My quick definition:
An experienced and trained professional who makes business discriminating decisions with people, process and technology oriented resources to effectively organize, model and communicate a successful information systems solution with clarity.
I recently received an anonymous comment saying this was me BSing. However, I would like to explain why this definition works for me and that NOT understanding an architect's core responsibility to the business is complete BS.
One cannot do a reasonable job as an Information Systems Architect by only knowing a few technology products well. That is what an engineer is called. While they are worth they're weight in gold and a great profession in their own right, great engineers are not great architects and great architects are not great engineers. They are two very different professions.
Look at each word of the definition above because they mean something very important:
experienced, trained professional
experienced: you have gained insight, knowledge and understanding from your failures, successes and interaction in the industry as an architect
trained: you have developed specific architectural skills (not product) to develop comprehensive data center environments. This includes risk analysis, complexity analysis, security modeling, systemic quality analysis, operations modeling, legal and business impact analysis. You know architectural relationships between applications, users, computational systems, data management systems, network systems, operational staff, management as well as business impact. You have been trained on good communication skills to work effectively with a diverse group of individuals.
professional: you perform you job with a core set of principles and ethics to responsibly and consistently deliver architecture plans to your organization or customer.
"business discriminating decisions"
There are many people who are good at making flip switch decisions (how best to configure a specific server). Yet, just because someone might know some good administration and configuration skills and experience, it does not prepare them to be a data center architect. Architects must understand the importance of deploying an entire solution across a company and the financial/business ramifications (in real numbers) it will have on their organization. Too many love to talk about how elegant or cool their technical model looks without understanding how that complexity, adaptability and supportability will impact their organization. These admin jockeys who hack and rack their way through a data center (with skilled heroics) often generate the worst architectures and introduce significant cascading complexity on a business. Data center environments are often ripe with such activity with script jockeys excited to demonstrate their talents, often developing the most brittle and costly environments. If one is not able to make quantitative discriminating business decisions with the technology choices, the training choices and aligned with a well designed process, one should stay far far away from architecture design and stick to what they love best (technology configuration).
People, Process and Technology Resources
Many who have stated they have completely analyzed the technology ramifications usually haven't.
Many who have stated they have completely analyzed the process model that supports they're design usually haven't.
Many who have state they have developed the model with the understanding of the skills and culture of their operational teams usually haven't.
The next step is absorbing the material for the entire data center solution and understanding it's ramifications on the environment. A specialist in server configuration or clustering or monitoring is exactly that: an engineering specialist. An architect must understand the technical, skill and process relationships between the different subject taxonomies.
For example, setting up a simple single cluster architecture on a server that doesn't understand the patch management process, administrative skills and work load processes on HBA FC card design, SAN environment design, network design and operational team skills and culture is simply missing the mark.
An enterprise data center architect must further not only understand these relationships, but also how to deploy hundreds to thousands of the model (not just one optimized deployment). Here, the architect must develop architectural criteria constraints to reduce complexity and improve operational efficiency in the data center. This includes understanding exactly how the decomposed application components are optimized by performance category.
"effectively organize, model and communicate"
As the architect must be willing to carefully analyze each systemic quality by layer by tier, then refactor the data center environment with cross cutting techniques to reduce complexity in the systems, he or she must effectively communicate this model to multiple diverse groups within the organization and demonstrate the business impact of the decisions with hard numbers.
This brings the final skill of the architect; they must be effective communicators that have consistent clarity in their communication. The mark of a rookie is 75 slides and miserable communication skills for an hour long presentation to the management team.
Finnally, one of the most important aspects of an architect is analyzing, organizing, modeling and communicating with clarity. This is the mark of professional information systems architect.
While no one is perfect in all of these skills and capabilities, we strive towards perfecting them every day to bring more effective information systems to our business. And that is no BS.