John Bishop

Enterprise Architect,
Cancer Research UK
25 April 2016

Can you tell us about yourself and how you got involved with the Corporate IT Forum?

I was working for HMRC as an Enterprise Architect; that’s where I actually came across the Corporate IT Forum. This was particularly interesting to me as it was nice to come across something that wasn’t aligned with vendors.

How does this role differ from your previous roles?

The personal difference about this one for me is I’m not directly managing a team at the moment and so I’m in what feels more like an internal consultancy role; supporting the rest of the business and my colleagues in Technology and Change and Digital. I’m responsible for things such as roadmaps, technology governance and helping develop the overall Technology strategy.

Also a big change with this role is the range of things we do, when you think of a charity, you normally think of just the fundraising side; of course that’s huge, but alongside that we have to use those funds to support the research to beat cancer which means we have to manage the grants we make, we also are a very small scale drug manufacturer, run clinical trials, we’ve got a big retail estate, we are highly involved in education about cancer, etc.

So with such a broad scope, one day I could be talking about setting up a new lab in partnership with a drug company, and how we might supply the IT for that, the next day, we will be talking about retail and point of sale and perhaps then how we refine our online capabilities.

Can you give us an insight into the life of an Enterprise Architect?

Absolutely, it’s certainly an interesting one; although, the role of Enterprise Architect differs between the sorts of organisation you’re in. So if you’re in a large organisation, like when I was working for Capgemini where there are lots of architects, then as an Enterprise Architect, you tend to be involved in a single domain, rather than looking across at everything. It would then often narrow into what you see in the TOGAF crop circle, so people specialise as a Business Architect, Technology Architect or focus on some of the other phases of Enterprise Architecture.

Here, it’s much broader; it’s across the whole, although we have recently recruited a Business Architect to get some focus on that crucial phase and allowing me to address the information systems, data and technology.

I always like to see it, as making sure we have got the technologies to enable our business to do well and making sure that we make wise investments is especially important for a charity. On a day-to-day basis, I’ll be consulted on all sorts of projects, for my opinion on how the strategy should be applied as well as down to maybe some detail on a particular technical issue; it’s quite varied. I spend probably too much time in meetings, but the variety actually helps with that. So I can go to one meeting where someone is talking about technical labs, then into another one where they might be talking about engineering our new digital products and how we make micro services work. It is a very busy job, and there’s a lot times when you have to switch your brain from one mode to another!

We understand that you have TOGAF qualifications - how have these helped you in your career and would you recommend others in similar roles to undertake such qualifications?

I think, to be honest, I ended up doing TOGAF because HMRC expected it, they thought of it as something worthwhile to invest in. Certainly, if you’re looking for Enterprise Architect jobs then it’s expected on your CV; in fact, even for solution architect roles I am seeing people putting TOGAF.

Personally, I think it’s become a bit bloated; it’s very easy to see TOGAF as something you do, whereas it is more of a framework. You have got to pick and choose the bits from it that are actually necessary for you to do the job, and that’s the challenge.

The overall approach is very similar to what I was taught as a developer 30 years ago, which is about understanding your business needs before you go out there and throw technology at them! So, the big advantage is that crop circle proper starts with the Business Architecture, understanding the business and reengineering it before you go and set things in technology. However agile we are, once you set the code, it’s harder and more expensive to change in the future.

As I said, we have got someone, who has just taken up a specific Business Architect role that I was really keen to get in place and she is out engaging with the business and starting to ask the difficult question: such as, why do we do something that way, or why do we think we need technology to support this when we can address the problem through process change.

Why do you think working in Architecture should be considered an attractive career option? What skills and attributes do you need for your type of role?

It depends on the sort of architecture you’re doing, and of course nowadays everyone’s an architect of some sort!  Back when I started, I think we only had three people in the whole of Revenue IT called “architects”. If you’re the sort of person who can step back from the detail, I think that’s really important; if you can see the bigger picture and if you enjoy seeing how things fit into a bigger business context, that’s what you need, particularly in the Enterprise Architecture space.

Alongside that, is the need for an enquiring mind. I think you need to be switched onto IT; you’ve got to know what’s going on in the market, you’ve got to know the direction things are going, so you can actually bring that thinking to your colleagues and to your business. It’s also about, for me, having fun; it’s about having something interesting to do. Being able to work with business people and solving their real-world problems has always engaged me and it’s what I love doing.

What is different when working in an IT function within a charity? More specifically, how does this affect how you approach architecting the business?

As a charity, we are also a business, sometimes we have to prod people to remember that. The great thing about Cancer Research UK is the purpose, we’re here to Beat Cancer; that’s our reason for existence. That’s a really positive thing, so in my mind our profits are not counted monetarily; they’re lives saved or lives improved. If you think about it that way, that’s far different to the other organisations I’ve been in.

