Inside a network management centre. Credit Cellnet Ltd.

+ You wouldn't start a new building without architectural know-how, yet many organisations take this approach when it comes to information systems.

With the disastrous £11bn NHS computer system upgrade hitting the headlines again recently, this seems like a good time to reflect on how best to manage vast amounts of information and the systems that handle it. My answer is this: we need good enterprise architects.

The famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright described architects as the ‘masters of the know-how’. Now, you wouldn’t start a new building without architectural know-how, yet many organisations take this approach when it comes to information systems. The results are, not surprisingly, often disappointing.

An enterprise architect starts by using the organisation’s goals to create a framework to guide the development of its information systems. This considers not just the technology but also how people will use it. The result is an overarching, coherent plan along the lines of a successful city masterplan.

When Arup worked with air traffic control provider NATS, our enterprise architects turned their vision for their future online workspace into a concrete specification that met their needs. And we then helped them tender for technology and systems that would deliver what they wanted.

For example, so that air traffic controllers could get online quickly during their breaks, we specified a time of just 15 seconds between turning on their machine at a hot desk and accessing their email. With statutory breaks of just 15 minutes away from their radar screens, this was a vital requirement.

Does it take an enterprise architect to do this job of 'systems master planning'? I’d argue that someone has to do it, no matter who they are or what we call them. And that person must have an understanding of organisations, their business goals and the costs of IT systems – not just the technical specifications and the 'art of the possible'.

That’s my opinion – but do you agree that there’s a need for enterprise architecture? If you’re an enterprise architect, do you find that the discipline is recognised by the industry? Let me know what you think in the comments below.