The prestige of the architect

One of the most important recent developments that affects IT architects is the recognition of their value and the creation of a growing formal IT architecture profession. This includes a generally accepted definition of the role of the architect—as well as the methods and deliverables expected from IT architects.

One of the most important recent developments that affects IT architects is the recognition of their value and the creation of a growing formal IT architecture profession. This includes a generally accepted definition of the role of the architect—as well as the methods and deliverables expected from IT architects.

The recognition of the value that IT architecture brings to organizations is evident in the role of architecture as a prerequisite to win customer opportunities to develop and deploy business systems. Additionally, many organizations subsequently adopt enterprise architecture and SOA methods. In turn, the adoption of architecture leads to activities and deliverables that help prioritize IT initiatives and provide governance for driving business value into the implementation of IT systems. The recognized value of the IT architect has driven an increase in the need for experienced architects and programs to grow the profession.

Architectures that result in successful IT implementations are led by valued IT professionals who possess a unique set of skills and experiences. The IT architect role and position within many organizations has only recently been formalized by some organizations. This is especially true of the enterprise architect, whose prominence at executive levels continues to grow. The need for skilled IT architects is predicted to grow substantially over the next 10 years as IT realizes the goals of componentization, service orientation, and mobile computing through rapidly architected and model-driven tooling and technologies.

As the need for skilled IT architects rises, an increasing number of IT professionals elect to use the "IT architect" title, which can carry great prestige. But we must ensure that the title brings credibility. Some large IT organizations and consulting companies have begun programs to develop and train IT architects. Many organizations have started their own internal IT architect certification programs in an effort to validate and recognize experienced professionals. Many certifications offered by IT industry vendors are intended as enablement for a particular product offering or technology. These certifications or skills-based examinations are a test of an individual's knowledge but do not validate the practitioner's ability to apply this knowledge. What is necessary is a professional accreditation that validates both skill and practical experience—something along the lines of board certification of a medical doctor.

IT consulting companies and integrators are communicating the value of architecture skills to their customers. Certified IT architects are allowed to carry these proprietary credentials on their business cards. Integrators are selling the value of having a "certified" professional IT architect lead a project to customers. They are consequently charging clients a higher hourly wage for certified resources. In addition, government and industry are beginning to require the use of certified IT architects on mission-critical projects to ensure success. And, they are in the process of establishing industry-focused IT architecture profession and practice requirements. Now what's necessary is the formalization of the IT architect profession.

Several organizations have successfully launched formal IT architect profession certification programs. The two most recognized programs are the Microsoft® Certified Architect Programs and The Open Group IT Architect Certification Program.

The Open Group IT Architect Certification (ITAC) Program is an open standard for accrediting an organization's IT architect certification program. It establishes a baseline to measure IT architect skill and experience levels. ITAC is an extensible framework that allows for cultural, industry-specific, and proprietary extensions referred to as extended certification requirements. The framework's flexibility allows for extensibility while ensuring that a certification candidate meets its baseline requirements in order to be recognized as a certified IT architect.

Establishing an industry-standard baseline for recognizing certification criteria can bring with it the following benefits for customers, companies, governments, and individuals:

  • Further development and recognition of the IT architecture profession.
  • A standard for the use of the title "certified IT architect."
  • Certification credentials that remain with those who have earned them as long as they maintain status as practicing IT architects.
  • Credibility through accreditation of certification programs.
  • Ability for customers to validate an individual's certification credentials through the Open Group ITA certification repository.
  • Increased career opportunities for certified professionals.
  • Certified IT architects leading the design of important safety and mission-critical applications.
  • A skills template defined by the framework to help academic institutions strengthen their IT architect educational programs.

IBM has contributed to the development of the ITAC standard and has been accredited by the ITAC program standards. The IBM IT architect profession certification program has been accredited to be equivalent to The Open Group ITAC certification conformance criteria. ITAC accreditation ensures that an organization's IT architect profession certification program follows the same processes and conformance criteria as the direct certification program managed by the The Open Group.

Currently, there are more than 2,600 worldwide certified IT architects in The Open Group ITAC credential repository. Major companies and organizations have embraced and endorsed the ITAC standard. These organizations include Austin Energy IBM, Credit Suisse, Capgemini, Computer Associates, EDS, HP, Intel™, Lufthansa, Rolls-Royce and the Washington Post to name a few. I strongly suggest that aspiring and practicing IT architects consider the value of a professional credential such as ITAC certification.

About the author
Andras Szakal is Chief Architect for the IBM Federal Software Group and also holds the title of distinguished engineer for the company. He is also a member of The Open Group Board of Directors.


This was first published in October 2008
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