IT Architect… Profession of the Future

Why are more and more enterprises appointing an IT architect?

Brown: Designing and implementing new applications has become quite complex. So enterprises need people to take an urban planner-type view of the organization; looking at the business requirements, looking at the IT architecture, the business architecture and everything else within the concept of the overall enterprise architecture.

Nowadays more and more enterprises are not only appointing IT architects but they are actually setting up groups of multiple people to form an architecture practice within the organization. So you might get a systems architect, an applications architect, a data architect, a technology architect and so on.

What is The Open Group’s definition of an IT Architect?

Brown: To qualify for certification as a Master Certified IT Architect candidates must be practicing Enterprise / IT Architects and have at least three years recent experience of developing IT architectures. They must demonstrate having core foundation skills, that include people skills, project management skills and architecture skills, and meet requirements related to experience, professional development, and contribution to IT Architecture community.

Bird: It is a Master’s style program, that is skills and experience based … it goes beyond the existence of knowledge and passing exams. It’s knowledge, skills and experience. So you don’t get through by sitting a multiple choice exam.

Are companies falling in behind that definition because it was said that the role of IT architect was different company to company?

Bird: One of the interesting things about this program was that there was a large amount of consensus when everybody sat around the table and discussed what was in their (own corporate) programs. There were a few differences but for a large part there was a large measure of agreement around the required skills experience to be an IT architect. We are a standards organization so we took that same approach (with defining an IT architect). We bring people together and achieve consensus and of course that involves some horse trading.

Why was certification from a third party such as The Open Group thought necessary?

Brown: There are lots of motivations. Customers, when they are hiring in consultants, who are going to provide IT architecture services, were saying they needed vendor neutral services. Quote: “We don’t want to be stuck with proprietary solutions. We have been used to open standards for some time so we also want an open standard in the way IT architecture is delivered.”

Another reason is that the labor pool for IT architects is quite small because it is fairly new and therefore there is a shortage of qualified people. Businesses have to either pay a lot of money to get someone with industry experience or they have to train someone from scratch. If (via certification) there is a growing profession of IT architects then that is going to grow the labor pool. Therefore there will be more people available and businesses have less to teach them to make them usable and useful when they hire them.
It’s much like hiring a qualified accountant … you know they come with a certain amount of knowledge and you just have to educate them with your specific ways of doing things. That’s where we want to get to with IT architects.

How successful has the program been?

Bird: Right now it is very early days. The program was announced in July 2005. The first architect was certified in October. But this is clearly a big issue in the industry and we have hit a nerve both in the vendor community and in the customer community. Customers, which tend to be Fortune 1000 organizations, like the idea of certification because it is a good measure for knowing what they are buying; whether they are hiring a service of hiring an employee. Customers also ask, “How do I embed this stuff in my career development for my own people?”

Brown: With certified IT architects suppliers of IT architecture services are able to provide a consistent face out to their customers.

What is involved in becoming a Master Certified IT Architect?

Bird: The basic process is a bit like completing a resume. Applicants study the conformance regulations and then apply. We convene peer review boards, and they review and interview each candidate. The board has to be convinced that on the candidate’s evidence that they are suitable to be certified. If the board agrees the candidate gets a certificate; if the board doesn’t agree that the candidate meets the full criteria he or she is given feedback on what needs to be done in terms of career development in order to successfully apply.

Brown: That is the direct route to accreditation. The other route is for large organizations, with established internal practices and procedures that meet our quality criteria. We then accredit those organizations to certify their own individuals. IBM is the first such organization to be accredited. What that means is that all IBM’s internal certified architects meet the quality criteria to be an Open Group certified IT architect.

The Open Group recently developed a second, lower level of certification. Why?

Brown: We always had the concept there would be multiple levels because in any organization you just wouldn’t get one level of competence. We have always planned on having multiple levels and we also wanted to have different domains of expertise. So we now have the lower level “Certified”. We have the original level of “Master” and we are working on the “Distinguished” level. On the different domains of expertise we will also have application architecture, enterprise architecture, information architecture, infrastructure architecture and so on. They will be introduced over time. I certainly expect the “Distinguished” level to be introduced this year.

Some big name tech companies such as IBM, HP and CapGemini have supported this initiative. What are their reasons?

Brown: They are telling us that the industry is coming together to recognize the importance of IT architects. There is an increasing acceptance within the industry on what it means to be an IT architect. Until now there has been no external certification for IT architects and that is what they have been looking for. The value for everyone is that it elevates the worth and quality control for IT architecture in the industry and the professionals who perform it.

Why they wanted to do it with us is that they wanted an industry-wide program as opposed to each organization bringing out its own. The reason to coming to The Open Group is that we have spent the last 12 or 13 years on architecture and so we have a very strong commitment to it. We lead in the use and science of IT architecture.

What is the future for IT Architects?

Brown: I see this as a profession really as analogous to building architects. There is no reason why IT architects shouldn’t be at least on an equal standing with building architects. Our longer term plan is to launch of an association for enterprise architects. We are looking forward to a growing profession. We need academia involved; we need demand from recruiters. I see this as the beginning of a profession of the future.

When would you see a full-fledged career path in IT architecture?

Bird: I don’t think we are that many years away from it. Many of the foundations are there… it just needs to be pulled together. The sort of work we have done in standardization I think is the key… put down the steps, put down the path, and get agreement. There is a lot of consensus already.

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