A new breed of architects is emerging – technologists who understand the impact of exponential technologies and embrace the pace of change.
Architects come in all shapes and sizes. Technical Architects (TA) are hands-on subject matter experts in application, integration, data, or infrastructure. They guide project delivery by providing technical leadership for development and defining standards. Solution Architects (SA) have a higher point of view and often more generalists. Solution Architects are assigned to programs or projects in a business portfolio to provide technical integrity and shape the new business-centric solution while helping to break scope into bite-sized, critical-path deliverables. A Domain Architect plays a similar role to an SA, perhaps with a little more breadth across an organizational domain.
Product Architects (PA) exist mostly outside the enterprise, focused on the detailed architecture of a specific vendor product. There are similar roles in an organization, commonly called Product Managers (PdM) or Product Owners. The crossover comes where a TA gets involved in building a bespoke product, and products are incorporated into the solution by an SA. I mention the PA because of their shift in the point of view being fewer business requirements focused, and more open to using user sentiment and behavior to shape product evolution.
Data Architects (DA) are relevant due to the fundamental need and value of data in the organization. Recently, this role has transitioned from traditional data modeling. There are now Data Architects, Big Data Architects, and Data Scientists – with different skills and ways of working. Shifting from depth to breadth, Enterprise Technical Architects focus on the whole technology landscape across organizational domains, 3rd parties, and partners. They shape policy, governance, and security and drive with the help of TA's and SA's.
The roles described above are quite technical and prone to misconceptions. The danger of not differentiating from the next set of architects boils down to levels of engagement and framing the narrative in terms of business vs. technology or depth vs. breadth. The business side has seen the emergence of the Business Architect (BA) who focus on the business model, the organizational structure, the people, processes, and services. They are big adopters of lean and six-sigma principles. They work closely with Business Analysts, Solution Architects, and Domain Architects.
Then there are Enterprise Architects (EA) who are strategy focused and commonly advise the C-suite. Like a city planner, enterprise architects have end-to-end visibility. They shape policy, maintain governance, and help others to ensure security. Traditionally, these architects were business driven, following known challenges and direction from the business. They would rationalize, optimize, upgrade, and replace existing workloads and identify gaps, where business capabilities could be improved by technology and operational processes, could be streamlined.
All this is changing: 21st century Enterprise Architects need to shift gear from the ambassador of quality (traditional EA) to being an enabler for innovation. As technologists, they need to be receptive to exponential technologies and look at how those can be leveraged. They need to be conscious of the market, the industry, and the sector, look to other markets for inspiration, and advise the C-suite accordingly. 21st century EAs need to step out of their ivory towers, seek help from human-centered design experts, and empathize with customers and staff.
21st century EAs need to adopt new skills and find more human meaning for technology. Consciously listening to staff, suppliers, and partners will help them better understand true demand and evangelize new ways of working to empower a more agile organization. They need to advise on organizational changes and support the implementation of change. For a 21st century EA, smart devices and automated services become an opportunity to make technology the hero by augmenting and optimizing operations, while wowing customers (and staff) with engagement channels. They have to be brand aware and conscious of threats, pushing cybersecurity to the top of the agenda. They should challenge traditional IT and empower IT departments to move from a back-office support function to a strategic enabler for the digital transformation movement. Through modernizing integration approaches and abstracting, connecting, and decoupling legacy systems (until ready to be replaced), they rapidly open the enterprise to a 2-speed IT model.
The fast-paced agility required for businesses will sit on one side of the system integration layer, using the latest microservice patterns to enable process digitization and event based, experience-led capabilities, opening up a consistent and flexible multi-channel digital strategy. On the other side, traditional business systems and capabilities can be improved and replaced at a far slower pace, maintaining a balance between risks of change against cost of change, while applying a lean, managed service mindset and an eye on reducing operating costs. Also, 21st century EAs need to adopt new ways to tap into static, transactional, behavioral, contextual, environmental, geographical, personal, and big data to intelligently validate what their customers, business, and market are saying to them while predicting and objectively recommending the best course to chart amidst future uncertainty.
They cannot work alone. 21st century EAs need to be approachable, collaborative and breath cross-functional teams and squads. They need to communicate effectively, adopt productivity tools, be open to experiment and have the courage to disrupt their own business. Being creative about innovating on a shoestring to validate and build credibility is also critical. A 21st century EA puts experience at the heart of all organizational models, business solution, and technology designs and drives the process digitization agenda.