IT architecture is becoming the discipline that separates success from failure in large or complex IT projects. The ones that succeed have a well-designed architecture that supports the business need as it evolves and changes to respond to market dynamics and competitive pressures. But as enterprise architecture emerges as a true (albeit maturing) profession, there remains a shortage of qualified architects.
A CIO building a team needs the option to look for enterprise architects whose experience meets an accepted set of professional standards. This is fueling the trend for hiring professionally certified enterprise architects.
Large IT consulting firms and end-user companies increasingly look to certification programs for their architects. Initially, some of them developed their own certification programs, but these proprietary programs were costly to administer and didn’t overcome the challenge of recruiting the right talent in the first place.
Today, these companies embrace industry standards such as The Open Group’s IT Architect Certification (IATC) program as a basis for certifying the skills and capabilities of enterprise architects. More than 1,700 individuals have achieved The Open Group’s IT architect certification since the program debuted in 2005.
ITAC deals with the skills and experience of IT architects. As such, it represents an important step in the development of IT architecture as a profession.
The ITAC program has two primary goals:
- To elevate the practice of IT architecture in the industry and the professionals who perform it through the validation of professional credentials and quality control.
- To define a set of globally recognized standards for the IT architect.
The ITAC program is different from most other IT certification programs. The 600 to 700 certification programs in the industry today generally fall into three categories: vendor-specific, vendor-neutral and hybrids of the two.
Most are focused on the installation, configuration, operation, maintenance and/or use of products and technologies. These certification programs are focused on the IT specialists who perform those roles.
A few are focused on other key areas of the IT business, including project management. The majority are vendor-specific. And although most provide value to their target audience, virtually none sets the bar for the practice of IT architecture. The ITAC program has been designed to change that.
ITAC is designed to validate the existence of those qualities in a professional architect that enable the effective practice of IT architecture.
The effectiveness, potential, degree and value of contribution rise to a new level as relevant skills and experience are gained in a topical area.
It is clearly important to “know” a subject, but it is more valuable to have applied that knowledge.
This is why the ITAC program is based on an assessment of IT architect skills and experience, not just tests of knowledge.
The ITAC program certifies IT architects who meet an open standard for skills and experience.
It is available in two forms: direct certification of applicants and a process and criteria for accrediting an organization’s internal certification programs. In both forms, a certification review board made up of experienced IT architects assesses the skills and experience of individual candidates.
The ITAC program is designed for organizations with large IT architecture practices and individual IT architects working in consulting firms, user organizations or as individual consultants.
What is an IT Architect?
The IT architect is a professional who defines or develops solutions to business problems through the practical application of IT. As with a building architect, much of the IT architect’s work is focused on the front end of the solution life cycle: listening to clients, understanding their business requirements and systematically forming incrementally more detailed definitions of the structures of an IT solution — an architecture.
IT architects perform a very valuable role in an organization. They are in the unique position of viewing both the business need and the solution implementation side of a problem. This bigger-picture view allows IT architects to ensure solutions fit within the organization’s business direction, comply with their IT standards and support the overall enterprise architecture.
Characteristics of the IT Architect
The key skill and contribution IT architects bring to their pursuits is the creation of architectures that address business problems. To do that effectively, IT architects must possess and exhibit the following characteristics:
- Proven skills and experience in building an IT architecture. They must be proficient at the techniques that go into the formulation of architectures, including requirements discovery and analysis, formulation of solution context, solution alternatives’ identification and assessment, technology selection and architectural configuration.
- Appropriate technical skills and experience, including technical breadth. IT architects require working-level skills and experience with many application and infrastructure (operational) products, technologies and services.
Beyond that base of technical breadth, effective IT architects usually possess additional architectural skills in one or more technical focus areas:
- Disciplined, method-driven execution. The IT architect uses formal methods to guide and drive the development of solutions, the management of their work and the production of their deliverables.
- Full life cycle experience. In particular, the knowledge and appreciation of the construction, implementation and management aspects of the solution life cycle enable the IT architect to produce solution designs that are viable and can be constructed, implemented, operated and managed.
- Leadership. Effective IT architects are leaders who provide knowledge, technical and team leadership skills in their work, to their clients and for their teams.
- Strong personal and professional skills. The IT architect must have a high level of communication, consulting and client relationship skills. Additionally, the IT architect must employ communication skills appropriate to the customer’s geographic, social and industrial culture.
ITAC Certification: The Details
The ITAC program recognizes three levels of
- Level 3: Distinguished Certified IT Architect (advances the state of the art).
- Level 2: Master Certified IT Architect (able to perform independently and take responsibility for delivery of systems and solutions as lead architect).
- Level 1: Certified IT Architect (able to perform with assistance or supervision, with a wide range of appropriate skills, as a contributing architect).
Level 2 includes three one-hour, face-to-face interviews with each member of a certification review board, whereas Level 1 includes three one-hour telephone interviews.
The ITAC program includes an extensive and detailed set of skills- and experience-based conformance requirements for Level 1 and Level 2 as defined above.
A future revision of the conformance requirements also will address Level 3. The criteria are defined in the IT architect certification conformance requirements, which can be found at http://www.opengroup.org/itac.
The conformance requirements for a certified IT architect are broken down into core foundation skills, experience requirements, professional development and contributions to the IT architecture community.
For the core foundation skills, candidates must meet or exceed the minimum skill level defined for each. There are 17 core foundation skills, which are categorized into people skills, project management skills and architecture skills. Candidates must be able to document that they have demonstrated these skills at the required level repeatedly and successfully.
The experience requirements are broken down into eight categories, with some requirements not applicable to Level 1 or only when working in a supervised environment. The professional development requirements require candidates to demonstrate they are continuing to learn, as well as develop their skills and knowledge.
Additionally, Level 2 and above architects are expected to demonstrate they make contributions to the IT architect profession and community. This includes mentoring, publication of articles and serving on ITAC certification review boards.
Applying for Certification
When applying for initial certification or for certification at a higher level, candidates are required to create a certification package. The certification package is made up of one or more templates the candidates use to document how they meet the core foundation skills and experience criteria described in the conformance requirements.
The certification package also has to contain at least three experience profiles, which are the primary means by which candidates demonstrate their experience.
An experience profile is a coherent written description of a project or architectural engagement (i.e., enterprise architecture, solution architecture or architectural framework) that provides candidates with the opportunity to show how they perform as IT architects. It also enables a certification board to understand and question candidates’ thought processes and decisions.
There are several benefits of achieving ITAC certification. First, individuals across the industry are assessed and measured against the same baseline criteria, thereby establishing a standard for the use of the title “IT architect.”
Second, certification credentials are granted to individuals and remain with them as long as they maintain good standing as a practicing IT architect.
Third, professional certification can provide additional opportunities for increased responsibility and stature.
Companies that have not yet established their own certification program or formalized their architecture profession can benefit from adopting the ITAC program accreditation framework and leveraging the best practices of the contributing members. This gives them a head start in developing their own IT architect certification program.
The flexible framework of the program allows companies to add industry, cultural and organizational extensions to the base certification framework. Further, companies and organizations that accredit their certification program or certify their IT architects gain additional credibility.
Most important, governments, companies and organizations that develop safety- or mission-critical IT systems can then require certified IT architects to lead the design of important systems to help mitigate risk of project failure or shortfall.
This is an exciting time for enterprise IT architects. They are the pioneers — the people who will blaze the trails for others to follow when aligning IT with business strategy. The ITAC program continues to play a major role in setting the standards for the future evolution of this critical profession.
Andrew Josey is director of certification for The Open Group. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.
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