TOGAF, IASA and architecture skills

This one’s a follow-up to a comment by Stanly Johnson yesterday to my “TOGAF Certified” post of almost a year ago:

I feel the IASA skill set and TOGAF (and other) frameworks are essential.

IASA skill set do prepare an individual to become an architect.

Frameworks tells us how to architect a system

The important point here is, you need to learn the skill sets and you also need to understand some matured frameworks and then design (or redesign) your enterprise architecture.

Can you design a system without having the basic skill sets (like IASA), by only mastering an architecture framework (like TOGAF)? Yes, but then you are lucky. Lucky that the methods, tools and patterns specified suited your organization.

Can you design a system only by learning the basic skillsets and not even looking into matured frameworks, Hmm yes, then you are a genius. How many organizations HR will know that you are a real genius?

Your comments are highly appreciated.

I’d agree about the value that IASA provide in terms of skill-sets for IT-architects. The problem is that what we’re talking about here is real enterprise architecture – whole of enterprise architecture – of which IT ‘enterprise architecture’ is merely one small subset. And there are no standard frameworks or skill-sets for that as yet – in fact what we’re doing right now is creating them, for the next generation of architects.

Unlike The Open Group, IASA did recognise right from the start that real enterprise-architecture is a great deal broader than just IT. But at present – and wisely, in my opinion – they’ve concentrated on the IT end, because that’s where the immediate need is.

One aspect of my comment about ‘TOGAF Certified’ was really about exactly the point that Stanly made: how would HR departments know that I know what I’m talking about? The need for some kind of proof of competence goes right back to the days of the masonic handshake – a literally tactile proof that you’d been trained to a level where your cathedral wouldn’t come down on people like, well, many tons of bricks… And although, for what I do, the TOGAF certification doesn’t mean all that much (given that it covers only a tiny subset of the scope I need to address in my work), it’s about the nearest to a generic architecture certification that I can get. IASA certification sounds like a good idea, but in practice it leads me further away from where I need to be – it’s specific, specialised to IT, whereas my emphasis is on whole-of-enterprise integration.

To give a specific example, look at the difference between data architecture and information architecture:

  • Data architecture deals mainly with logical models and logical-to-physical transforms. In Zachman terms, it sits happily and comfortably within those two levels (‘logical’ and ‘physical’) of a single segment (‘virtual’) of a single column (‘What’). Plenty of custom-built toolsets exist for this purpose – ERWin, for example, or the data-modelling components of System Architect. It’s (relatively!) simple and straightforward; and though it requires real skill, it’s relatively easy to learn via training – and hence appropriate for straightforward certification of competence.
  • Information-architecture deals mainly with business-oriented information – particularly counts-of, averages-of, trends-0f, comparisons-of and other complex derivations and aggregates. Although it seems to end up as ‘virtual-What’, it does not sit there – in fact it often pinballs around the entire Zachman frame, through business-rules (‘Why’), transform-functions (‘How’), skills and heuristics (‘Who’), trigger-events (‘When’) and much more besides, at every level from real-time operations upwards. Trying to model this in a data-architecture tool such as ERWin is a bad joke (says he from bitter experience…); and despite the claims of the vendors, there are no EA toolsets that come close to tackling this properly. Almost invariably there will be many hand-overs between IT-based and non-IT-based transforms – so a strict IT-centric approach (as in way too much SOA at present…) is going to cause big problems. Doing this work requires a high level of skill, which depends on a great deal more experience than a straightforward training-course; and some at least will be highly context-specific – making certification extremely hard, or dubious at best.

And information-architecture itself is just one subset of real enterprise architecture – which is what I’ve been trying to describe for the past ten years or so. And although, yes, I do use “matured frameworks” where they exist – and yes, I do know how to adapt those to the different contexts we find in different organisations – they don’t cover more than a small portion of the scope we need, and half the time we have to do major surgery to those frameworks to correct for the impact of their mistaken assumptions about the supposed centrality of IT.

(An aside: back in the late ’70s, in the early days of micro-computing, it was generally accepted that the worst qualification for working in the field was computer-science – because graduates came to the problems with mindsets, assumptions and experience which were great for big mainframes and DEC-11s, but entirely wrong for the very different trade-offs with CP/M and Z80s and 6502s. The best qualification was linguistics, followed by arts degrees in general – especially graphic design, which was my background then. We have the same kind of problem here in real enterprise architecture: without careful ‘conversion training’, IT-architecture background and experience can often be more of a hindrance than a help.)

So there are no standards or certifications for that whole-of enterprise level. Real enterprise-architecture – rather than IT-architecture getting grandiose ideas about its own importance – is still way too new for that: and to be blunt, I’m one of the few people who’s actually working to create those broader standards, and to show why it’s essential to break free of the IT-centric mindset. Hence when Stanly asks “How many organizations HR will know” that I know what I’m doing with this kind of architecture, the short reply would have to be a sardonic “Tell me about it…” – I struggle to get them even to begin to grasp what I’m talking about at all, let alone get to the level of checking my credentials… Hey ho… 🙁

Stanly correctly emphasises the need for both skill-sets and frameworks – rather than trying to get by with just one or the other – but I’d also add that there’s at least one other key component for which we’re likely to need certification: governance. In an IT-centric context I’d recommend at least a base-level ITIL certification, and probably PRINCE2 and Six-Sigma as well. But at the whole-of-enterprise level? – well, who knows? We ain’t there yet – not by a long way. My guess is that something like a cross-merging of ITIL, TOGAF, PRINCE2 and some of the SOA-governance themes will come out of this work – but it’s probably five years away at least. In the meantime… well, we just have to do the best we can, yes? 🙂

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