Professional Training Trends (Part One): A Q&A with Chris Armstrong, Armstrong Process Group

By The Open Group

This is part one in a two part series.

Professional development and training is a perpetually hot topic within the technology industry. After all, who doesn’t want to succeed at their job and perform better?

Ongoing education and training is particularly important for technology professionals who are already in the field. With new tech trends, programming languages and methodologies continuously popping up, most professionals can’t afford not to keep their skill sets up to date these days.

The Open Group member Chris Armstrong is well-versed in the obstacles that technology professionals face to do their jobs. President of Armstrong Process Group, Inc. (APG), Armstrong and his firm provide continuing education and certification programs for technology professionals and Enterprise Architects covering all aspects of the enterprise development lifecycle. We recently spoke with Armstrong about the needs of Architecture professionals and the skills and tools he thinks are necessary to do the job effectively today.

What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in training today?

If I look at the kinds of things we’ve been helping people with, we definitely continue to do professional certifications like TOGAF®. It appears that the U.S. is still lagging behind Europe with penetration of TOGAF certifications. For example, the trend has been that the U.K. is number one in certifications and the U.S. is number two. Based on sheer numbers of workers, there should actually be far more people certified in the U.S., but that could be related to cultural differences in regional markets as related to certification.

Another trend we’re seeing a lot of is “How do I do this in the real world?” TOGAF intentionally does not go to the level of detail that prescribes how you really do things. Many practitioners are looking for more focused, detailed training specific to different Enterprise Architecture (EA) domains. APG does quite a bit of that with our enterprise clients to help institutionalize EA practices. There are also many tool vendors that provide tools to help accomplish EA tasks and we help with training on those.

We also find that there’s a need for balance between how much to train someone in terms of formal training vs. mentoring and coaching them. As a profession, we do a lot of classroom training, but we need to follow up more with how we’re going to apply it in the real world and in our environment with on-the-job training. Grasping the concepts in an instructor-led class isn’t the same as doing it for real, when trying to solve a problem you actually care about.

When people are interested in becoming Enterprise Architects, what kind of training should they pursue?

That’s a pretty compelling question as it has to do with the state of the architecture profession, which is still in its infancy. From a milestone perspective, it’s still hard to call Enterprise Architecture a “true” profession if you can’t get educated on it. With other professions—attorneys or medical doctors—you can go to an accredited university and get a degree or a master’s and participate in continuing education. There are some indicators that things are progressing though. Now there are master’s programs in Enterprise Architecture at institutions like Penn State. We’ve donated some of our architecture curriculum as a gift- in-kind to the program and have a seat on their corporate advisory board. It was pretty awesome to make that kind of contribution to support and influence their program.

We talk about this in our Enterprise Architecture training to help to make people aware of that milestone. However, do you think that getting a four-year degree in Computer Science or Math or Engineering and then going on to get a master’s is sufficient to be a successful Enterprise Architect? Absolutely not. So if that’s insufficient, we have to agree what additional experiences individuals should have in order to become Enterprise Architects.

It seems like we need the kind of post-graduate experience of a medical doctor where there’s an internship and a residency, based on on-the-ground experience in the real world with guidance from seasoned professionals. That’s been that approach to most professional trades—apprentice, journeyman, to master—they require on-the-job training. You become a master artisan after a certain period of time and experience. Now there are board-level certifications and some elements of a true profession, but we’re just not there yet in Enterprise Architecture. Len Fehskens at the Association of Enterprise Architects (AEA) has been working on this a lot recently. I think it’s still unclear what it will take to legitimize this as a profession, and while I’m not sure I know the answer, there may be some indicators to consider.

I think as Enterprise Architecture becomes more commonplace, there will be more of an expectation for it. Part of the uptake issue is that most people running today’s organizations likely have an MBA and when they got it 20, 30 or 40 years ago, EA was not recognized as a key business capability. Now that there are EA master’s programs, future MBA candidates will have been exposed to it in their education, which will remove some of the organizational barriers to adoption.

I think it will still be another 20 or 30 years for mass awareness. As more organizations become successful in showing how they have exploited Enterprise Architecture to deliver real business benefits (increased profitability and reduced risk), the call for qualified people will increase. And because of the consequences of the decisions Enterprise Architects are involved in, business leaders will want assurance that their people are qualified and have the requisite accreditation and experience that they’d expect from an attorney or doctor.

Maybe one other thing to call out—in order for us to overcome some of these barriers, we need to be thinking about what kind of education do we need to be providing our business leaders about Enterprise Architecture so that they are making the right kinds of investments. It’s not just Architect education that we need, but also business leader education.

What kind of architecture skills are most in demand right now?

Business Architecture has a lot of legs right now because it’s an essential part of the alignment with the business. I do see some risks of bifurcation between the “traditional” EA community and the emerging Business Architecture community. The business is enterprise, so it’s critical that the EA and BA communities are unified. There is more in common amongst us than differences as professionals, and I think there’s strength in numbers. And while Business Architecture seems to have some good velocity right now, at the end of the day you still need to be able to support your business with IT Architecture.

