The Open Group's Architect Certification Programs
by Leonard Fehskens
The Open Group Architecture Framework
A New IT Architect Certification
Accredited Certification Programs
Board Review Certification Process
Benefits of Certification
How do you know if someone is really an architect? This has become an increasingly important question as the context and nature of information systems have evolved into their present forms. Information systems have become mission-critical resources, essential to the routine functions of modern society, and IT projects need to "get it right the first time." "Do more with less" is a recurring mandate, while the requirements grow broader and more complex. At the same time, the fabric of information systems has changed; the long-term trends of commoditization and consolidation have pushed opportunities for competitive differentiation—and the necessary skills to take advantage of them—to higher levels of abstraction.
Many people have come to believe that the discipline of architecture is a powerful tool to address this daunting challenge.
The Open Group, a consortium of IT vendors and users, was formed in 1996 by the merger of X/Open and the Open Software Foundation (OSF). Multiple forums allow members to contribute to open standards in a variety of technology domains. One of the most active forums is the Architecture Forum, with 176 members from all over the world and representing a wide variety of industry sectors. In 1994, the membership decided that a standard enterprise architecture framework was needed. This decision led to the development of The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) and a TOGAF certification program.
The certification of IT architects benefits three constituencies:
- Individual practicing IT architects, and, thus, the profession as a whole
- The employers of IT architects, both as in-house architects and as professional services architectural consultants
- The consumers of IT architects' services and work products
Based on its extensive experience certifying UNIX implementations, The Open Group believed that the certification process needed to be demonstrably objective—that is, the same results would be achieved, regardless of who executed the process. So, in addition to the publication of the TOGAF framework, The Open Group membership defined a policy for certifying TOGAF products (specifically tools and training), services (consulting), and individuals (practitioners). The requirements for certifying TOGAF tools, training courses, professional services, and individual architects are defined by four TOGAF product standards. TOGAF-certified training courses and TOGAF-certified professional services must be delivered by TOGAF-certified architects.
There are two ways an architect can become TOGAF certified: by taking TOGAF certified training, or by passing a TOGAF-certified examination. The training must address, and the examination will test, knowledge and awareness of TOGAF, and a thorough and complete knowledge of the elements of TOGAF listed in the TOGAF 8 Core Definition. This includes the phases and deliverables of the TOGAF Architecture Development Method (ADM); the TOGAF Technical Reference Model (TRM), which defines the substance of the framework; the resources available to a TOGAF practitioner (the Standards Information Base, or SIB); the Enterprise Continuum (a model for organizing and relating reusable architecture and solution building blocks); and finally, the relationship of TOGAF to other architectures and architecture frameworks.
As TOGAF went through several successive revisions, members of the Architecture Forum asked the question posed earlier—How do you know if someone is really an architect?—in practice, not just in theory, and considered the problem of IT Architect Certification (ITAC) independent of TOGAF. Several of the Forum's members operated architecture profession programs, and certification was often part of the professional development and career path of profession members. These programs had comparable criteria and processes, but differed in many details and were essentially proprietary. The Architecture Forum recognized the value of industry-wide, vendor-independent standard certification criteria, and asked that The Open Group initiate a project to define such a standard.
In early 2004, IBM and HP began collaborating on a detailed proposal to The Open Group. The proposal was approved in October 2004, and a working group comprising volunteers from Capgemini, CLARS, EDS, HP, and IBM developed IT architect certification requirements and policies over the next year. These were approved by The Open Group membership and the program went public in July 2005.
The goal that certified individuals be actually, not merely potentially, successful practitioners led to the realization that IT architect certification did not lend itself well to traditional certification methods such as examinations. As a result, board review of demonstrated skills and experience by certified peers was agreed upon as the evaluation method.
From its inception, the program was envisioned as offering three levels of certification: Certified, Master, and Distinguished, as shown in Table 1.
Table 1. ITAC certification levels
The initial focus was on level 2, as that was the membership's primary need. The working group also felt that it would be straightforward, after establishing level 2, to relax and strengthen the certification requirements, respectively, to address levels 1 and 3. Using board review instead of examination to decide certification made the requirement for a demonstrably objective process particularly challenging, especially considering the additional requirement that the process be scalable to many hundreds of certifications per year and thousands of certifications in total.
Because many member companies already had large architectural practices and internal certification programs, an obvious strategy was to leverage these existing programs. This led to the idea of "indirect" certification by an Accredited Certification Program (ACP), by which a company could certify its own architects using an internal process that had been accredited to conform to The Open Group standard for IT architect certification, and that was periodically audited by The Open Group for continued conformance and quality control. In addition, The Open Group would directly certify architects whose employers, for whatever reason, chose not to set up an ACP.
The certification process is depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Direct and indirect certification process
Candidates for certification prepare a submission package comprising a document of no more than 50 pages, based on a template provided by The Open Group, and letters of reference. If the package is judged complete and the references are confirmed, it is passed on to a three-member review board, and a board interview with the candidate is scheduled. The board members are themselves certified architects. The review board examines the package in detail, to confirm that the evidence the candidate has provided adequately demonstrates the skills and experience specified in the IT Architect Certification Conformance Requirements. The board's interview (three separate one-hour interviews with each board member) serves two purposes: to resolve any uncertainties about the evidence provided in the submission package and to confirm the candidate's ability to authoritatively discuss the work the evidence is derived from.
