Although many large organisations need to respond rapidly to changes in the market as well as to competition and globalisation forces such as the internet, that is hard to achieve without a well-defined architecture geared towards the needs of the business.
The flexibility and responsiveness of the business and its ability to compete are underpinned by the successful implementation of complex IT projects, for which an overall well-defined IT architecture is a crucial factor that separates success from failure.
The importance of an IT architecture cannot be overstated. Complex distributed systems need to fit into a stable framework, and their evolution and the deployment of new technologies, as each emerges, need to be planned strategically with overall business goals in mind to ensure interoperability within organisations and with their customers, suppliers and partners.
However, the transition to having the right IT architecture in place is not easy. Even when the need is clear and management is behind the plan, it is hard to be sure that staff have the required ability, experience and skills.
Philip Allega, in a recent Meta Group report, stated that 30% of Global 2000 organisations will emphasise the role of and need for enterprise architects in the next two years. As demand for qualified individuals explodes, organisations are wary as many high-profile projects have failed to deliver what the business needs.
IT architects perform a valuable role. They are in the unique position of being able to view the business need and the solution implementation sides of a problem. This bigger picture allows them to ensure that the solutions fit within the organisation’s business direction, comply with IT standards and support the enterprise architecture. IT architects are the technical conscience of the business, responsible for the viability of the solution.
The IT architect defines solutions to business problems through the reasoned application of IT. Those solutions are manifested as architectures and can include systems, applications and process components. They may also involve the application and integration of a broad variety of products, technologies and services, various systems and applications architectures, and diverse hardware and software components.
But how do you identify and select an experienced, skilled IT architect, or employ one as a consultant? What is needed is a method of determining the skills, experience and knowledge of a professional IT architect, with clear standards and measurements for each of these attributes. Additionally, that method should be applicable and relevant around the world, so that practitioners in all areas have equivalent levels of skill, knowledge and experience.
A common characteristic of the programmes available to certify IT architects is that they test or validate the existence of relevant knowledge - but nothing beyond that.
Knowledge is a critical first ingredient to becoming effective at anything. But the effectiveness, potential and the degree and value of the contribution rises to a new level as relevant skills and experience are gained.
It is clearly important to know a subject, but it is much more valuable to have applied that knowledge and to have gained real-world experience.
It is for that reason that the Open Group is developing a programme that certifies IT architect skills and experience. The programme is based on an assessment of real-world experience - not just knowledge tests.
It is time to start to think about the IT architect as we would any other professional. They all have to pass examinations and demonstrate practical application before qualifying. Having achieved a professional qualification, they are required to update their skills and knowledge on a regular basis.
It is time to take a similar approach to the IT profession and, in particular, those upon whose thinking and skills the entire IT infrastructure will be based.
This is the first in a series of articles from the Open Group looking at the challenges in developing an IT architecture
Allen Brown is president and chief executive of the Open Group