What Is Enterprise Architecture?

Integration with finance solutions

It happened on a call - a few days after I had started at my new position at Ellucian - when I was introducing myself to Ken and some of my other new colleagues. The conversation was easy-going and then the question I was expecting came from Ken... “So Ian, at some point can you please explain what Enterprise Architecture is?” Ken is not the first and he won’t be the last person - just ask my wife!

I have been involved in Enterprise Architecture within the UK Higher Education (HE) sector for the last decade, and for the last 3 ½ years I was Chair of the Enterprise Community of Practice at the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA). During this time, I have seen architecture functions in universities grow and develop. When I was approached by Ellucian to help establish an Enterprise Architecture function, across the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region, and work with their growing customer base to deliver real benefits through Enterprise Architecture, it was too good an opportunity to miss. With 30 years’ experience in the sector, and a very real passion for what I believe a world-class university system can do to benefit both individuals and society, I am thrilled to lead this journey at Ellucian.

So, going back to the question about what Enterprise Architecture is. A quick trawl of any search engine will quickly return 101 answers to Ken’s question. Some will comment on the need to impose rigour within a business environment while others will delve deeper, defining the role which Enterprise Architecture plays in identifying the IT infrastructure of an organisation. Many will reference frameworks like TOGAF & Zachman and talk about specific modeling languages like Archimate, and of course those all seeing Guardians of the Enterprise Architecture Galaxy - ‘The Open Group’.

How would I describe Enterprise Architecture?

So, let me add my own simplistic explanation of Enterprise Architecture.

The way I always try to explain it is like this... If you want to build a house in the UK, 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. Initially, this identifies the overall need for additional housing. On a national and local level, there will be planning regulations defined that need observing, the location and availability of relevant infrastructure and associated resources will need to be considered, and at some point, a design proposal needs to be created and then you might consider the project/build phase.

From my perspective, the main responsibility of an Enterprise Architect is about performing this planning and pre-build role within an organisation. Hence the Enterprise Architecture function needs to understand the strategic direction of the business; it helps define the key overarching principles of the organisation. Simply put, it’s about “how we do things around here”. Enterprise Architecture also provides an overview of the organisation’s ecosystem (ie. how ‘stuff’ is put together) and this situational awareness then allows for a holistic approach and understanding to, and of, change.

How does the Enterprise Architecture approach make Ellucian different?

With the rapid growth and continuing investment in its solutions and its people, Ellucian is very well positioned as a key strategic partner to HE institutions. One unique differentiator is that Ellucian is the only organisation who is 100% focused on the HE sector, whereas for other companies, higher education may just be one vertical of their business.

In Enterprise Architecture terms, it is much more than just about the ‘application solution’; it is about understanding the symbiotic relationships of business elements, so when working together this effectively maximises the expected returns. This understanding, again, reinforces Ellucian’s goal of not being just a ‘supplier’ but a strong and credible strategic partner who is leading the HE sector.

Ellucian develops long-term relationships and continually understands the pressures and burdens faced by higher education institutions and is therefore able to demonstrate, and articulate, the solutions we provide play an active, ongoing role in delivering strategic objectives for our higher education customers.

My aspirations in my new role

My aspirations are to create a central repository of Enterprise Architecture artifacts which means that when we are engaging with our customers, this process is supported by fully visual and integrated representations of how Ellucian’s solutions are enabled within their organisation. This approach helps to ensure we maximise their potential not simply from an applications view point, but where we interact within the operating model and impact across the enterprise (in terms of models think Minority Report, maybe!).

This will be a challenge, but for me, one of the key areas of focus is to create a common lexicon that we all converse in - from the Boardroom to the server room and out among the supplier base, so watch this space about Capability Models.

So, Ken (and Mrs A), that’s my initial introduction to Enterprise Architecture. I guess now I need to put some meat on the bones around how this will be achieved... more on that in my next blog.

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Meet the authors
Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson
Enterprise Architect, Ellucian

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