching.
They play critical roles in digital transformation projects, not just delivering cost-saving benefits but also giving organisations the luxury of choosing from a wide range of services; flexibility and elasticity for scale; speed of execution; integration capability; and an effective business continuity plan.
As the glue that holds all the institution’s disparate IT threads together, enterprise architecture helps businesses manage a diverse and complex environment. For example, it gives the organisation the ability to see how and where cloud systems fit with, or replace, legacy systems, to help achieve its desired future state.
“At Ellucian, we recognise the value of the cloud – and the value in us being able to help our customers understand what the cloud can do for them going forward,” Anderson says.
Of critical importance, he says, is using the cloud as an enabler for the future.
“At Ellucian we don’t just talk about digital transformation as a one-off ‘Big Bang’ occurrence, but the need to ensure that our customers are designing for change. Universities will continue to deliver many of the same business capabilities, but the key to being able to react to how the market wants them to be delivered.
“So that’s where I think the cloud is going to head for the sector, but I think universities are still frightened of fully committing as it’s a big leap.
“Higher education organisations need to understand there’s little value in just tweaking what they currently do. The value is being able to boost things to the desired ‘To-Be’ state as quickly as possible because that’s where they’re really going to start seeing returns,” Anderson says.
Time to get started
Campus leaders still uncertain about the benefits of enterprise architecture to their institution need only ask themselves the following questions:
“Why would I not want to know how my organisation is ‘constructed’ and integrated? Would I accept that from other organisations? For example, Would I be happy to know my bank doesn’t have an absolute grasp of how all its applications deliver capabilities and processes?”
As large and complex institutions, the same thinking should apply to universities, especially at a time where universities are facing the dichotomy of needing to deliver more while operating in an environment of intense competition and potentially reduced funding.
With the right guidance, getting started on enterprise architecture can be a simple enough process. Anderson explains that it’s first about aligning your institution’s goals and capabilities, and then distilling that down to the processes and applications required to deliver them. “In my experience most universities still don’t have this level of documented understanding,” Anderson notes.
“Very quickly, you will get an idea of your overall business ecosystem,” he says. “Then we talk about your adding additional elements of the operating model such as people, locations, data, technology and governance.
“When you start considering these elements that deliver each business capability, you’re already starting to do enterprise architecture because you’re understanding how each capability is constructed and delivered – and that’s what we do at Ellucian to assist our customers,” he says.
Ellucian is the only organisation of its kind that’s 100 percent focused on the higher education sector, making it well-positioned to be the strategic partner of any institution facing digital transformation challenges.
Having worked with some of the world’s top universities, Ellucian’s experts also understand the pressures and burdens modern institutions face and are able to tailor its solutions to meet their needs, wherever they operate in the world.
To learn more about enterprise architecture at Ellucian, contact a representative today.