Women in IT Architecture Spotlight – Kit Shelton, Hannah Letofsky, and Christen Pentek

Featured in the latest spotlight are Kit Shelton, Hannah Letofsky, and Christen Pentek, IT architects for the State of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS).

The women handle enterprise business, data, and information architecture for the State of Minnesota, focused most deeply on the systems and supports that address Minnesotan’s basic needs.

Collectively, they support using “the BIZBOK, DMBOK, and additional best and promising practices in data and enterprise governance to realize our organization’s strategic vision and leverage our data and information to efficiently achieve equity. We steward the knowledge of our communities and organize to apply knowledge effectively.”

We wanted to learn more about the architects, their paths and what they see in the future. Their interview follows:

Question: How did you get your start in the industry?

Kit: I’ve had a non-linear career path, ranging from assisting research on social disparities and root causes of homelessness and incarceration, scenic painting for Disney on Ice, freelance illustration, coaching rock-climbing, to growing and nurturing a local network of small independent farmers and running the produce department of a tiny small-town food co-op. From 2007-2019 I worked at Whole Foods Market. I led teams and managed business operations, first of departments then whole stores, then coached other leaders to build cultures of trust, constant learning, and empowerment among their teams. As a curious operator who asked tough questions, leadership recognized my potential and mentored me, and I came to work in strategic consulting and business architecture on the global internal consulting team. I left corporate to transition careers, then experienced the need to rely on public assistance as a single parent in a health crisis. Motivated to be a part of making Minnesota’s social safety net better, I saw a posting at DHS for an Enterprise Business architect and jumped at the opportunity to join public service. Here, I apply my experience growing organizational capability & agility at a mission-centered organization to make government work better for the people it serves.

Christen: My first career I was a youthworker. I am interested in research justice, trained deeply in phenomenology, and pursued knowledge about all the ways data are used and/or misused in trying to change our communities. I run – on trails in the woods on Dakota and Anishinaabe lands, at Bdote, with friends, and this year as part of the #legsforlandback team with Renew Earth Running. I listen for what the communities need, and study how to deliver the right information at the right time to the right people for facilitating well-rounded decisions about issues that matter deeply to the communities, our neighbors. I embed praxis and jazz in my work. This is how we leverage data as an asset and do data governance in ways that practice relational accountability.

Hannah – Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Peace Studies, much of my entire career has been focused on project management and improvement.  I’ve led in government for over 20 years, working on projects, training, and continuous improvement. As a project manager, I had creative freedom in identifying opportunities for improvement within my division, and I saw the potential to implement systemic changes on a larger scale. In joining our Enterprise Architecture Team, I am committed to growing the business architecture expertise at the Minnesota Department of Human Services and publishing our artifacts for the department to utilize in their decision making. I now get to inform and participate in the process that sets up the parameters for identifying business modernization, improvement, and service delivery transformation.

Question: What is your current responsibility and what is your typical day like?

We lead the development and practice of Business and Data Architecture enterprise-wide at DHS. We are collectively responsible, by design, for the health and wellbeing of the enterprise organization and the knowledge it is capable of harvesting.

As union members in a right-to-work state, we avoid the burnout hours considered the norm in some settings. We focus on collaboration and work as a team, asking for help and supporting each other in collectively getting the needed work done. We take time to support our kids, take our vacations, and immerse ourselves in the things that make our eyes smile and hearts grow.

We help people get on the same page to define and solve their business problems. Cross-functional coordination is key – much of our days are spent seeking to understand complex topics and asking questions to bring teams and leaders onto the same page with shared knowledge. We summarize what we hear, in common, structured formats, then share it back to see how well we’ve captured what we’ve learned. We grow our organizational transparency and shared vocabulary as we go.

Question: What do you like most about your job?

We’re focused on meeting communities’ needs, and on being an anti-racist and equitable organization. We seek to empower the agency to do what’s right, for everyone. Government should not stop when we’ve only met the needs of 90% or 99%; we work for all, and our solutions should reflect this commitment to inclusion and accessibility.

Sometimes, we get to make people’s hopes and dreams with data come true, by establishing enterprise standards and enabling the alignment of systems with decades of established practices.

We get to help people think differently about their work and how it contributes to the bigger picture of the integrated services, delivered, that our organization is trying to accomplish.

I love the evolution.  Being able to change focus and look at lots of different aspects/approaches to our work allows creativity in prioritizing and managing our focus, as well as thinking differently about how learn.

At the end of the day, even when our work is hard or frustrating, it’s in service of a better world.

Question: What trends in architecture are you looking out for the rest of 2023 and 2024?

New Web Content Accessibility guidelines levels! Our policies are updating from 2.0 to 2.1, which means more users will be able to self-access our services online.

Integrated service delivery model implementation! This has been decades in design and alignment of our data systems, and we are near to launch of next steps towards more holistic services and supports for our participants.

Metadata management and increasing data literacy! Our teams have built out a homegrown enterprise integrated data catalog, to help orient people to the incredible wealth of data and how it can be used.

Data security and management! as staff turnover, data integration without compromise of our current stable segmentation and roles implementation for as-needed access will be a vital part of our work to keep supports for our communities.

Ensuring that we continue to use the personal data people share with us! in ways that support their hopes and dreams, and benefit all Minnesotans.

  • Recognizing Business Architecture and Organizational Design as elements of Enterprise Architecture that are not constrained by the scope of IT Architecture, and leveraging business strategy to direct IT strategy.
  • The use of Adaptive Case Management and dynamic rules-based routing as a best practice to handle the emergent complexity of knowledge work, for situations where processes require human judgement and are too complicated or dynamic for process modeling and improvement to be effective.

Digital transformation

Customer-centric design (leveraging data analytics and customer feedback to integrate into our designs/products

Question: What is one thing we can do to support or increase the women in architecture?

  • People, including women, often follow “non-traditional” (eg, non-IT) pathways into architecture. Recognize and promote talent that comes from business SME roles. Engage and mentor talented systems-thinkers to represent their areas in the development and practice of architecture, and recognize lived experience as well as formal training.
  • Welcome diverse viewpoints and indigenous knowledges for the lands you work on. Relational accountability has a place in architecture that works; embed this in your praxis.
  • Maintain organizational transparency around pay, and pay based on skillset and deliverables. Be attentive to who pulls their weight in producing value.
  • Value emotional intelligence and trust-building. Include anonymously collected qualitative metrics from peers, collaborators, and anyone a person leads in their performance evaluations, such as “I feel like I can speak openly with this person without fearing the consequences” and “I feel respected and supported by this person”.
  • Allow flexibility around work locations and times. Parents, often women, are disproportionately impacted by childcare and caretaking needs that require flexible work situations to accommodate.