The Business Value of the Overlooked Data Architect

Loraine Lawson

Here's something to think about in case you find yourself snowed in this blustery month: Given the decade's shift toward the information-driven enterprise, is it time to give the data its due by empowering data architects?


We're not talking (yet) about a board position-I say that because, inevitably, that's where these discussions seem to head. But in a December Intelligent Enterprise column, Rajan Chandras makes a strong case for elevating the "beleaguered data architect, alone and unappreciated," a proposal that recently received a strong "I second that" from data and SOA pundit, Joe McKendrick:

...the jobs of data architects have grown only more critical as time has gone on. Organizations seek to compete on analytics, and decision makers are demanding real-time access to the state of their business. Newer approaches such as service oriented architecture, Enterprise 2.0, and cloud computing are exposing data from all corners of the enterprise and beyond. However, these efforts will fall flat on their faces if the data they pulse through their systems is not trustworthy, not timely, or of dubious quality.

But what about enterprise architects? After all, they're still struggling to find their place in the enterprise-can't they just handle this?


McKendrick thinks not, noting "data architects address key areas not covered by enterprise architects," although he adds that they do require some of the same "people skills."


You have to wonder, though, if people skills might be a bit of a problem, given Chandras' portrayal of the "beleaguered data architect," standing "in the midst of this maelstrom" of data warehousing, master data management and data models gone awry:

... Even as millions of dollars are burnt up all around him (or her) in repeated tragicomic parodies of project management and solution architectures, the data architect -- the unseen force holding together the protons and neutrons of data in the nucleus of IT solutions -- must struggle to justify her (or his) existence.

It seems to me if data architects had the skills McKendrick outlines, they could've stepped up their game and been a bit less " beleaguered" and a bit more ... well, proactive and helpful.


Still, melodramatic aside, the question remains: In a world where good data, useable data, is so often desired, so (expensively) pursued and so seldom found, maybe it's time the data architect had a bit more power and say in how data's managed across the enterprise.


Certainly, I like the idea of one architect -- or, perhaps an an Integration Competency Center -- but one entity being responsible for data integration throughout the enterprise. The case becomes even stronger when you consider how many initiatives will depend on good data for their success or failure, including, as McKendrick points out, cloud computing, analytics, plus "master data management, data warehousing, business intelligence, event processing, business rules management, business process management, decision management, and compliance reporting."


I would add one more to that list-the rise of semantics in the enterprise. In fact, Wise Geek states that data architects often create metadata registries-and that will unquestionably become a more treasured skill as semantic technology finds its way into the enterprise.

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