There’s a big energy around that and you can buy into it. The downside is that, because we are a charity, we tend to try to be too nice to one another and it can be a little hard to get decisions made quickly sometimes, because everybody has to be brought on board. As long as you recognise that, you can make it happen. The key thing is that it motivates you to work harder and also think how you spend money, and that comes back to the business part. That reflects back into the architecture. There’s no point coming up with the most beautiful architecture in the world if you can’t get a business benefit from it.

What interesting IT projects are Cancer Research embarking on for 2016 - is there anything exciting you'd like to share?

A big thing for us, and is a real priority in Technology and Change, is that we’re moving into an opt-in for supporter communication. As you know, charities have been getting a bit of a pounding about how they engage with people, so by default we won’t contact supporters unless we get explicit permission; you can read about this on our website.  That’s a major change, and is a big thing for our department as we have lots of touchpoints to review and amend.

We’re putting into place a new SaaS HR solution and that’s quite exciting. That’s driving us to come up with a standard for how we approach SaaS in the future. Plus, CRUK is doing a massive reengineering over the next few years of our digital platforms. Like most other organisations, we’ve got a lot of great stuff on the web, and it’s grown in an ad-hoc manner. We’re now taking the opportunity to reengineer it all around ecommerce, payments, fundraising and other products using a completely new approach, making use of a lot of open source capabilities like Drupal, but also introducing thinking like micro services so we can be Agile and target mobile. That’s exciting and interesting for me, as an architect, to be involved in.

Is digital transformation a perfect opportunity to rethink the role of an Enterprise Architect?

I love this question, whenever anyone talks to me about digital, because I can’t remember ever using an analogue computer in my thirty years of work! I don’t like digital as a term; for me it’s always been about make the best use of the ever-evolving technology capabilities we have, particularly around the processing of data and how we present it and give people access to it. The key differentiator today is mobile and the devices people can use, and the fact they can interact any time and from any place.

Does it redefine the role of the Enterprise Architect? If you’ve been doing this job properly, it probably doesn’t. It might mean that you have to, as I talked about before, be more focused on keeping an eye on what’s happening in the wider world. You have to be smarter at it (because it’s moving quicker) and bring that thinking into the business as rapidly as possible. I don’t think it fundamentally redefines the role of an Enterprise Architect. It makes it more relevant; we can help change the business to be more responsive.

How do you see the Architecture landscape changing in the future?

I absolutely refuse to think 5 years ahead. The world has changed so much in the last 5 years and much of it we didn’t see coming. What I do see, from our point of view, is that we will be focusing more on SaaS, particularly around commodity solutions. Someone else is looking after the complexities of it. You just get in there, configure it and start using it.

There’s a lot that flows out of that: getting smarter about integration, being able to connect data up with people, with processes, is really important. Everything is driven by data and the accessibility of data. Mobile devices will get more capable, and we need to have that data there for them to drive those apps and other ways of engaging.

Alongside that, and the key thing underneath, is security; to continue to be focused on getting our security architecture right, building security into our solutions from day one, and understanding the consequences of every piece of data we expose to the outside world, but also loosening the bonds a little bit with what we can get out there because people can do great things with it.

In the case of Cancer Research, we have data that we hold and can make available, that can help with diagnosis (for instance) and we’re continually looking at ways of doing that.

Of course, we have a big privacy issue, because we deal with cancer patients, so we want to keep what they tell us and our communications with them well controlled. There is a big architecture piece around this and it will continue to be. So, okay, the one thing I can forecast for the next five years is that security will remain important to us!

What do you value most about the Forum? Is there anything you've found particularly useful?

The key thing for me is that it is vendor-free. There’s no agenda; it’s just people in IT talking to each other. It’s particularly important because, when I was working in a big consultancy, I could reach out to people who have been there and done it at any time. There was a practice of people I could talk to. When you’re working inside an organisation like Cancer Research, where, for instance, we don’t have a lot of outsourcing, we don’t have a big SI on board to work with, it’s more difficult for me to get some of that input.

What the Forum does, is expand my network, so I can ask questions and get responses. I’ve had some really helpful views put forward, for example, on micro services from a Forum member who made the time to come in and see us. The other thing is that, unlike other organisations you can partner with, it’s open for all of our people working in IT to go to events. We’re about getting value for money. The fact we can get all of our people to go along to events on all sorts of topics without having to look at the budget for that is absolutely fantastic. It allows us to get people who would perhaps never normally have these opportunities, to go out and get involved with people who have the same problems or might have solved some of the problems that we have and share back where we’ve had successes.

Any final thoughts or messages to the membership?

The key thing is: get involved. Do reach out. If you don’t ask then nobody is going to come back to you. I’m also hoping that as our membership matures we’ll be getting out there and getting involved in events from a presentation point of view; we’re really keen to do that. Spend time with people as there are people out there, as we’ve found. I’m a big believer in using and building that network alongside your other networks. Get out there and promote the Forum in your own networks.

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