What is a data architect?
A data architect is an IT professional responsible for defining the policies, procedures, models and technologies to be used in collecting, organizing, storing and accessing company information. The position is often confused with a database architect and data engineer. However, data architects focus on high-level business intelligence relationships and data policies, where the previously mentioned positions handle the application of those relationships and policies to the design of specific databases.
Responsibilities of a data architect
Data architects are the bridge between business operations and IT. Business operations collect and use the data, while IT acquires, stores and retrieves that information from database resources, within the technology architecture established by the company. As is common with IT jobs whose titles include architect, the data architect is primarily a planner and designer. They typically have a broad, company-wide scope of operations.
Data architects have a range of responsibilities and work with several other roles and departments within the organization, including the following:
- Line organizations. Data architects will often interact down to the level of key team leaders and managers. In many organizations, they play a key role in application design because of the relationship between business requirements, applications and data.
- CIO. Data architects will work with CIOs and their staff in order to communicate line organizational data collection and usage requirements, and to align these requirements with the available database and application technologies available.
- Other data-related roles. Data engineers, database developers and specialists, database administrators and application development teams turn high-level data model and management policies into specific applications, database models and implementations.
Data architect skill requirements
Data architects require a mixture of business and technical skills. The primary skills required lie in the translation of business requirements and business operations practices into data collection and management policies. Experience in the field of enterprise architecture (EA) is particularly helpful. Some enterprises broaden the concept of "data architect" to the more general "solutions architect," representing a closer tie to EA in those organizations.
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Specific business-level skills needed by data architects include an understanding of the following:
- the process of translating business requirements and processes into data collection and usage principles;
- the principles of enterprise architecture in translating business processes to IT applications; and
- a detailed knowledge of the way their company does business today, and its plans for changes in practices and goals. This can be acquired on the job if the time to accomplish that is available.
Data architects must also consider the high-level technical architecture, including database structure, database management and operating systems and programming language constraints. Therefore, they will also require at least a high-level understanding of these areas. However, many organizations feel that the best data architects are generalists with respect to IT and database technology, rather than people who have worked in specific technical implementation jobs.
Specific technical skills required of data architects include knowledge of the following:
Data architects vs. data engineers
Some organizations may merge the data architect and data engineer roles, but they do have distinct differences. Industry best practices suggest that data architects are responsible for high-level data policies and data management practices. Data engineers are responsible for applying those policies and practices via specific database management system implementations.
Data engineers tend to have a continuous relationship with database design and management. In comparison, data architects influence higher-level decisions on data-to-operations relationships that may change less often. However, when these relationships change, it can result in broad impact on database design and management, and on the responsibilities of a data engineer.
Data architect career path and salary outlook
Normally, data architects have three primary career paths. Data architects can:
- advance through IT management to the level of CIO as IT grows more data centric;
- evolve to become enterprise architects and to lead EA groups within an organization. From this role, data architects could then also advance to IT management jobs, including CIO and leading line organizations; and
- seek employment with IT software vendors, system integrators or IT and management consulting organizations.
According to Glassdoor, data architects have an average base pay of around $119,000 USD annually. Advancement into EA and management roles could increase their salaries to $200,000 USD per year or more. Employment with vendors, integrators or consulting groups can generate earnings up to $250,000 USD per year.
Data architect certifications
Respected education and certifications for the data architect role include the following:
- bachelor's or master's degrees in data science;
- Data Management Association's Certified Data Management Professional certification;
- enterprise architect certifications for frameworks such as TOGAF or ITIL; and
- IBM's Certified Data Architect certification.
Public cloud providers, including Salesforce, offer data architecture-related certifications. These should be considered as enhancements to a more general certification, such as those listed above.