For those who wish to pursue the most influential information role in their organization, the first question is this: Who has the most impact on information strategies, policies and procedures in today’s organizations? Surprisingly, it may not be the chief information officer (CIO). Despite the name, many CIOs are much more focused on managing their enterprise’s applications and technology infrastructures rather than governing its data assets. So, if not the CIO, then who is calling the shots when it comes to an organization’s information?
During the 1980s, the principal information job often belonged to the database administrators (DBAs). These individuals were the ones responsible for specifying internal schema, interfacing with programmers whose applications would run against the database, implementing database controls and policies, and “tuning” the database for performance. However, many organizations realized over time that effective data management required a combination of business and technical skills along with a set of job functions that were too much for a single position.
Thus, in the 1990s, a new top information role, the data administrator (DA), emerged. Working in conjunction with the DBA, the DA was responsible for liaising between the business and IT, translating business requirements and strategic planning into data models and metadata, and devising the entity relation diagrams that would guide database development. In the 2000s, master data management and data governance materialized, and the senior information job was transformed again into that of the data steward. Similar to the evolution of the DBA, the data steward role was often divided into the “technical” data steward, who performed many of the job functions of the DBA, and the “business” data steward, who took on many of the job functions of the DA as well as some new ones such as overseeing security, privacy, quality, data aging and archiving requirements.
Today, the most influential information job in the enterprise continues to change. As more organizations seek to better align their data needs with their business strategy, a new chief information role has begun to take shape, that of the information architect.1 The information architect is the person responsible for defining the vision for information management throughout the enterprise, including strategies and policies related to data governance and master data management.
This is a position that works very closely with the CIO because the information architect has the critical job of facilitating the orchestration of the organization’s data architecture with applications and technology infrastructure so that the organization can fully exploit its information capabilities in support of its business needs. Given the importance of this position, it is not surprising that sources like The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) and Salary.Com put the salary associated with this position in the six-figure range.
Given the role of the information architect as the organization’s dominant information champion, the second question for those who wish to pursue their organization’s most important information job is this: How does one prepare for this career? To find out, we posed this question to several individuals from industry including Robert Fox, Director of Information Architecture at Alltel Corp, and Eric Nielsen, Enterprise Architect at Schneider National Inc. We combined their responses with those of students (Robert McGough and Tonmoy Dasgupta from the Department of Information Systems, State of Arkansas) and faculty (Dr. Elizabeth Pierce and Dr. John Talburt) from the Master of Science in Information Quality Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to come up with a list of mentoring points to guide those interested in becoming their organization’s highest ranking information leader.
Through articles, phone interviews and email discussions among our panel, it quickly became apparent that there are four key qualities that an aspiring information architect must possess.
- Good Communication Skills: Good communication skills are one of the most important traits of the information architect. An information architect must be able to effectively convey the organization’s information vision and strategy in different lengths and settings (i.e., in the elevator, over a lunch, in an hour-long presentation, etc.) An information architect must be able to successfully communicate his or her message through a variety of mediums such as intranet portals, one-page memos, emails, presentations and face-to-face interactions with either individuals or groups.
In addition, an information architect must be prepared to resolve conflicts and to negotiate solutions. Advocating a redesign of stovepipe applications to remove data duplication, even when it is needed for better enterprise data integration, can sometimes escalate into a turf war between business divisions over data ownership issues. Skilled diplomacy and effective conflict resolution skills are must-haves for the information architect. Becoming an effective communicator requires extensive practice.
One way to get that practice is through Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization that provides individuals with the opportunity to improve public speaking and leadership skills through peer mentorship. Another way to improve communication skills is to seek out the mentorship of outstanding communicators within the organization. College courses in speaking, writing and listening also provide opportunities for improving one’s communication skills.
- Rich Organizational Experience: One does not step out of college into the information architect’s role as the organization’s chief information strategist. One has to earn their place through many years of experience in business and technology. The information architect must possess a wealth of know-how in different aspects of the enterprise and its data management. One way to gain the necessary organization knowledge is to change jobs about every two years within the organization.In addition, one should plan on obtaining at least six to eight years of experience for a junior information architect position, while the senior information architect may have closer to 30 years of experience.
- Passion for Working with Information: The person who desires the top information job must be passionate about what they do. While passion is sometimes hard to define, it is easy to spot in those who love their work, share their contributions through literature and/or conference engagements, and possess the ability to gain the respect of their colleagues through their work ethic and personal rapport. Both our industry panelists spoke of the challenge of “limiting” their work to 50 hours per week. They also mentioned their enjoyment in talking to people both inside and outside of their organization about what they do.
- Subject Knowledge: There are currently no academic programs that train someone specifically for the job of information architect. However, a basic degree followed by some Master’s level work and job experience in the following areas is recommended: data modeling, project management, management, accountancy, communications and writing. Individuals interested in assuming the information architect job must supplement these areas by keeping up with the latest developments in their industry in conjunction with best practices for information management.
Given the plethora of materials that has been published already, our panel recommends several information classics as a start.
- The Data Warehouse Lifecycle Toolkit by Ralph Kimball. Published by John Wiley & Sons, 1998.
- Customer Data Integration: Reaching a Single Version of the Truth by Jill Dyché and Evan. Published by Wiley and SAS Business Series, 2006.
- Corporate Information Factory (2nd Edition) by W. H. Inmon, Claudia Imhoff, and Ryan Sousa. Published by John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
- Building and Managing the Meta Data Repository by David Marco. Published by John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
- Enterprise Architecture Planning: Developing a Blueprint for Data, Applications, and Technology by Steven Spewak. Published by John Wiley & Sons, 1992.
- Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Executives by Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson. Published by Harvard Business School Press, 2006.
In addition to this list, frequenting websites such as DMReview, TDAN, and BeyeNETWORK and those that feature articles on data architecture and governance are useful sources for staying current. Another source is TOGAF, a vendor neutral website that offers study guides on enterprise architecture for purchase.
Certifications and conferences are relatively few in this area, but this may change as the role of information architect becomes more established.
In summary, today’s most prominent information role is the information architect who is responsible for the enterprise-wide vision and strategy for information management, including master data management and data governance. It is a well compensated and important job, but it requires years of preparation in four main areas.
- Develop all aspects of communication skills.
- Work toward a richer set of job experiences.
- Keep acquiring subject knowledge.
- Acquire a passion for the information discipline.
Excellences in these areas form the foundation for assuming the organization’s foremost information leadership role.
- The name, information architect, like its role in the enterprise is evolving. Some may prefer to use the term chief data steward or chief data officer to further differentiate this job from existing roles like a data modeler, which lack the scope and power envisioned for this information leadership position.
Personal communications with Robert Fox, Director of Information Architecture, Alltel, Eric Nielsen, Enterprise Architect, Schneider National, Robert McGough and Tonmoy Dasgupta, Arkansas DIS, and Elizabeth Pierce and John Talburt, UALR.
Carlock, T. “So You Want to be a Data Champion,” TDAN, April 2008.
Salary.com. “Enterprise Architect Director Salary.”