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Role model: Info architects a must

Just exactly who is the information architect? When clearly defined, the info architect can be the most valuable and productive person in your successful IT organization.

Following its first-ever strategic plan last year, biotech firm MedImmune Inc. realized the need to hire an enterprise architect to create a roadmap for future business growth. As biotech firms go, 17-year-old MedImmune is still relatively young and retains its entrepreneurial origins. Nevertheless, important changes are afoot at the Gaithersburg, Md.-based company.

MedImmune has been adding 10 to 15 new employees per week to keep pace with rapid growth as it develops and commercializes new drugs. Since 1994, its workforce has grown an average of 31% a year. Product revenue is on the rise, too. During the same time span, MedImmune posted compound annual sales growth of 45%.

Managing rapid growth requires a deep understanding of how the various business processes within MedImmune depend on and influence one another, including research, clinical trials, regulatory approval and sales and marketing, said Peter Young, the company's vice president of IT. It puts a premium on long-range planning and communication across discrete lines of business. "Looking at our planning initiatives during the next five to 10 years,

Our enterprise architects understand what our customers want and need, and they're able to build a relationship with them as trusted advisors.


John Kauffmann


Director of integration services

Optimus Solutions

we recognized the need to have a cohesive vision of all our business operations, which weren't really evident," Young said.

Using the Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture, MedImmune aims to winnow inefficiencies from its business processes and make more strategic investments in IT. Overseeing the huge task is Greg Warth, senior director of enterprise architecture, who previously spent nine years in high-level application development roles at MedImmune. Warth symbolizes the increasingly important role that enterprise architects are beginning to play, especially in rapidly growing enterprises.

"I am able to use my widespread institutional knowledge and specific understanding of application development to reach across the organization, aligning IT with business goals. I also get a chance to interact with individuals involved in all aspects of the drug-development chain -- from basic research to the commercial organization," Warth said.

Aiding the CIO

Building state-of-the-art enterprise architecture is hardly a novel concept. Organizations for years have been striving to link their investments in information systems to concrete business prerogatives, often without success. Like MedImmune, more and more companies are leaning on enterprise architects to make certain their technology supports their business processes.

The stock of so-called enterprise architects has risen as CIOs focus on launching only IT initiatives that add demonstrable value to their businesses, analysts say. They must be able to negotiate with vendors, understand a balance sheet and cajole different stakeholders to buy into a corporate vision.

"This role is hot these days because organizations simply don't have time to make mistakes in linking their IT investments to their business strategy. Somebody has to own that responsibility," said Richard Buchanan, an enterprise architecture analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

Yet referring to these IT specialists as architects is a tad misleading. Enterprise architects, also sometimes called business architects, concern themselves less with how systems and applications are built and more with the organizationwide value those systems need to deliver.

In that regard, they are similar to independent business analysts who possess knowledge of technology but usually don't architect infrastructure, Buchanan said.

The best chief architects speak the language of both upper management and IT, said Kirk Rheinlander, an enterprise architectural consultant at KPJ Sqared Inc. in Dublin, Ohio.

"Companies are starting to realize that someone who can sit down with the board of directors and persuade them to invest in technology A or technology B, and then go head to head with (leaders of) different IT disciplines, are extremely valuable," Rheinlander said.

Filling a business need

Optimus Solutions LLC, a $70 million software company near Atlanta, relies on a team of enterprise architects to serve as direct conduits to its customers. Most of the architects joined Optimus as a result of acquisitions and they play a vital role, according to John Kauffmann, director of integration services.

"We have enterprise architects (on staff) because our customers are requiring us to have them," Kauffmann said. "Our enterprise architects understand what our customers want and need, and they're able to build a relationship with them as trusted advisors."

People who are both visionaries and entrepreneurial usually make good candidates, Kauffmann said. "Enterprise architects see the big picture, understand current and future technology trends, understand customer and market trends, and can translate business strategies into technical visions and strategies."

Even so, finding people with that breadth of knowledge is no easy matter. The job market isn't exactly flooded with people possessing such singular skills. The law of supply and demand greatly favors people who can demonstrate both business and technical knowledge, according to experts.

"One of the reasons architects are in such demand is because they are so hard to find," said Anne Lapkin, a vice president at Gartner Consulting. "People who have the ability to cross over between the business community and the technology community -- and be equally understood by each -- are not common."

As a result, companies may find it easier to develop people from within their own ranks, much like MedImmune did. During the first year of implementation, MedImmune is focusing its enterprise architecture initiative on the drug-discovery process, with plans to move rapidly into commercial operations and administration.

"We're trying to do this in a measured way so we have consistent deliverables and steps for success through the year, so we can gauge our success," Young said.


Garry Kranz is a freelance technology writer in Richmond, Va. He can be reached at gkranz@ureach.com.


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