Solutions architects: The picture gets clearer

CIO Council presentation on solutions architects

What exactly is a solutions architect? That is the question officials discussed during a forum this month.

Regardless of what they do, experts suggest that solutions architects will likely be the people to move enterprise architecture past information tech- nology organizations and into agency programs, under an emerging definition within the federal government.

The concept of a solutions architect emerged from the Office of Management and Budget and the federal enterprise architecture. The architecture outlines the government's common processes and technologies and is intended to point the way for multiple agencies to invest in common solutions. But for more than a year, there was little clarity about the real functions of a solutions architect.

Beyond everything else, solutions architects need to be able to understand an agency's mission and architecture, and how a program or system fits into that big picture, said Bob Haycock, acting director of the Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office. Solutions architects also must be able to bridge the gap between the business and technology portions of the program, he added.

That gap is what the entire federal enterprise architecture arena is facing right now, said Mark Forman, who headed the OMB Office of E-Government and IT until Aug. 15 and led the development of the architecture. Currently, chief information officers and e-government initiative leaders are responsible for the architecture, but "we need people in the agencies to understand how they interface with those cross-agency layers," Forman said.

Officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development hope that solutions architects can bring high-level enterprise architectures down to a level where they directly affect programs, said Dick Burk, the department's chief architect. At HUD, this means focusing on core functions, crosscutting business lines and getting the most out of the solutions architects agency officials have identified, he said.

Burk was speaking at a conference on solutions architects in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Potomac Forum Ltd. and Federal Sources Inc.

At the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the emphasis for the solutions architects is reusing components, or common pieces of systems or programs, said Doug Bourgeois, CIO at the agency. While focusing on a particular program's needs, the solutions architect would have access to all work done throughout the agency and throughout the government, he said.

The CIO Council is working to further clarify the limits and requirements for what leaders hope will become an official position, said Ira Hobbs, co-chairman of the council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee.

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What is a solutions architect?

The working definition of the job still varies from agency to agency. But the CIO Council has released a white paper highlighting some common competencies and there is now general agreement that a solutions architect is a person who applies an enterprise architecture for business or technical activities to a specific system or function.

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