IT architects emerge as tech's new gurus

The new ideal IT architect can offer artist-like abilities, expertise in a range of technologies

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- Maybe it's a stretch to refer to the new types of IT architects as Yoda-like -- but there are more than a few similarities.

The architect sought by IT managers today is versed in multiple disciplines and is capable of seeing across a range of technologies and processes.

IT managers aren't looking for simply a business process or technology architect. They want a person with the ability to see how all the parts fit together, someone who has an artist-like ability to conceptualize new paths and outcomes.

The new traits that companies are seeking reflect the increasingly important role of IT architects as organizations deal with converging trends, such as cloud and mobility, that require increased levels of integration and understanding.

Knowing the technical facts "isn't good enough anymore," said Bruce Carver, vice president and CIO at Columbus, Ind.-based engine maker Cummins Inc. "You have to have sixth sense about what's under the hood."

Architects must "ask the right questions" about products and services and then make judgments about "how they fit into the whole," said Carver. It's a critical skill, he added.

"You can actually bust your budget pretty quickly by buying niche solutions. But then you run into the integration issue -- how does it all [work] together," said Carver.

It's tough to find IT architects today who offer the multiple skills that many companies now need, according to IT managers attending Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders conference here this week.

"A really good architect is proficient in all domains and needs have a holistic scope so they understand the cause and effect of what they are doing," said Terry McFadden, enterprise architect at Procter & Gamble Global Business Services.

It's become critical that architects have the ability to describe and crystalize a problem "in a way that the business gets it," said McFadden.

Finding IT employees who are likely candidates for the new architecture role isn't easy. Individuals who can meet the emerging criteria "generally manifest themselves in the organization," said McFadden.

David Giambruno, senior vice president and CIO at Revlon Inc., said the way he finds architects is to propose skunk works projects that look generations ahead.

Such initiatives attract the curious among IT professionals, said Giambruno. If you offer a place on a team working on an interesting project, there are the "people who will gravitate to them."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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