Skip to main content

The Dualities of an Enterprise Architect

It’s just another day of remote work as I hop onto a Zoom call with Dr. David Hutches, the Enterprise Architect (EA) working on the Student Information System (SIS) project. David is fairly new to the team, having joined after the departure of the team’s previous EA. It is not unusual for us to be in multiple meetings together on any given day, but this is the first time we’re having a conversation between just the two of us.


While I always have a fake background on my Zoom, to hide the apparent chaos of my remote workspace, David doesn’t. He sits in an austere looking white room, perhaps an office or a corner in an extra room with a bookcase behind him. I can just make out the color pattern of the Harry Potter series of books on one of the shelves near the top and there’s a LEGO model of the Hogwarts castle sitting on top of that same shelf.

As we start chatting I make a confession: even though I’ve been working on the SIS project for about a year now, I’m still not entirely sure what it is that an EA does. I know he always has great insights to add to our team meetings, as his predecessor did, but I’m not really sure what it is he is tasked with doing. “I think too much,” he says, laughing.

But as we continue in our conversation, it becomes apparent why he thinks so much. He has a lot to think about. When describing his role to me, David speaks in terms of dualities: dissonance and resonance, macro and micro. It’s a reflection of what he’s tasked with doing as an EA. “The Enterprise Architect,” he says, “looks at a large organization with a lot of moving pieces and connects all the dots, in both the technical and the organizational realms.” Technical and organizational, another of the many dualities that permeate his day-to-day.

Dissonance and Resonance

When participating in any one of the many meetings to which he’s been invited, David listens for two opposites: dissonance and resonance. “Where there is dissonance,” he explains, “it is my role to find the middle ground between two equally legitimate, but opposing points of views.” This happens just as often as one might imagine in a university as large and diverse as ours.

He presents the example of two hypothetical individuals: one seeking to ensure privacy and security of student data and another seeking the democratization of that same data to allow for more robust analytics and reporting to be able to better support students. David is not the decision maker in situations like these, but he mediates to help the two sides find an acceptable compromise.

On the other hand, when there is resonance, it’s often his role to help the parties involved see that they are actually in agreement when it may not be clear to them that they are agreeing. Usually this is a result of differing vocabulary. When the Extended Studies Registrar says “section” and the Campus Registrar says “class” they are actually talking about the same thing, but may not realize it at first. It’s David who tries to jump in and say, “Hey, we’re speaking different languages, but we’re talking about the same thing.”

Macro and Micro

When he needs to make decisions, he often has to do so by balancing a holistic view of all of our systems with a targeted understanding of very specific systems, preferred programming languages, or even individual data points- the macro vs. the micro.

When he is thinking about our systems and processes on the macro level, he is considering what he calls our technological ecosystem. “When we talk about our SIS, we’re not just talking about ISIS. We are talking about the perhaps hundreds of other systems built up around ISIS, connected to ISIS or consuming data from ISIS.” As the project team goes through the process of evaluating possible new systems, David always has this in mind.

“No matter how great a new SIS is, it won’t be able to do everything,” he says. With each system the team evaluates, he considers if and how we could connect it to our other systems to make a functioning whole. He must have in mind both the present and the future, the systems we have now and the systems we may have soon. To be able to make these kinds of evaluations and predictions, he must have a deep understanding of our systems, as well as the trends in the higher education software marketplace.

When he considers the micro side of our software ecosystem, he is often thinking on the level of discrete data points. “If we want to move forward as an analytics-based organization,” he says, “we must be able to extract specific information from our enterprise systems and blend and morph that information in sophisticated ways.”

If the data remains proprietary, if it’s stuck inside one system and there’s no way to get it out or if it does not mix well with other data, then we cannot accomplish becoming a truly data-driven organization. This is one of the many reasons why the ESR Program is working to bring users together on shared systems, rather than each department, school, or division having its own system. It’s easier to pull together data when it’s stored together or stored similarly.

Putting Thought into Action

We circle back to the beginning of our conversation, to all the thinking he does, and touch on yet another duality: thoughts and actions. For David, it’s an interesting challenge to transform all of the thinking activities into action that has real impact on the university. Potential energy into kinetic energy, if we were to add one more duality to the list.

The project team has spent a significant amount of time thinking about and attempting to quantify for university leaders the risks of remaining on ISIS. While some of those risks are significant, perhaps the most significant drawback of remaining on an aging system is the increasing difficulty in achieving our long-term strategic goals and supporting our students in their lifelong learning. To become the university we strive to be, we must make a change.

“At some point, we must implement a new SIS,” David says. “Any recommendations we make or systems we implement must assist faculty, researchers, students, and staff in accomplishing their goals. Systems and services should facilitate the work rather than become the work,” he says.

This is what keeps him engaged with his own work. “We have to be intentional in staying connected to the mission of our institution and how we, individually, contribute to that mission. This is always true, but it’s especially true in this era of remote and hybrid work.”

He shares how he views himself in those terms. “I’m here to make a difference by supporting our students and researchers, who do and who are going to have a real and meaningful impact on the world.” And as the Enterprise Architect on the SIS project, he’s here to do his part--his thinking and acting part--in ensuring that the project keeps moving us closer and closer to achieving our mission.

Category: Student & Faculty, News