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Network World - The position of IT architect has become increasingly important to the ever-changing IT industry, and is one that established corporations and start-ups are seeking. The job requires network professionals to acquire new skills, and it could provide additional career opportunities.
As IT positions become more specialized and include increasingly detailed responsibilities, there's a need for someone who can tie several silos of expertise together, says Al Volvano, a product manager for Microsoft's Learning Group. Enterprise architects aren't just technology experts; they are leaders with broad IT knowledge, the savvy to apply it to business problems and the communication skills necessary to coordinate the people who will put their plans into action, says Bill Liguori, senior vice president and co-founder of the placement firm Leadership Capital Group.
Jim Phelps, a senior IT architect for the University of Wisconsin's Department of IT, is charged with assessing the effect and fit of technologies, and aligning technical solutions with the university's IT goals. As he describes it, the position requires "broad vision to fly at 30,000 feet all the time but drop down low to the ground every once in a while to get enough detail." In particular, he concentrates on collaboration, identity management issues and integration patterns.
His department has three IT architects and he says there's talk of adding one more. "The university has grown, and we wanted to deliver integrated services. We don't want students to have to go to the library system and e-mail system and calendar system," Phelps says. "The need for someone who has an overview, high-level vision has grown."
For example, he recently intervened when two university groups were using "e-grading" to describe unrelated projects. The registrar was starting a self-service electronic grade submission project, and at the same time the learning technologies group was working to integrate online learning with the student information system. The architecture group got the teams together and came up with common terminology and definitions to alleviate staff confusion.
Naturally, the role of an IT architect can vary greatly by company. For example, each company might have a set of operating systems, databases and frameworks that it tends to use, as well as industry-specific applications for environments ranging from hospitals to retail stores.
"'Architect' is probably the most abused term in IT," says Tony Redmond, HP's CTO. "When you say 'architect,' what do you mean?" Numerous companies have employees who identify themselves as architects, but those people might be anything from CIOs to programmers, he explains.
Liguori says many businesses have an enterprise architect who reports to the CIO and takes a broad view of the company's infrastructure. Because enterprise IT architects are responsible for straddling the gap between business and IT, they're required to have excellent communication and leadership skills along with a detailed understanding of technologies an employer uses. Under the enterprise architect are more-specialized architects, including those for solutions, information, infrastructure and security.