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Self-Interview: On National Engagement – why it is important

I am Director of Enterprise Architecture and Strategy at University of Washington.  I have been at UW for 5 ½ years or so. UW is the fourth higher education institution that I have worked at.  Before coming to UW, I was at UW-Madison for 12 ½ years.

Below is a self-interview about national engagement and why I think it is important on many levels.

National engagement has been an important part of your work in the past and present.  How did you get started?

When I moved to UW-Madison, I went to work for Keith Hazelton.  He was a very active leader and co-chair in Internet2’s MACE-Dir initiative.  This was when Identity and Access Management (IAM) was in its infancy and MACE-Dir was formed to build common standards and frameworks for IAM in higher education.  I was pulled in to work on IAM and to speak nationally about the concepts, drivers and the roadmap for various IAM initiatives and best practices. I saw that this was a common problem for many campuses and that we could all benefit by sharing knowledge and solutions.

Was there something special about the Community of Higher Education institutions ?  Did you do anything similar when you were in industry?

Higher Education is most different from industry in that we don’t hold every advance and idea tightly, just in case it might give us a competitive advantage.  If I was in industry and we had made a great leap (developed concepts, software, practices and procedures, etc) that let us more efficiently onboard and manage our workforce, that would be a competitive advantage over others.  We would not go teach others how to do it. 

Higher education’s openness and sharing is important to you?

This is a wonderful thing about higher ed; we are willing to help others.  A small college failing in our town or city isn’t seen as a competitive win (at least to me).  It is seen as a loss of opportunity for students and faculty. Therefore, I’m happy to help the small college so the higher education landscape stays rich and vibrant.

How does helping others help you or your team?

I encourage my team to engage and share nationally.  I think it builds richer leaders in a variety of ways.  

Sharing your thoughts and ideas makes you crystalize them.  You have to take something you have been thinking about and formalize it into a rational discussion that you can share with others.  This is the first benefit of sharing and presenting nationally. They say you never really understand something until you have to teach it.

The second benefit is that we get great feedback and ideas.  For example, we were sharing our EA Practice 2.0 work. Someone, Louis King of Yale I think, said, “have you thought about using the EA Maturity Model (EAMM) Framework to form this work?”  That was a great insight. I went back and went to my whiteboard. I put up the EAMM categories and then made stickies for the EA Practice 2.0 work I wanted to get done. It really helped to clarify my thinking.  Similarly, Chris Eagle from University of Michigan shared his framework for understanding societal transformations at a national meeting. That really helped me think about Digital Transformation. This has happened over and over – cooperating to formulate solutions for higher education as a whole has benefits for each architecture group’s particular case.  

The third thing is that it builds leadership skills.  Architects need to be able to facilitate group discussions, present and tell stories, structure their thoughts in lessons, and lead from the front of the room.  You really learn these skills when you do them at a national level – in a room with 30 to 300 strangers at a conference.  

So, it helps build your team by building on your ideas, making you crystalize and explain your thoughts and build your leadership skills.

How about your institution?  How does it help UW and UW-Madison before that?

First off, it is good to have your institution recognized as a thought leader in a variety of areas.  If we need to hire architects, I hope that the fact that UW is known for its architecture practice and presence would help us attract the best and brightest.

Second, we get feedback and ideas we bring back from the national stage that we apply back at home.  We brought back MESA Diagrams from U-Michigan, the Lean Bench concept from UCSD, among many other things.  Putting your ideas out there is a great way to crowd-source improvements on your idea or new ideas.

Finally, I see it as critical staff development investment.  My team is really strong because they have worked and presented and engaged nationally.  They have a breadth of experience that helps them in every project they do back on campus.

A key part of your national engagement was the founding and running of Itana.  How and why did you found Itana?

I was really lucky when I founded Itana.  I was friends with Ann West – who was a liaison between Internet2 and EDUCAUSE at the time.  I had been working with Internet2 quite a lot so I had supporters inside of I2 who saw the need to grow the pool of practicing architects.  There was a small group of “usual suspects” who worked on all of the various MACE-Dir efforts. Ken Klingenstein noted that many of them were “gray beards” and that we needed to “grow the seed corn” for future architects.  

I was also active in Common Solutions Group – a group of 30ish research universities who get together three times a year to talk about challenges.  So I had connections there.

I saw the challenges that higher education faced, challenging IAM situations especially around access for research, rapidly changing technical environments, etc. and I thought, “the future of higher education needs to be architected.  We need architects who understand higher education.”

This confluence of events led me to push to start Itana.  Ann acted as a liaison and helped arrange support from Internet2 and EDUCAUSE.  EDUCAUSE has an existing structure – Constituent Groups – that Itana could fit into really well.  Catherine Yang at EDUCAUSE helped make that a reality. I2 provided a phone bridge, flywheel and wiki space.

Why the name Itana?  Does it stand for something?

It did.  In the beginning it was ITANA.  ITANA stood for IT Architects iN Academia.  ITANA.  But we later expanded the focus to include business and enterprise architects.  So now, it is a name, Itana. Our tag-line is “a professional group for Enterprise, Business and Technical Architects in Higher Education.”  We changed ITANA to Itana when it became a name not an acronym. Renaming it seemed too much of a pain – the domain name, etc. Plus, we have a lot of name recognition.

Would you do it again?  How would you do it differently?

I don’t know how I would do it differently.  So many things came together to make it possible to start Itana.  Keith was supportive because he was active nationally. Scott Fullerton (an architect at UW-Madison) joined as founding member.  Piet Niederhausen was at Georgetown and he joined early on. This core group came together to host bi-weekly calls. We eventually decided we needed a steering committee.  Piet drafted bi-laws. It was the confluence of so many forces and people that I don’t know if I could do it differently.

I would definitely do it again.  I think the value of having a community is amazing. Itana has grown to where we have working groups under Itana that are as large and functional as the whole of Itana was in the early days.  That is amazing. We have 740 subscribers, and we hosted 85 events last year. These numbers still stun me – I can’t believe how Itana has grown.

I was really lucky to have support in so many places and that the time seemed right.

Itana isn’t the only place you present or engage nationally, where else and why?

No.  Itana isn’t the only place.  I present frequently at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, which brings together the large community of IT leaders in higher education.  EDUCAUSE draws institutions of all types, so it is a great event to reach out other institutions that I normally don’t engage with like community colleges and small colleges who focus on first generation, at-risk students.  It is interesting to hear their challenges and how they are dealing with them.

I already mentioned Common Solutions Group.  That is a very close-knit community and many of the members are friends to me.  There are very bright people who bring great ideas to the table.

I have also presented at AACRAO and NACUBO – I like working with these other communities that are our business partners.  I enjoy seeing their hot topics and learning about how they see the challenges and opportunities of higher education.

Finally, What do you wish people knew about engaging and presenting nationally?

That it doesn’t have to be perfect and done.  Go out on a limb. Throw your ideas out while they are early.  Get feedback from your peers. Get practice on the stage. You will gain so much if you just engage and put your ideas out there.