Information technology architect capabilities: which are important and can they be improved?

Frampton, K 2007, Information technology architect capabilities: which are important and can they be improved?, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Computer Science and Information Technology, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Information technology architect capabilities: which are important and can they be improved?
Author(s) Frampton, K
Year 2007
Abstract Information Technology (IT) systems have become essential components of our society. These IT systems have an internal structure called the system's architecture. This architecture directly affects the system's performance and ability to meet business objectives. The people who design this structure are called IT Architects. Investigating the capabilities that distinguish highly-skilled IT Architects contributes to IT knowledge and practice and supports improving the design of systems' architectures as well as the selection and development of IT Architects.

This thesis examines some of the capabilities that distinguish highly-skilled IT Architects and applies the resulting understanding to the education of post-graduate IT students. By investigating selected capabilities of highly-skilled IT Architects, how this group of IT Architects differ from their colleagues with respect to highly-valued capabilities and how these capabilities could be taught, we clarify both a professional and an educational basis for improvement.

The research has a three stage, multi-method design. The initial stage, undertaken in 2004, consists of interview-based qualitative research with fourteen practicing IT Architects to understand the characteristics of highly-skilled IT Architects. The interviewees were chosen through personal relationships and subsequent snowball sampling and through the interviews and subsequent analysis, we identify eight capabilities, four personality traits and a range of experience that is valuable for highly-skilled IT Architects. These results support prior research that identified the importance of communications and business knowledge while extending the range of valuable characteristics for the IT Architect role.

The next quantitative stage surveys 82 practicing IT Architects and 97 other IT professionals using four psychological measures; the Cognitive Style Inventory (CSI), the Problem Solving Inventory (PSI), the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ), and Zimbardo's Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI). The analysis, undertaken in 2005, identifies two statistically significant differentiating capabilities that distinguish highly-skilled IT Architects from less skilled IT Architects. The first capability is that the highly-skilled IT Architects approach problems differently and generate more alternatives before attempting solutions and spend more effort evaluating outcomes than the less skilled IT Architects. The second capability is that the less skilled IT Architects have a different attitude towards time and do not always act consistently with a longer term perspective.

The final stage of research investigates whether the teaching of material related to the two distinguishing capabilities improve students outcomes for these capabilities. In 2006 we measured the initial student capability level of 35 students, the level of 28 of these students at the conclusion of the subject, and again in 2007, one-year later 16 students were measured. We again use quantitative surveys with the PSI and ZTPI instruments and found that whilst we measure a change in student capability for problem solving, the two capabilities we targeted are not significantly affected through the teaching. Interviews with the participants indicate that the teaching is effective and the lack of significant differences in the targeted capabilities is because of external factors overriding what they are learning.

Our research contributes to the field of Computer Science and Information Technology by providing: (i) the basis for improved identification and selection of IT Architects for industry and providing additional information to enhance their professional education through the identification of distinguishing capabilities of highly-skilled IT Architects; (ii) information for educators about IT Architect capabilities and capability development that are important for highly-skilled IT Architects and some considerations when teaching these capabilities; (iii) a foundation for research that compares and contrasts capabilities within other IT professions; and (iv) results that can be used to improve the process of architecting IT systems.

More generally, the research contributes to the body of knowledge regarding IT skills and requirements for different roles.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Computer Science and Information Technology
Keyword(s) Systems design
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