Author Archives: jimphelps

About jimphelps

Chair, ITANA Enterprise Architect, Sr. IT Architect; UW-Madison

E!Live Webinar on Digital Transformation

I was on a panel with Jennifer Sparrow (Penn State), David Weil (Ithaca College) and the EDUCAUSE staff to discuss the Digital Transformation (Dx as they call it). You can see the slides, read the transcript and (EDUCAUSE members) can watch the webinar at the EDUCAUSE E!Live site:

EDUCAUSE Live! Webinar Digital Transformation in Higher Ed: What Is It, and Why Should You Care?

Future of Higher Education – Our Response to Disruption – Presentation at EDUCAUSE Annual 2018

I presented at EDUCAUSE Annual 2018 on the Future of Higher Education in the US. The presentation talks about four big drivers: Shifting Skills, the Digital Transformation, Income and Employment Challenges in the American family and the Higher Education Financial Crisis. For each of these drivers, I suggest a set of responses. I then paint a picture of a future Higher Education institution that has responded well to these drivers. You can download the Playbook and the Presentation from the EDUCAUSE Site.

Future of Higher Education – Our Response to Disruption – EDUCAUSE Annual 2018

The presentation and playbook are downloadable as PDFs below:

Scenario Planning and Job Pathways – Two tools to help you plan your career.

I recently published an article in EDUCAUSE Review on using scenario planning and job pathways to help individuals think about their career plans.  I suggest starting with scenario planning, with a focus on changing skills and how the workforce needs to adapt, to get a sense of possible future skills and careers.  This acts as an input into Job Pathway planning where you look at career steps you could take and the skills needed to take each step.  Here is a link to the article if you would like to read it in full:

Scenarios, Pathways, and the Future-Ready Workforce

 

Architecture and finding the path

Ron Kraemer, our VP of Information Technology and CIO, spoke at the IT Leaders Program this week. He built on his blog post, Interdependence – Both Positive and Negative. To paraphrase:

The growing interdependence of our systems is driving the complexity of our systems towards the edge of chaotic systems. The choices that we make are no longer focused on finding the perfect solution. Instead, we can see many possible solutions, many of which are good solutions. The choice is then to pick the solution which builds positive interdependency and limits negative interdependency.

Interdependency and Complexity

Fig. 1: Growing interdependency has put us at the edge of complex and chaotic systems.

In his talk at ITLP, Ron also pressed on the ever-growing rate of change. These two factors limit our ability to design and implement perfect solutions to problems. To paraphrase again:

If you take two years to design a great solution, the landscape will have changed so much that the solution may not be applicable. The level of complexity makes finding and defining the perfect solution even more difficult. The level of interdependence means that even more good solutions are available – when many systems are connected, many systems could be used to provide the solution.

Impossible Route to a Perfect Solution

Fig. 2: Impossible Route to a Perfect Solution

I agree with what Ron has come to believe. The level of integration between systems is very high. The expectation for real-time interactions has become the norm. Users expect to see real-time flight information. They expect real-time updates on openings in courses. Students can see, in real-time, the bus schedule, where they are located and the location of nearest bus stop and the location of the buses on their routes.

This interdependence has driven complexity to the point where perfect solutions are hard if not impossibly to design and deploy. Therefore, we must choose from many good solutions that exist. We need to act quickly to implement some solution to meet the rapid rate of change.

Many good solutions

Fig. 3: Many good solutions

This is where Enterprise Architecture and the other architecture practices can help. If we look out to the future and think about the desired state, then we can begin to sift out those good solutions which move us towards that future state. For us, we had stated that Service Oriented Architecture was a strategic direction. That bounded the future state some. In the student area, we had a future state process diagram. This diagram outlined improvements to the way that students manage course data and move through finding courses to enrollment. This put another boundary on the future state. When it came to think about how we get course roster type information out to a new learning management system (Moodle), we were able to use that projected future state to pick from the possible solutions (flat file transfer, shared database connections, web services) those which moved us closer to future state.

Architecture filtering the good choices

Fig. 4: EA can help filter the good choices that move you towards the desired future state.

The rate of change and interdependency drives the importance of an architectural approach. If you have not thought about the future state, then there is a multitude of choices. To pick from many choices, you have to establish some factors that affect your selection. In a restaurant, this might be dietary restrictions, cost, the weather outside. In technology, it is often quickest and cheapest. But those factors, in this complex environment are often shortsighted and misguided. The quickest and cheapest solution might need to be replicated many times for many systems. This would increase the interdependency in a negative way and push you even closer to a chaotic system. A more expensive, slower solution might serve you well over the long haul.

Architecture can help you make those choices in a framework that is focused on the future and on the overall complexity that you are creating. Enterprise Architecture (and the other architecture practices) can help sort those good solutions and help make sure the choice you make is along the path to desired future state.

What’s the rush America

My long lost then found friend, Jenn Taylor, just moved back to the United States. She asked the question, “what’s the rush? I am just curious beyond words as to what brought this culture to this rapid speed and the underlying sense that we are always in a hurry. Such a rush. Always a rush.” Here is my long(er) answer to her question. I think the American rush is due to four different phenomena acting together.

First: Many Americans seem to have lost the ability to focus on one task at a time. Multi-tasking is the way to do everything. If you are watching a movie, you should also be texting or talking on the phone (at home or in theaters). If you are driving, you should be eating or talking on the phone. What ever you are doing, you should be doing something else.

