IASA members will interact with Toyota engineers and learn how the software for the Lexus was designed
Once in a very long while, there comes a chance to do something that will help shape the development of industry, and sometimes, even the chance to create a whole new profession. That chance, it seems, has arrived for the field of IT architecture.
But first, exactly what is an IT architect? Like most people, you probably will not be able to answer that question. In fact, many people in the IT industry itself will not be able to answer that question. In fact, many people in the IT industry itself will not be able to answer with any certainty. The reason is simple: Until today, there is no one professional body that has been able to certify what an IT architect is. And with no authoritative body to define the profession, the concept of an IT architect has reminded vague. Yet, there is a need for such a profession, if nothing else than to bring a sense of intentional coherence and design to IT implementation and to increase its success rate.
The oft-cited analogy is that you would not build a skyscraper without involving a professional architect. The same then should apply to large IT implementations whose budgets can run into the tens, or even hundreds of millions and whose virtual architecture can be mind-bogglingly complex. Unfortunately, the collapse of a bridge or a sky scraper. Yes, you can find people who have been designated as IT architects, whose role is to “architect solutions”, but ask them what body of knowledge they need to posses, what code of ethics they need to adhere to or what kind of exams they need to pass and the answer will vary form architect to architect.
From ISAC-M to IASA
Enter IASA, or International Association of Software Architects. This association is trying to accomplish what no other association has succeeded in doing thus far – create a globally recognised certification for IT architects. A group of Malaysians within IASA is playing a significant role in making that a reality by coming up with new processes to qualify professional IT architects as well as being the driving force for the expansion of IASA in Asia.
While IASA is a US-based association, its Malaysian affiliate started life as a separate entity called ISAC-M. It was not even a separate organisation at that point but a special interest group within MNCC (Malaysian national Computer Confederation), created for members with an interest in IT architecture. Last year, after lengthy discussions with IASA US, the leadership of ISAC-M decided to affiliate itself with IASA, adopted the name IASA Malaysia and became an officially registered society. The IASA Malaysia team also formed IASA Asia-Pacific, which embarked on a rapid rollout of IASA a year, there are now operational IASA chapters in Thailand, Singapore and India. In 2008, IASA Asia-Pacific plans to inaugurate chapters in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan. There is also an IASA chapter in Penang.
This growth has led to several changes in the leadership team of IASA Malaysia. Its former chairman, Aaron Tan Dani, is now chairman of IASA Asia. Its ex-president Teh TK resigned from his job as solutions architect at ING Insurance Bhd and has joined IASA Malaysia full-time as its office president. The new chapter president is Dr Timothy Nam, managing director at market intelligence firm DKSH E2E Technologies Sdn Bhd. Prior to joining DKSH, Nam held numerous managerial positions for sales, marketing, consulting, technical and support delivery portfolios in IB,, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems and Sime Darby Bhd. IASA’s new vice-president is Yap Ke Lip, managing director of consulting firm Nuzo Systems Sdn Bhd.
Exciting interest in the profession
The road to IT certification is a long one and the new realise it will take some time to get there. But they have taken the first step to introduce what they term professional members. To become a professional member of IASA, one has to pass interview testing one’s knowledge, soft skills and project management skills conducted by a selected panel. To date, IASA Malaysia has inducted 40 professional members out of a total of about 300 of its members. Details are being worked out so that the professional member logo on their business cards. “What we’re doing is new so we’re collaborating closely with the IASA US to shape and refine the professional recognition process, ” says Teh.
The next step IASA Malaysia is taking is to introduce a training framework called the Architect Training Programme or ATP for short. It will be a self-paced e-learning syllabus developed by IASA US. Once the training framework is firmly in place next year, further plans for formal architect certification can be made. In addition to the ATP, IASA Malaysia is introducing-led workshops.
Apart from its training and certification plans, IASA is looking to inject some glamour into the profession. “We want to excite the profession,” says Nam. “We want software architecture to be known as a cool profession that is associated with tech savvy and money. We want to show them how software can change lives.” One of the things IASA has done is a tie-up with listed company UMW Toyota. IASA members will get to meet Lexus engineers who will show how their software is designed and how it is used to control various aspects of the award-winning cars.
While developing the IT architect profession and serving its members is its main focus, IASA also wants to promote good architecture and reduce the failure rate of large IT projects. It has made some strides in this area and was involved in auditing own government enterprise architecture project as well as providing input to strengthen architectural requirements for another large government RFP, or request for proposal.
IASA’s growth happens to also coincide with a rise in industry recognition for the importance of architecture. Says Yap: “A few years ago, you hardly saw any job ads for IT architects. But now, you are seeing quite a large number of ads for them. There is now more recognition for IT architecture as a profession.” And it seems IASA is well placed to serve the needs of this emerging profession. “What brings all of us here is our passion for architecture,” says Nam. ” Our goal is to make it mandatory for IT architects to sign off large IT blueprints just like how building architects sign off on building projects.” And at the rate IASA is making progress, the day that happens might not be far off.