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Help wanted: qualified SOA architects

The OpenGroup moves to elevate enterprise architects to the level of CPAs and lawyers in order to address the shortage of IT professionals qualified to implement SOA.

The Association of Open Group Enterprise Architects (AOGEA) was founded today in an attempt to fill a competence gap in the face of analyst and vendor fears that unqualified architects might slow or even doom SOA adoption.

If this gap isn't filled I think the entire movement to service-oriented architecture could basically fail.
Ron Schmelzer
Senior AnalystZapThink LLC

The goal of the new association is to raise the status of enterprise architects to a par with CPAs and lawyers' bar associations, according to the announcement made on the first day of the Open Group's Enterprise Architects Practitioners Conference in San Diego. The AOGEA already has 700 members and the Open Group, a vendor and technology neutral consortium, is also offering certification programs. More than 2,000 individuals have completed The Open Group Architecture Framework certification and approximately 1,700 practitioners have completed the organization's IT Architecture Certification since those programs began less than two years ago, according to today's announcement.

While applauding the Open Group program, Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, said more education is needed or SOA may be doomed by sheer lack of knowledge among the people trying to implement it.

"The real thing that's holding SOA back is the lack of architectural experience," the analyst said. "Something has to be done. If this gap isn't filled I think the entire movement to service-oriented architecture could basically fail."

Miko Matsumura, vice president of SOA marketing for webMethods Inc., echoed this concern in an interview last week with SearchWebServices where he said "the shortage of qualified visionary architects" would be one of the hot button issues facing the SOA world in 2007.

Schmelzer said what the Open Group is initiating will help address the problem of "paper architects," which he identified as people who manage to get "architect" printed on their business cards, but aren't really qualified to design SOA projects. This contrasts with the fact that no one can legally put CPA on their business card without have a certified public accountant license, which means they have passed tests and met other standard qualifications.

"Why is it with IT you can have completely untrained, unqualified, unlicensed, unskilled people controlling the organization for how a bank does financial transactions online?" the analyst asked.

The new Open Group association is designed to provide knowledge transfer among members as well as bar association type status, Schmelzer said. Knowledge transfer is hard to come by, he said, because unlike brick-and-mortar Frank Lloyd Wright-type architects, who attend schools of architecture at universities, computer science departments are not turning out classes of architects.

"If you major in computer science you either learn how to develop applications or how computers work," he said. "But you don't learn how to design complex systems, which is what architecture really is."

The resulting lack of training and experience means that there are a dearth of qualified architects for SOA projects, Schmelzer said. ZapThink recently partnered with an executive recruiting firm to help identify qualified architects that organizations might hire to design their SOA implementations.

"Nobody knows where to find these people," he said. "We only have 20 or 30 on our list. It's not like there's hundreds."

He said an important feature of the Open Group's efforts are that they are vendor neutral. "This effort is focused on architectural experience and has nothing to do with products," he said.

Organizations can get confused by tool vendor's marketing hype and think all that's needed for SOA is some good tools, Schmelzer says. He compares this to parents giving their six-year-old an expensive mixer and saying: "Bake us a cake."

For more information
Check out our SOA Learning Guide

Miko Matsumura on SOA winners and losers in 2007

"If you're really lucky, you might get a cake but it probably won't taste that good," the analyst quips. "The parents will say, 'Yeah, yeah, you baked a cake, isn't that cute.' But you're not trying to go out there and sell it. Strange as it sounds, that's exactly what's happening with SOA. There are tools out there like the mixer and you're told if you use the tools you'll get service-oriented architecture, but in the vast majority of cases, they're like six-year-olds. They don't know how to do SOA, but they're attempting to do it anyway."

Schmelzer and Matsumura agree that people doing SOA without knowing what they are doing are likely to result in horror stories about failed projects. In Schmelzer's view it might doom the service-oriented approach.

"It will just become a movement toward standardized Web services," he said, outline the worst case scenario, "and we're just going to keep coming back and revisiting the problem of integration, reuse, reliability and security every 10 years. We're not solving these problems because we don't have qualified architects in the organization."

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