Just about all of us have realized, late at night after all the lights are out, that there was just one more thing left to do. Not wanting to turn the lights back on and wake anybody up, we get out of bed and make our way by memory. Except that our memory forgot to include the open dishwasher door that we crash our shins into or the small toy left out on the floor that feels like razor wire when we step on it. There are many terms for this kind of activity - some are mild like "Bumbling around in the dark" - and others not quite so polite.
This situation can serve as a metaphor for how many IT organizations function.
I have seen countless "best practice" IT shops that include all the right pieces...almost. They have infrastructure, applications, security, project management, risk, and all the other components. But they do not have an architecture function. Consequently, each department in the high-speed IT organization is making excellent decisions. But, they are doing so in almost every case without having the big picture in mind. The obvious question then is, "What's the big picture?"
Contrary to what people may believe, at least at first, is that the big picture is strategic in nature. The big picture in this case is NOT strategic. The big picture here is a granular, "gritty", detailed understanding of every bit of technology in a company and how it works together. For example, a true chief architect worth her salt would be able to tell you how many enterprise hardware vendors currently exist at every place within the company. She would be able to tell you the number and types of document management systems, desktop operating environments, and even the number and types of network appliances that are actively moving data.
Architecture is a highly technical discipline. It takes a very special type of person to be good at not only understanding all technology big and small, but putting it into good order. Having an architecture discipline that actually functions can save small companies thousands of dollars and really large companies millions. If you have a hard time believing that one person could have such an impact, stop and think about this question -- Do you have the slightest inkling of all the technology purchased by your company that is currently in operation? For that matter, do you have a way to evaluate whether a proposed purchase of software or hardware will actually function in your environment seamlessly or will it be a train wreck? The odds are that you don't and as a CIO, this is not a very good position in which to find yourself at all. If you can't see the big picture you will never know what is coming in and out of the company's technology portfolio. You know, the one that you are in charge of stewarding? Yes, you can be a successful executive without having a robust architecture practice but then again, most people can drive with one hand. It's possible but not really the best approach.
So you've read so far and you want to build your own architecture practice. How do you move forward? You'll need two things: (a) the person and (b) the tool. Finding a tool is as simple as allowing your architect to evaluate packages by companies like Troux or Mega or one of several other vendors. These tools will create a visual portfolio of all the technology in your environment and show how it interrelates in real time.
A good architect is NEVER a good manager of people so you won't find what you're looking for when a resume shows a person having long stints in pure management positions. They are leaders but not administrative managers. Therefore, you must find an individual that loves technology almost as much as life itself. Yes, this type of person is usually going to be a Star Wars or Star Trek geek but you can handle that, right?
There are certifications for architecture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Technology_Architect_Certification). If you find someone with one of the distinctions shown in the link you will have found someone who "digs" IT. Some companies have formalized programs to grow architects because good ones are so hard to find. If you don't have the time or luxury, search for an architect with a proven background. Someone who would rather tinker with a server than go to the bar with friends.
Once (if) you manage to find a good architect, make sure that you have a good technical career path for them to follow. Otherwise, you'll just be training someone else's future architect or even chief architect. You career path should build upon this simplistic view.
Notice that the picture indicates that the architects are leveled the same as managers and the Chief Architect is on par with a Director. You MUST do this for several reasons. One, you must indicate administratively to your company that the architects are important and empowered. Second, if you don't pay them on par with your managers and directors, they will leave...quickly. An architect, as you will find if you follow my writings here, is a piece of your organization that will literally turn on the lights within your pitch-black IT organization.