The IT Architect is Coming of Age

By Allen Brown

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With a move towards business practices leading to the rise of the “boundaryless organization,” IT is required to architect a technical infrastructure that enables real-time access to integrated information, within and among enterprises. According to Gartner, IT architecture consistently ranks in the top five priorities of CIOs at[MSOffice1] Global 2000 companies.

But developing and implementing a great architecture means you must first employ great architects. This, too, is a primary concern for the CIO. The emergence of a true IT architect profession, based on agreed standards and best practices, will help alleviate these concerns. And there are now signs that this is now starting to happen.

Going Global

In today’s global business environment, where geographically disparate teams are commonplace, the need for IT to provide effective architecture is more important than ever. With IT architecture serving as the key to successful systems development in both business and government, interoperability and the IT architect are critical in developing a great architecture.

Interoperability, which can only be achieved on the broad scale required today through open standards, is necessary to deliver customer-focused services. In addition, the IT architect must work not as a lone guru, but as a member of a team with shared standards and practices.

So, how can the CIO find the right people and turn them into a disciplined and effective enterprise team?

IT is a modern phenomenon and much like accountants who must become certified or licensed and then adhere to a shared set of industry standards, so should the professional IT architect. When hiring accountants, a business will look at their candidates’ professional qualifications, which reflect not only their technical knowledge but also their experience and standing among professional peers. A CIO should exercise the same kind of rigor.

The demand for certified IT architects continues (and I believe will do so for some time) to increase. CIOs recognize the value of the certified IT architect and are meeting these demands in a number of different ways such as with outsourced IT service providers and by establishing a rigorous certification program for existing employees.

In some cases, service providers fill the gaps by providing an amenable and relatively short-term solution. For example, IBM currently has 8,000 IT architects worldwide, 75% whom are in IBM Global Services, and most of whom are involved in customer-facing activities.

The company develops them through a professional program using a roadmap with various skill capability checkpoints. Accenture also employs a large number of architects, and develops architects and architecture practices for its clients. Accenture utilizes an IT architecture education program that includes 73 courses on technical infrastructure issues, such as “Security for Web Services.”

Thanks in part to these programs a person might expect to reach the level of “architect” after five-to-six years; “application architect” after about nine years; and “enterprise architect” after approximately 12 years. These kinds of timeframes for climbing the IT architect career ladder have become fairly industry-standard.

End All, Be All … Not

However, outsourced service-provider programs are not the complete answer for universally aligning IT with business processes and goals. A CIO forming a team should look not for “IBM architects” or “Accenture architects”, but for IT architects whose skills and capabilities can be compared within a common professional framework.

According to Stan Locke, managing director of Zachman Framework Associates, an engineered approach to establishing the profession is needed. Today, four [AB2] things are necessary for IT architecture to become a better profession: high standards of expertise, recognized best practice standards, skills that are transferable between enterprises, and a place for practitioners to come together and share common knowledge.

There are currently over 600 specialized IT accreditations, but none of them focus on establishing an industry standard for IT architects. According to Gartner’s Philip Allega, continuing shortages of experienced individuals, coupled with a rise in global architecture team development, has resulted in increased demand for a competent third-party evaluation body that can certify both knowledge and experience levels for potential enterprise architects.

IT may be a relatively young discipline compared with other professions, but its growth over the last fifty years has made it of comparable importance to the well-being and prosperity of people around the globe. The establishment of a proper professional structure for IT architects is now crucial for its future development.

It will help CIOs in business and in government to form the teams needed to architect the infrastructure for a world without boundaries. We are at a point of change, where IT architecture will cease to be an ill-defined activity, and will become a profession with accepted standards of competence and conduct. IT architecture is coming of age.

Allen Brown is the president and CEO of The Open Group, a vendor- and technology-neutral consortium that works towards enabling access to integrated information within and between enterprises based on open standards and global interoperability.