Open Group to certify IT architects

The Open Group launched its first IT architect certification program last month, renewing a debate among some users over the skills required for the position.

Some users noted that real-world experience is more important than certification for this increasingly strategic role.

The program defines a set of worldwide standards for measuring the skills and experience of IT architects and for assessing the operation of IT architecture practices in enterprises.

Certification would require an architect to show that he has led a team for more than one comprehensive project and to successfully complete an interview with a panel of certified architects, said Graham Bird, vice president of marketing at Open Group, a technology consortium in San Francisco.

But much of the work that architects do today is really an art form, not a certifiable set of practices, said James Barry, vice president of development for payroll and human resources applications at Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP) in Roseland, N.J.

“The written communication and how they present their architecture would be mainly what we would look for in an architectural certification — not the methodology that determines what to build,” he said. “That would come from experience, not certification.”

ADP often finds that certified IT professionals lack the flexibility required to complete projects with the speed demanded by the business side, Barry added. He said ADP is building a career track for IT architects as it seeks to create an architecture to connect its systems through Web services.

Helena Chemical Co. in Collierville, Tenn., doesn’t have in-house architects, but it uses consultants in that role on all major projects. Vickie Smith, director of IT, said her firm’s systems architects need experience on many hardware platforms, operating systems and software applications.

“Certifications are good to show that a person has achieved a level of understanding in a classroom environment, but there is nothing that takes the place of hands-on experience,” she said.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts Inc. in Boston has six IT architect positions, including Web architect, application architect and enterprise architect, said Frank Enfanto, vice president of operations delivery and information security.

Given the variety of roles IT architects can play, Enfanto said, he doubts that Open Group can certify a generic IT architect.

“Certifications that have specifically to do with hardware and hardware repair have more validity than a lot of others,” he said. “Having some sort of peer review has more validity than going to class for a month and taking a test, (but) I put more stock in peoples’ experience.”

However, Peter Pao, chief technology officer at Raytheon Co. in Waltham, Mass., said the program will help his company have its engineers meet industrywide standards.

Architects can be certified by the Open Group or through an accredited program.

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