Friday, 13 March 2009

Joined-up thinking for the Enterprise

The Enable project is concerned, in part, with facilitating joined-up thinking across Curriculum Design-related projects and initiatives running at the University. As an institution, we're generally very good at aligning initiatives to the aims of the business but such initiatives tend to run on separate tracks. Only peripheral consideration is given to alignment between initiatives or reliance on the IT environment. As a consequence, projects can create information silos and hinder or even derail other projects.

To encourage joined-up thinking we need a picture of where each initiative sits with respect to other ongoing activity. We also need to establish where an initiative fits into the overall Curriculum Design process and what impact it will have on that process. In other words, we need a Curriculum Design Programme. Effectively retro-fitting aspects of programme management to existing Curriculum Design-related initiatives is an important aspect of Enable but it is not the whole story.

As a University, our business is knowledge-based. Our products are information and process-based. We're not a manufacturing organization. Everything we do essentially boils down to passing around and storing information. As such, tight alignment between business processes and supporting information services and IT infrastructure is key to the success of the business.

Often, business processes are considered in isolation from the supporting IT services. In a similar manner, IT projects tend to create solutions to support individual business processes, independent of the wider business context. This tendency is understandable as there is a natural division between the business and IT knowledge areas. Business professionals rarely have the background or opportunity to delve into technical details. Similarly, technical professionals are usually asked for a solution to a particular business problem and rarely get the chance to develop a broad enough view of the business environment to fit their solution to the bigger picture.

To begin the process of joined up thinking across the Enterprise, we are using existing business process maps to start creating a model of the Enterprise Architecture. An Enterprise Architecture model is a model of the entire Enterprise, not just the IT Architecture. It encompasses the business processes, IT applications and underlying technology infrastructure and makes explicit the relationships between them.

The model has tremendous potential for communication of the 'big picture' to all stakeholders. It will describe how the whole business tackles Curriculum Design. It will allow inconsistencies, gaps and duplication to be identified and a future 'ideal world' model to be developed to act as a road map for incremental change. It will be an essential tool in transforming the business, allowing the development of holistic solutions to business problems. Solutions that transform the IT environment along with the business processes rather than transforming business processes in isolation (i.e. rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic).

More about the nuts and bolts of how we're building the model and what the model looks like to follow in a future post.

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