What exactly does an architect do?

The architect’s profession can seem a little mysterious for outsiders. Read here what architects do, what the difference is between enterprise, business, IT, and solution architects, and why architects are so important in today’s business.

What is an architect? What do architects do?

Architects are the enablers of digital transformation. They are responsible for the fundamental organization (and associated principles) of complex systems - from individual solutions to the enterprise as a whole. By taking into account the bigger picture and assuming a long-term perspective, architects help to make sure that business, application and technology architectures are properly aligned. This way they support organizations in attaining their strategic objectives and planning for a sustainable future.

Use Case - What Enterprise Architects do:

Let’s say an insurance company is planning to renew their core applications based on SAP HANA. An enterprise architect is brought in to provide advice and support the project team. The architect carefully analyzes the current situation of the business and IT. As a result, he or she realizes that the current state of IT is monolithic and does not meet the requirements of a fast-pace, agile business. Also, it becomes clear that insurance companies will need to focus much more on facilitating flexible integrations with partners and market / settlement platforms (e.g. based on blockchain technology) in the future. Beyond that, the InMemory technology may make traditional BI architectures obsolete. Based on these findings, the architect develops and documents possible scenarios for the future architecture. After a management decision has been reached, the approved target architecture will play a key role in guiding the way forward and making the following transformation a success.

What is the difference between Enterprise, Business, IT and Solution Architects?

In practice, different types of architect roles have emerged depending on the actual scope and level of abstraction: Solution Architects focus on specific solutions or technical designs. They translate business requirements into technical solutions. Enterprise IT Architects, on the other hand, look at the overall application and technology landscape to make sure that it is in line with business needs. Last but not least, Business Architects apply architectural methods to the business level itself, e.g. by designing business models or defining target business capabilities.

Use Case - What Solution Architects do:

While planning to use a new CRM system, a commercial bank decides to engage a Solution Architect to support the project. To get a better grasp on what is needed, the Solution Architect starts by collecting the essential requirements of the new CRM system, and carefully analyses currently used solutions and systems. Based on the findings, and current guidelines, standards and other requirements, the architect designs a solution architecture that meets the previously collected requirements. He or she makes sure that the proposed solution integrates well into the current setting (e.g., by defining interfaces with the partner system, document management system, etc.).

Use Case - What Business Architects do:

A post-merger pharmaceutical company plans to improve the internal business operations. They engage a Business Architect to help identify and consolidate overlapping business functions. The Business Architect starts by identifying the current capabilities of the company and matching them to the future business model. He or she looks at business processes, employees and their skills, and the currently used IT systems. Based on the findings, the Business Architect develops a target architecture that consolidates the required capabilities in such a way that every capability is implemented only once (as a unique combination of organizational unit, process and technical solution) according to a best-of-breed approach.

What are the tasks of an architect? What does an architect deliver?

The core task of any architect is to design, assess and coordinate the future state of whatever architecture he or she is concerned with. To this end, architects make use of dedicated methods for architecture development, such as TOGAF® ADM. In addition, they ensure that the necessary principles and standards are being developed and used, such as established technology standards and patterns.

Architects often spend a large amount of the time acting as intermediary and communicating to stakeholders who are usually coming from various parts of the organization, such as management, business, IT. This is the reason architects often get to know various people from different departments. To support the communication with these very different stakeholders and successfully guide implementation, architects usually create different types of dedicated architecture models and views (such as ArchiMate® Viewpoints).

Why are architects so important in today’s business?

Architects have extensive experience and comprehensive knowledge in different areas which is necessary to drive successful transformations. This is especially true during digital transformations where using innovative technology often means making changes to the business model. Experienced architects have the skills to make sense of these changes and their impact on the business and design a future state of the organization where there is an ideal match between the business and IT architecture.

On top of that, architects play a major part in everyday business. Getting the architect out of the picture often leads to an unsatisfying situation where development processes are running in an unorganized way. Especially long-term and non-functional requirements will often be reglected. Project teams, for example, would not thoroughly analyze potentials for reuse or account for maintainability, changeability, or scalability. As a result, companies will have to deal with duplicate solutions, or solutions that are not sustainable and need to be replaced shortly after implementation. As opposed to this, experienced architects ensure that solutions always meet the long-term requirements of the organization and match the current landscape. In doing so, they have a significant role to play in reducing complexity and enhancing the viability of the business.

Finally, architects will be able to give valuable advice on mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing and other types of fundamental corporate restructuring.

What has the future got in store?

Architects have always played a vital role in organizations. In the past years, however, their importance has increased significantly. One of the main reasons is that disruptive technology has been changing the game rapidly leading to new digital business models amongst other things.

In addition, companies in the private and public sector strive to cut costs leading to an urgent need for IT consolidation and standardization. Companies will often need to radically realign their business and IT to meet these needs. This is where architects come into the picture: They are the key to successful transformation initiatives. Hence, a strong need for qualified architects may be expected also for the future to come.

What are the key skills of an architect?

Talented architects have strong interpersonal and communication skills. They are confident communicators and good listeners and know how to speak the language of their audience from business and IT subject matter experts to top management. They have the necessary skills to be able to distinguish between what is important and what is not, understand what is urgent, and managing competing requirements. Architects make use of their power of abstract and structured thinking. They will need to have an open mind and the ability to be creative. This is necessary to understand the opportunities that arise from using innovative technology and convey the added value to the business. Finally, architects need to have vast technology and industry knowledge. Experience from previous positions (e.g., software developer, business analyst) may be very helpful in this regard.


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