Thursday, 26 April 2007

What is an Architect?

What is an Architect?

I participated in two meetings in two weeks that addressed the question "What is an Architect?"
Mark Carroll and Darryl Chantry of Microsoft got the Wellington Microsoft Architects' forum thinking about what was needed to develop an architect. Horia Slusanschi led a lively discussion about Enterprise Architecture at the NZ Chapter meeting of Association of Enterprise Architects

A stumbling block for Microsoft's approach clearly was the lack of definition of what an architect was or should be. Although Darryl started with a view from the Greeks and history that architecture is about aesthetics, there seemed a split between a desire for certification of ability to construct solutions from Microsoft components; and capability to take on a wider vendor agnostic perspective.

Horia presented a choice for EA "Just technology, or the works?". Although some of those present with EA in their job title were clearly limited to the technology arena, there appeared to be a consensus for EA going well beyond technology application. The functions of EA are mainly strategic and addressing technology alone misses the point of why the technology matters at all.

When I started in IT 37 years ago we had the distinct jobs of Programmer and System Analyst. The programmer role was defined in some detail but the system analyst could best be described as "everything that the programmer did not do". Those may have been the bad old days but I think that a similar situation has arisen with the "architect" job. There are a myriad of specialist functions that are defined in some detail, generally around the arcana of some product or vendor strategy and there is the role that joins it up. As specialisations evolve (security, information, etc) there is a tendency to give the label of "architect" to the job or role that makes it all hang together.

There certainly is a wealth of information in the and msdn sites but it is lacking in structure and it is difficult from there to determine what a complete architecture would be (enterprise, solution, infrastructure or ...) made up of in Microsoft terms or vendor agnostic terms. Some consistency in terms would help ... Strategic Architecture or Enterprise Architecture?

I recommend a look at A Better Path to Enterprise Architectures by Roger Sessions (avoid the version in which has broken links).

Certification was a hot topic for Microsoft. At $10,000 a time, it must look like an interesting revenue stream. Until the role is specified in terms of what is included rather than the 'any other business' present situation there is dubious value in a certification.

It will be interesting to follow these initiatives.


John said...

EA professionals are expereiencing identify crisis like teen agers. I have some discussing in these area if you are interested.

The defintion of EA is still subject to discussion. You can find more than ten EA directions in the a gathering of ten EA professionals. Without a consus on what is EA, it is not easy to find out out what is Enterprise Architect.

johnwu said...

I have some discussion in this area.

David French said...

John, you have analysed the problem really well. One problem, we have in gathering EA practitioners to define EA, is that the people are all selected and working on issues peculiar to their organisation and if that organisation presents with a problem in getting an all singing all dancing financial system to work with their operational delivery systems then EA will take on the characteristics of an integration solution within the IT domain. In contrast, if the organisation is dealing with an amalgamation of businesses then the focus will be on the business processes. The individuals then define EA as what they are doing (which may include configuring the servers because it needs doing more than measuring risk).

We need to describe what enterprise architecture is. It is not what enterprise architects produce. If we understand what it is, we can make an assessment about which functions or facets of EA are important now and why; what will be important in the future; who is delivering those facets and when.