The Open Group sets a common standard for the enterprise architect role

If you scan job boards such as Dice.com you’ll see thousands of postings for positions like "enterprise architect" or "IT architect." But there is no single definition of "architect" in our industry, and worse, there's no restriction on the use of the term. But The Open Group has a certification program that defines the qualities of an enterprise architect based on the mastery of skills as well as actual experience. This certification is widely embraced and respected by employers.

If you do a search on job boards such as Dice.com, you'll see thousands of postings for positions like "enterprise architect" or "IT architect." Reading through the requirements of the postings, you'll also notice that the jobs are all over the map in terms of what experience the applicants should have, and what they are expected to do in the job roles. In the IT industry today, there is no standard definition for the position of "enterprise architect." The title means different things to different employers. Worse yet, any individual can use the word "architect" to describe his position level, regardless of his capabilities or experience.

The Open Group is trying to remedy this issue. The Open Group, which was formed by the merger of X/Open and the Open Systems Foundation, is a consortium of IT vendors and end user companies. The group's original mission was to develop a standard definition of what an open systems UNIX platform looks like and the means of certifying that an enterprise technology implementation conforms to that standard. This led to the development of The Open Systems Architecture Framework (TOGAF), now in its ninth version. At the request of its member organizations, The Open Group is applying that same concept of a standard to the certified skills and experience levels that IT professionals possess.

Who will build the next enterprise architects?

The result of that effort is the IT Architect Certification Program (ITAC), which is designed to validate the existence of a specific set of skills, qualities and hands-on experience in an individual that enables the effective practice of IT architecture. Unlike most certifications in the IT industry, ITAC is based on the mastery of skills and experience level and not on the ability to take training and pass an exam. Len Fehskens, vice president of skills and capabilities for The Open Group, describes the training for ITAC as "the school of hard knocks."

"ITAC is a different kind of certification," says Fehskens. "A candidate puts together a documentation package that demonstrates they've done work that shows they've mastered certain architecture skills. There are about 20 skills in the ITAC certification package that we look for. We also ask them to provide a detailed summary of three major architectural projects that they've worked on. The application package is reviewed by a peer review board of people who have previously been through this certification process."

There are three levels of ITAC certification:

Level 1: Certified IT Architect -- able to perform with assistance/supervision, with a wide range of appropriate skills, as a contributing architect

Level 2: Master Certified IT Architect -- able to perform independently and take responsibility for delivery of systems and solutions as lead architect

Level 3: Distinguished Certified IT Architect -- effects significant breadth and depth of impact on the business via one of three advanced career paths: chief/lead architect, enterprise architect or IT architect profession leader

In the five or so years since the public release of ITAC, about 3,000 people have gone through the program and participation continues to grow. The growth rate isn't surprising; there's a huge and increasing demand for proven professionals who possess the kind of skills and experience that ITAC certifies. "There is big end customer demand for this type of certification," explains Fehskens. "Enterprise organizations essentially designed the certification based on what they need and the type of people they want to hire."

According to Fehskens, there are many large enterprise organizations that have adopted ITAC as an internal employee development program for IT professionals. Often these companies require that their employees achieve the successive levels of certification in order to advance within the organization. This is common for companies with internal projects as well as for professional services organizations that provide consultants for external projects. He cites IBM, HP and Cap Gemini as just a few of the service providers that use ITAC as one means of measurement within their consulting organizations.

Of course, the ITAC certifications are vendor-neutral, but the neutrality goes even deeper. "The IT architecture skill has to do with the ability to see the big picture," Fehskens explains. "The enterprise architect is concerned with understanding what's necessary to deliver a set of business capabilities. His skill is largely technology-independent. A good architect can go into an environment with technologies he's not familiar with and still ask the right questions and have the expertise to come up with an appropriate solution."

Fehskens cites four main benefits of the ITAC certification to individual architects and the companies that employ them:

First, what the certification means is publicly visible. If someone wants to understand what the certification represents, the person can go to the certification site and read the certification conformance requirements and certification policy documents, which define in considerable detail exactly what is required to be certified and how this is confirmed. These conformance requirements were developed and approved by a consortium of IT users and suppliers, and as such represent the consensus of a broad spectrum of stakeholders for an architect's work products as to what it means to be a competent architect. This transparency of the requirements and process, and their consensus nature, provide the foundation for the other three benefits.

Second, the certification provides individual architects with an objective benchmark for their capabilities as an architect. The certification conformance requirements provide architects with a consensus standard for their performance as an architect, and achieving certification provides architects with confirmation that they meet this standard.

Third, the certification that architects have met this benchmark is independent of the architects' employment history. It is "portable," and remains valid and meaningful however the architects' careers develop.

Finally, the certification provides architects with a credential that demonstrates to other people (especially potential employers or clients) the level of mastery of the discipline that the architects possess. The Open Group expects that as the discipline matures, and becomes more of a true profession, the right to call oneself an enterprise architect and the right to practice as an enterprise architect will be predicated on certification similar to the ITAC certification. At this point in the maturity of the discipline, a credential like the ITAC certification is an important tool for distinguishing between "self-declared" "architects" who give themselves the title because they think they deserve it, and those who have actually demonstrated that they deserve it.

To get more information about The Open Group's IT Architecture Certification Program, visit www.opengroup.org/itac/.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation. You can write to her at LMusthaler@essential-iws.com.

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About Essential Solutions Corp:

Essential Solutions researches the practical value of information technology, and how it can make individual workers and entire organizations more productive. Essential Solutions offers consulting services to computer industry and corporate clients to help define and fulfill the potential of IT.

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