8 September 2009

What's in a Name?

A discussion on the use and usefulness of the title “Architect” in relation to organisations and their transformation.

I Think, Therefore I am... An Architect
It would seem that in the modern world of business transformation, and especially in the technology sector, the vast majority of individuals involved in the process are architects of one form or another. This raises two questions:
  1. Do titles really matter?
  2. We are all involved in architecture, so surely we are all architects?
From my perspective, the simple answers are Yes and No in that order.

Who Cares?
In the first instance of course, the traditional architectural institutions such as RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and AIA (American Institute of Architects) care very much, as they have worked hard for their titles and have sought appropriate licensed status. Their concern is that incorrect use of the title will devalue its worth in the professional world, and I have to sympathise with them. A clear comparison can be drawn with the title of Engineer which has been steadily devalued over the years to the point where few now use it.

Having said this, I do feel that the use of the term architect is appropriate in the wider context of Enterprise Architecture as the underlying meaning is the same, and it does serve a purpose in clearly defining a role that has an important place in modern business. A correctly used title helps to define our role by setting expectations as to what we do and the value we bring.

And so, as an Enterprise Architect, I care.

(As to the related issue of certification or licensing, I will address this in a later article).

What Does it Mean?
Rather than resorting to dictionary definitions at this point, I would prefer to address the evolution of the term in relation to business development. In the good old days, there was analysis and design and a great gaping hole in between. There was also business and technology and a great gaping hole in between. Slowly, the world woke up to the idea that a single individual might be able to bridge the gap between business and technology, and between analysis and design, and that these areas were not so alien to one another as some would have us believe.

There was then the emerging realisation that once more the wheel had been reinvented. The role of the Architect had been discovered anew, and people who dealt in issues other than bricks and mortar began referring to themselves as architects. The analogy is clear; the Architect brings to life the vision of the business by resolving the key issues and conflicts, and articulating these as a single big picture. This picture is then presented in a manner that has meaning both to the creators of the vision and to those tasked with delivering it, thus bridging the communication gap. The architect understands both domains and acts both as strategist and as translator.

Why the Confusion?
For me it is quite clear. In any architecture activity there are three roles being performed; Creator, Contributor and Consumer. All three participate in the evolution of the architecture, and this is where the confusion arises. The only role that qualifies for the title of Architect is that of Creator, as this is the person who processes the raw information, identifies the common patterns and devises solutions that resolve the demands of the business vision.

The role of contributor is fulfilled by subject matter experts. (I am assuming here that the creation of the business vision precedes the architecture exercise, although in reality an Architect may contribute at this level). They provide the raw information and detail that is reflected in the architecture and gives it its relevance.

The role of consumer is fulfilled by designers and developers. The architecture provides the high level information that guides the specific design activities, and in return the consumers may discover flaws in the architecture that result in necessary change. They provide the feedback that allows the architecture to evolve and improve.

Thus it is understandable that contributors and consumers alike may believe that they are acting as architects, when in fact it is only the architect who makes the decisions regarding the required changes and resolves the conflicts that arise.

And Finally…
It is therefore clear to me that the title of Architect is important and performs a crucial role in business transformation. It is therefore essential that the title is properly used, as to devalue or confuse it will lead us back to the situation where the importance of the role of architect will be forgotten and we will return to the bad old days where technology and the business were forever separate and speaking different languages.

And more importantly, I would have to find another profession.

The Enterprising Architect

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