There is a trend coming up I do wonder about, which is related to Technology Architecture, as it’s known in TOGAF. Some people may also call it Infrastructure Architecture. With the evolution of cloud as a platform, it’s becoming in my mind—and this might be just because I’m looking at it from the perspective of a start-up IT company with APG—it’s becoming less and less of an issue to have to care as much about the technology and the infrastructure because in many cases people are making investments in these platforms where that’s taken care of by other people. I don’t want to say we don’t care at all about the technology, but a lot of the challenges organizations have of standardizing on technology to make sure that things can be easily sustainable from a cost and risk perspective, many of those may change when more and more organizations start putting things in the cloud, so it could possibly mean that a lot of the investments that organizations have made in technical architecture could become less important.

Although, that will have to be compensated for from a different perspective, particularly an emerging domain that some people call Integration Architecture. And that also applies to Application Architecture as well—as many organizations move away from custom development to packaged solutions and SaaS solutions, when they think about where they want to make investments, it may be that when all these technologies and application offerings are being delivered to us via the cloud, we may need to focus more on how they’re integrated with one another.

But there’s still obviously a big case for the entirety of the discipline—Enterprise Architecture—and really being able to have that clear line of sight to the business.

What are some of the options currently available for ongoing continuing education for Enterprise Architects?

The Association of Enterprise Architects (AEA) provides a lot of programs to help out with that by supplementing the ecosystem with additional content. It’s a blend between formal classroom training and conference proceedings. We’re doing a monthly webinar series with the AEA entitled “Building an Architecture Platform,” which focuses on how to establish capabilities within the organization to deliver architecture services. The topics are about real-world concerns that have to do with the problems practitioners are trying to address. Complementing professional skills development with these types of offerings is another part of the APG approach.

One of the things APG is doing, and this is a project we’re working on with others at The Open Group, is defining an Enterprise Architecture capability model. One of the things that capability model will be used for is to decide where organizations need to make investments in education. The current capability model and value chain that we have is pretty broad and has a lot of different dimensions to it. When I take a look at it and think “How do people do those things?” I see an opportunity for education and development. Once we continue to elaborate the map of things that comprise Enterprise Architecture, I think we’ll see a lot of opportunity for getting into a lot of different dimensions of how Enterprise Architecture affects an organization.

And one of the things we need to think about is how we can deliver just-in-time training to a diverse, global community very rapidly and effectively. Exploiting online learning management systems and remote coaching are some of the avenues that APG is pursuing.

Are there particular types of continuing education programs that EAs should pursue from a career development standpoint?

One of the things I’ve found interesting is that I’ve seen a number of my associates in the profession going down the MBA path. My sense is that that’s a representation of an interest in understanding better how the business executives see the enterprise from their world and to help perhaps frame the question “How can I best anticipate and understand where they’re coming from so that I can more effectively position Enterprise Architecture at a different level?” So that’s cross-disciplinary training. Of course that makes a lot of sense, because at the end of the day, that’s what Enterprise Architecture is all about—how to exploit the synergy that exists within an enterprise. A lot of times that’s about going horizontal within the organization into places where people didn’t necessarily think you had any business in. So raising that awareness and understanding of the relevance of EA is a big part of it.

Another thing that certainly is driving many organizations is regulatory compliance, particularly general risk management. A lot of organizations are becoming aware that Enterprise Architecture plays an essential role in supporting that. Getting cross-training in those related disciplines would make a lot of sense. At the end of the day, those parts of an organizations typically have a lot more authority, and consequently, a lot more funding and money than Enterprise Architecture does, because the consequence of non-conformance is very punitive—the pulling of licenses to operate, heavy fines, bad publicity. We’re just not quite there that if an organization were to not do “good” on Enterprise Architecture, that it’d become front-page news in The New York Times. But when someone steals 30 million cardholders’ personal information, that does become headline news and the subject of regulatory punitive damages. And not to say that Enterprise Architecture is the savior of all things, but it is well-accepted within the EA community that Enterprise Architecture is an essential part of building an effective governance and a regulatory compliance environment.

By The Open GroupChris Armstrong is president of Armstrong Process Group, Inc. and an internationally recognized thought leader and expert in iterative software development, enterprise architecture, object-oriented analysis and design, the Unified Modeling Language (UML), use case driven requirements and process improvement.

Over the past twenty years, Chris has worked to bring modern software engineering best practices to practical application at many private companies and government organizations worldwide. Chris has spoken at over 30 conferences, including The Open Group Enterprise Architecture Practitioners Conference, Software Development Expo, Rational User Conference, OMG workshops and UML World. He has been published in such outlets as Cutter IT Journal, Enterprise Development and Rational Developer Network.

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