The three board members then meet to discuss their conclusions based on the review of the submission package and the candidate interview. While the goal is for a board to reach a unanimous agreement to approve or reject a candidate, a two out of three vote is required. Each board member's conclusions about the candidate's satisfaction of certification requirements are captured and preserved by an online candidate assessment tool. For each certification requirement judged not satisfied, the board member must provide a specific explanation for why the evidence provided fails to demonstrate the skill or experience required, and this feedback is provided to the candidate. Candidates approved for certification are also provided with career development suggestions from the board members.
Board interviews for direct certification are held in conjunction with The Open Group's quarterly Enterprise Architecture Practitioners Conference, and additional boards are scheduled at The Open Group's offices or elsewhere as needed. If a company has more than a few candidates for certification, it may be more economical for the board to travel to a company site at the company's expense.
The Certification Conformance Requirements require that, for each of the following skills, the candidate cite three examples that demonstrate mastery of the skill to the degree that is appropriate for the certification level (certified, master, distinguished) for which application is being made:
- Apply communication skills.
- Lead individuals and teams.
- Perform conflict resolution.
- Manage architectural elements of an IT project plan.
- Understand business aspects.
- Develop IT architecture.
- Use modeling techniques.
- Perform technical solution assessments.
- Apply IT standards.
- Establish technical vision.
- Use of techniques.
- Apply methods.
- Define solution to functional and nonfunctional requirements.
- Manage stakeholder requirements
- Establish architectural decisions.
- Validate conformance of the solution to the architecture.
- Perform as technology advisor.
Similarly, the candidate is asked to provide three examples demonstrating:
- Experience producing architectures.
- Breadth of architectural experience.
- Experience with different types of technologies and architectures.
- Application of methods.
- Full life-cycle involvement.
- Industry knowledge.
- Knowledge of IT trends.
In addition, the certification candidate is required to provide three experience profiles, each of which provides an overview of an architectural engagement the candidate participated in. The candidate may cite these profiles as providing the evidence asked for in the skills and experience sections above. Each profile specifies:
- Experience with strategy/design/implementation aspects of solution.
- Key decisions made.
- Demonstrated architectural capability.
- Broad technical experience.
- Application of tools and methods.
- Demonstrated success.
- Performance as a lead IT architect.
Finally the candidate is asked to provide evidence of professional development and community activities:
- Training in the design and engineering of IT architectures
- Knowledge of the technology, trends, and techniques in the IT industry
- Vertical industry knowledge (telecoms, financial, and so forth)
- Skills and knowledge in IT architecture
- Contributions to the IT architecture profession
- Contribution to the IT architecture community
Certifications are valid for three years, after which recertification is required. Recertification entails a simplified application and interview process intended to validate that the architect has continued to practice and has continued with professional development and community contribution activities.
The total number of certified IT architects to date is 2112. Three companies (IBM, EDS, and CA) are currently operating Accredited Certification Programs. Certified architects come from companies as diverse as Accenture, Adnovate BV, Allstate Insurance, Armstrong Process Group, ASC, BearingPoint, BK Larsson Consulting LTD, Capgemini, Carlson Companies, Cisco Systems, Codecentric GmbH, Credit Suisse, Computer Sciences Corporation, Datamail, Deutsche Post AG, EDS, First Canadian Title, Fortis, Ganz, GTECH Corporation, Gulf Business Machines, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, IntegrityOne Partners, Intel, ISM Canada, ITA Consulting, ITSC Bonn, Microsoft, QR Systems Inc., Rapier Solutions Consulting Ltd., Riosoft Consulting, and Rogers.
TOGAF or ITAC certification entitles one to membership in the Association of Open Group Enterprise Architects (AOGEA).
The Open Group's TOGAF and ITAC certifications provide multiple benefits to the IT architecture community:
- Standards developed via an open, multinational process represent a consensus as to the industry's best practices.
- Internationally recognized standards for IT architect certification promote the development and recognition of the IT Architect profession and, thereby, raise the bar for qualifications across the entire industry.
- Certification provides professionals with a portable vendor-independent credential verifying their experience and competence, a credential which, by acknowledging their value and contributions, can aid in career advancement.
- Internationally recognized standards of architectural competence provide employers with a useful filter for potential hires, and supplementary criteria for selecting the most qualified individuals for critical roles and responsibilities, as well as provide a clear career path for employees.
- To assure quality of service, clients can require staffing by certified IT architects in requests for project proposals, procurement specifications, and service-level agreements.
- Solutions providers deploying certified IT architects through their service organizations will hold a competitive advantage as procurements increasingly specify certified practitioners as a requirement. This is happening to the project management profession and can be expected to happen to the IT architecture profession as well.
- All parties benefit from the ease with which the credential can readily be verified via The Open Group Certification Directory.
- Organizations with Accredited Certification Programs gain credibility and increased stature with clients, partners, and employees.
More information on The Open Group's architecture-related activities and its certification programs can be found at The Open Group's Web site: http://www.opengroup.org.
Information about the Association of Open Group Enterprise Architects can be found at the AOGEA's Web site: http://www.aogea.org.
About the author
Len Fehskens is the VP, Skills and Capabilities for The Open Group. Len joined The Open Group in September 2007 after 23 years with Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq Computer Company and Hewlett-Packard, where he led the worldwide Architecture Profession Office for HP Services. Len majored in computer science at MIT, and has over 40 years of experience in the IT business as both an individual contributor and a manager, within both product engineering and services business units. He is the lead inventor for six software patents on the object-oriented management of distributed systems.
This article was published in the Architecture Journal, a print and online publication produced by Microsoft. For more articles from this publication, please visit the Architecture Journal Web site.