Second: Many Americans view driving as not an act in and of itself. It is something stuck between two meaningful things. Get ready for work. Be at work. Driving just needs to be gotten out of the way. It shouldn’t occupy time. The act of driving to work isn’t something to appreciated as part of your day. It is like swallowing medicine. It should be done as quickly as possible and not thought about.

Third: Many Americans lack critical thinking skills. I was riding with Joe down to Paoli. We were coming up to a stop sign. At the stop sign there was a line of cars stopped waiting to turn onto a busy road. Joe and I slowed and moved side by side to chat as we coasted up to the stopped cars. An old man in a Toyota RAV 4 blared his horn at us, punched the gas and blew around us at the left, then swerved hard to get in the lane and slammed on his brakes to stop behind the stopped cars at the stop sign. What did he gain? Absolutely nothing. Joe and I coasted up behind him and just laughed at him.

Where is the critical thinking in these moments? What do I gain by my actions? What is the overall effect? Is it really worth it? Many drivers change lanes constantly even though studies have shown that you gain nothing.

I was in the grocery store and there was a woman pushing her daughter in one of the carts that have the fake car on front. The daughter was mimicking Mom, pounding on the horn in the cart and saying, “We don’t have time to stop. I’m in a hurry. Not today.” What did the Mom gain by always rushing her daughter away from things? What was she teaching her daughter? What would the real outcome be if she did slow and stop for her daughter some times?

I’m sure these questions never crossed her mind.

Finally: Americans seem to have lost the sense of civility and the idea of the public. Our Alderperson argued against light-rail on the fact that it wouldn’t stop in front of her house. (You may be for or against, that’s not the point). The idea that there are things to do for the good of the whole rather than personal gain seems to be gone from many Americans ideology. “If it doesn’t help me, I’m not paying for it” seems to be the new American mantra.

I think all these things come together into a storm of rushing, self-absorbed, multitasking Americans racing from spot to stop without stopping to think about what they are doing or why.

SOA – Maturity is Key Presentation, EDUCAUSE Enteprise 2009

My presentation on SOA in the Enterprise – Maturity is Key has been posted in a couple of places.

First, on the EDUCAUSE site is the talk listing:

EDUCAUSE – Enterprise 2009 Site

Slides can be found at Slideshare.net:

John Peterson – Rememberances

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I learned that John Peterson, our Director of Systems Engineering and Operations, passed away yesterday evening.  I will miss John.  I can still see the sideways, quizzical glance and smile he gave me yesterday afternoon as the vending machine spit out 4 dollars in quarters.  I can still hear his voice as he said to someone else down the hall, “he just hit the jackpot”.

My first memory of John was from my first Management Team Meeting seven years ago.  There was general talk about planning and John popped off, “The mainframe will be going away July 1st.”  Everyone laughed and looked at Jack Duwe, our Deputy CIO and CFO.  I later learned that the mainframe was going away every year since John came to DoIT.  During the seven years we worked together, John replaced the mainframe with a new improved mainframe three times.

John had a great, level-heaed, realistic management style.  He told a story about his days when he was a Flight Deck Commander on an aircraft carrier.  They had a broken catch wire.  The ship’s captain was yelling at John on the flight deck telling him to get the wire fixed.  His guys were doing their job and fixing the wire.  The captain kept yelling to hurry up.  John looked up to the control tower where he could see the captain looking at him, took the battery out of his headset and flicked it over the side of the ship.  He tapped the headset and shrugged.  “Yelling won’t make a problem go away and it rarely makes it any better” he said about the incident.

John was a great story teller and he had a rich life of stories to tell.  I enjoyed when he would recount his days flying fighter jets or as a commander.  He told me once about racing to get to a dentist appointment.  He had a broken tooth and he didn’t want to miss the appointment.  It had taken him weeks to get in and it would be weeks before he could get another appointment.  For you or me, that means driving across town.  For John, that meant jumping in a fighter jet and flying to another city.  He got to the airport and was waiting to take off.  The air traffic controller told him that the approach lanes were all stacked up with flights.  There was no way to get him out of the airport and to his cruising altitude and cruising lane.  John asked, “what if I get to my altitude within the airspace of the airport itself.”  He really didn’t want to miss the appointment.  The controller said, “that would be fine but there was no way to do that.”  John said, “don’t worry, I’ll do it.”  He took off and hit the afterburners and headed straight up to 30,000.  He laughed because he could hear the controller over the radio saying, “Holy crap… Jesus…  look at that…”  “I really didn’t want to miss that appointment,” he said laughing and shaking his head.

I enjoyed running into John when he would take his flotilla of misfit dogs out to run.  He would pull into the parking lot in his SUV and dogs would pile out.  One old deaf cocker would just keep wandering off until John had to run after him.  One lab took off and John looked for hours trying to figure out where the dog had gone.  But John always stayed level headed in the mix of all this.

What did I learn from working with John?  I learned that you stay calm in the midst of adversity.  I learned to listen to the story and laugh with joke but also listen for the wisdom that the story holds.  I learned that there is the path forward that is obvious to you but that you must have patience while it becomes apparent to others.  Mostly, I learned that John was a great man to be around.

Rest In Peace John.  You will be greatly missed and well remembered.