Assessing the Role of IT Architect, and What It Means to You
The auto parts shop needs to keep track of its inventory and orders. Next door, the law firm needs to know exactly what's been done on the malpractice case. The hospital they're suing, incidentally, has its own information needs: Where are their patients, which doctors are with them, which treatments they've gotten and/or are getting, and who's paying for it? Every business, from the biggest to the smallest, has information needs.
My love of the finer things in life (Netflix and Chef Boyardee, for example) has led me into desperate circumstances: full-time employment. The pros of the job (besides the luxuries mentioned) are a really neat swivel chair and a cool set of headphones that conveniently make your ears numb after 8 hours. The cons were the information databases we used. Specifically, every piece of information had to be transferred manually.
In hindsight, we could have used a good IT architect. In my mind, an architect's most useful ability is to get Salesforce and Zendesk talking so I don't wear out Ctrl, C and V on my keyboard. (Ladies, have I mentioned my chiseled pinkies?) Automation has come far enough that no business should pay $10/hr (plus benefits!) for that type of tedium. With an IT architect and a blueprint, they won't have to. Information can sync instantly and seamlessly between platforms.
What really sets the architect apart from the helpdesk tech is advance planning. In my company alone, I can count four different information platforms we're currently using, and then two more that we're trying to phase out because nobody remembers why we thought they were a good idea in the first place. This is the problem with piecemeal planning, the problem that the employment of a good architect solves.
Nobody sane starts building a house without knowing where everything is going to go, and nobody smart throws a bunch of information systems together and hopes they're going to play nice. Even before the computers boot, the architect draws the plan for the systems employed by the individual departments and how to interconnect them. The architect is familiar with the strengths and limitations of a number of platforms and designs the architecture accordingly.
In the perfect world there would be one application, one dataset and one interface. Because this isn't often possible, a good IT architect's job is to get you as close to that as possible. The increased productivity will pay the initial expense off.
Say you're a bright human being with a good understanding of (and familiarity with) business information systems. Let's say you're between jobs right now and bored with your usual gig. Let's also say that my eloquence has inspired you. When you finish and close this tab, how can you start polishing up your resume? It's that time again: Let's talk certs.
When it comes to IT architecture, it's pretty much a one-stop shop: The Open Group. The Open Group offers the Open Group Certified Architect, or Open CA, which is likely the most respected certification in IT Architecture. The Open CA is a rigorous, competence-based certification, which means it considers test scores far less useful than it does results and field experience. If you're already up to your neck in the architecture world, go for it. For many certifying architects, this is the end-goal.
For a more foundational certification, you can look into the TOGAF. While this might not be the big cheese of Architecture certs, many companies require applying architects to hold it before they'll be considered. So, even if you want to get the Open CA, it's still not a bad idea to get TOGAF under your belt now and work your way up.
For the record, my company has improved greatly since I was hired, and while I've still got the quickest copy-and-paste move in the West, it's mostly retired nowadays. Even so, I'd be willing to bet that, with all the phone numbers and email addresses I've been paid to move between platforms, we could have paid for an architect twice over. You're needed, ladies and gentlemen. Come see me sometime.