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As I See It: #9 on Developing a Responsive IT Architecture, 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced last fall at the Educause conference in Orlando and officially released recently to the public [http://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/research/top-10-it-issues]. This entry is my ninth in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of  the issues.

Issue #9: Developing an enterprise IT architecture that can respond to changing conditions and new opportunities.

Buzzwords of this moment as it pertains to any technology platform: agile, nimble, responsive, scalable, integrative, flexible.

In the beginning…
We started with massive machines that have now progressed to more powerful machines at a mere fraction of their original size. We started with all-encompassing data repositories that only communicated ‘inside system’ and are progressing in the general direction of area-specific leaner solutions that communicate and integrate with any system that will listen. We started with all-IT groups poised to vet strategic technology decisions and have progressed to a more ‘all are welcome’ approach – after all, is a solution truly successful is the user’s insight was not pervasive throughout the process?

We’ve gone from big to small, heavy to lean, closed to open. This is precisely what our enterprise IT architecture needs to be excited to support. Today. And did I mention it also needs to be able to address any new need we might have tomorrow? <smile>

Structure Matters
When I worked at Dave and Buster’s in Dallas in the early 2000s, I worked with a database administrator named Rod Russell. Almost 15 years ago, Rod was preaching methodology that is being sold today in tangible solution-form. Blessing or curse, Rod piqued my interest in technology to a degree that sustained – I’m still here. I started as a programmer developing connections between code and database. He taught me how to build a database backend. He allowed me to play around in the dev sandbox and, before I could even dip my toes in the sand, he taught me to have comprehensive thinking sessions on structure. If you can split up the table, do split up the table. If there’s any chance that tiny speck of data will be shared in another query, split it out and give it its own legs.

Flash forward 15 years and here we still sit perched on the edge of ‘Data-Driven Decision -dom’, mostly uncertain on how to use the data we have compiled. The good news is, we HAVE the data IF the housing structure was built with longevity in mind and sleekness in design. But that’s just the data piece. What about the systems of today?

Do you know how I know a system won’t sustain? Nearly the same way I look at database structure. When I see ‘under the hood’ and realize the bones are a mess – too much, too close, co-mingled, not compartmentalized instead sprawling. In many cases you just can’t come back from that. I believe some of the large ERP systems are struggling with exactly that right now. Sure they’re moving towards web-based, but that doesn’t take away the sprawl underneath. The larger network, desktop, telephony, infrastructure, and software solutions are all struggling with this as well. We’ve all accepted there is a shelf-life to any technology. What we’re looking for is technology that will sustain and facilitate change faster, smarter, leaner.

It’s Alive…ALIVE!
At the same time we’re giving the side-eye to our enormous ERP systems, think about the ‘sprawl versus sleek’ mantra while we look at:

  • Conference rooms – do we need expensive large video-conferencing systems today when we have smaller, cheaper options like Skype with no maintenance costs, requiring no personnel support?
  • Classrooms – why Crestron set-ups and buttons/keypads on the wall when a faculty member could more easily enter a classroom with their iPad and seamlessly hook up to an AppleTV and it’s legions of apps?
  • Do we need wired connections at all anymore?
  • Massive storage arrays or virtual/cloud?
  • Analog versus VoIP?

So obviously in most instances, the ninth issue listed above concurrently involves an additional likely significantly more complex step – eliminating clunky legacy architecture and the bloated non-responsive process that serves as its glue.

The issue isn’t so much as identifying the perfect solution, it’s eliminating the old and implementing the new to integrate with absolutely everything. It’s continuously selling change. How can I remain legit when 5 minutes ago I sold you the need for a half a million dollar SAN implementation? Selling change at the pace of technology change while being responsive to a future environment so robust that we can not even imagine today. #thestruggleisreal

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