Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Enterprise Architect

In any IT forum, the topic of roles and skill sets of architects is a sure-fire flame bait. There are many roles with the title of ‘architect’ in the IT industry and they can be quite different. I summarise the IT architect jobs into the following categories:

  1. glorified software engineers/business analysts – some employers and employment agencies alike beef up the job position to attract more experienced applicants; of course, some employees/applicants do the same to their profile to attract better pay.
  2. domain focused solution designers – these architects/designers focus on specific domains of the IT space. The boundaries may vary depending on how you slice and dice the space: infrastructure, security, integration; service fulfilment, network performance, inventory management, etc.
  3. enterprise wide architect – responsible for IT governance, IT strategy alignment with the business strategy. It overarches the various domains mentioned in point 2 above.

The Enterprise Architect falls into the 3rd category. Not all organisations have or need to have such a dedicated role – a travel agency with 3 staff may well outsource their IT operations and the role of EA to an external party.  The role of EA is a product of a mature organisation (or mature org wannabees) that understands the importance of IT to their business.  Wikipedia has a pretty detailed description of what EA is. It uses the analogy of city planner (the EA) and domain specific designers and engineers in the building industry. This is a very good analogy and one that I often use. After all, the very term of architect is borrowed from built environment discipline.

It is understandable that many people including IT professionals do not understand the roles of architects, especially EA. The main reason for this lack of understanding is that in many organisations the role of architect is shared with others – e.g. development team lead taking on the responsibility of system architect. When it comes to EA it becomes more illusive because not all companies have one. So it’s no wonder we see in various forums silly questions like should EA be doing coding  (btw, my answer to this question is that EA should not do coding as his/her day job; but it certainly helps for EA to learn new technologies to better understand them – so coding afterhours is great for EAs).

The IT industry is very young and immature comparing to other disciplines liking medicine or built environment. As a result of reaching maturity, it is inevitable for the industry to become more and more specialised. Therefore, the roles and jobs become more and more fine-grained, focused and well-defined. No doubt, with IT becoming more mature, the roles of architect especially EA will become better defined and clearer to more people.

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