Guest contributor, Bola Rotibi from analyst firm Creative Intellect Consulting
It should come as no surprise that the roles a software architect must take on are fairly representative of recognizable job functions already in play. Some readers might attribute different job names to the functions I outline below. I’m cool with that since the descriptions could certainly apply to a number of job titles.
So, in homage to William Shakespeare’s famous monologue “All the world’s a stage” from the play As You Like It, which catalogues “the Seven Ages of Man”, I give you the following seven roles of an architect:
The independent financial advisor: In this role the architect acts as a budgetary reviewer, carrying out a high-level review on budget spend. It involves getting business stakeholders to agree what they are really going to spend their money on. In particular, it involves finding out the investments that will generate new architecture. Budgetary review is a process that can take three to four weeks at the start of a financial year and may be repeated again halfway through the year.
Librarian researcher: Here, the architect is the gateway to the knowledge of software assets and tooling already purchased by the organization and available for use. They are in a position to give a view on a particular tooling product or whether money can be spent acquiring a specific set of tools or code libraries. Within a large enterprise the IT architects can often be responsible for a considerable estate of software systems and artifacts. Therefore they become a natural source of knowledge as well as a counselor for asset acquisition. But it is a role that requires constant refreshment. Many architects spend a good deal of their time hunting down what is new, researching both internally within and externally outside the organization to understand key practices.
Regulator: A characteristic that is unlikely to make the architect many friends. In this role it is the job of the architect to ask the awkward questions to identify whether there really is a design in place. In what might seem an anathema to the Agile development practices sweeping throughout many organizations, a real design document will be a meaty tome compromising of a significant number of pages of text with lot of pictures and directions to reflect naming capacity. To custodians of large IT estates, a submitted design should be of real design intent that reflects real points of complexity and not a five slide PowerPoint that is more likely to depict a business case.
Diplomat: In today’s environment, and certainly for the foreseeable future, organizations look to a mix of consultants and outsourcing suppliers to supplement their staffing resources. In this regard an architect may not always be dealing with a set of permanent employees but with a mix of consultants, contractors and outsourced staffing resources.
Architect: The role that identifies the fundamentals of the day job of an architect such as conducting formal design reviews and investigating the architectural strategy for future investment and direction. The job of an IT architect not unlike that of a building architect is to plan, design and oversee the construction of IT solutions, systems and applications across their whole lifecycle. But given the multifaceted nature of the architect’s role, quality time spent on architecture design is often in the balance.
Fund manager: Few architects like to feel like that they are the last man standing at the drawbridge fighting of internal attacks on the systems and processes that they have put in place according to, and in compliance with business needs at the time. But business demands and goals change and architects can often find themselves in the position of protecting the portfolio of assets that have been invested in, and for good reason. The challenge of course is having the flexibility at the edges to meet changing demands without compromising the core estate. Another is to have the ability to gradually migrate or evolve the shape of that estate to deliver the best strategic capabilities. The danger is that the business goes against its own safeguards in pursuit of the tactical advantage. Like any of the great fund managers important traits set them apart. These include expert knowledge, domain experience, an ability to understand the needs and the risk appetite of its clients, good diplomacy, communication and a willingness to think creatively. Most important of all is the ability to demonstrate proven form and a track record of success.
Forensic analysis/ Detective Inspector: Not unlike the job in the real world, an architect may often find themselves playing the role of a detective inspector piecing together a scene and establishing a motive from a sparse set of clues. When something goes wrong especially when there is no evidence of a design, it can often be down to the architect to build up a picture that identifies why something was done or a decision made. Root-cause analysis is an underlying constant for many architects. Having the right tools in place as well as the support of a good back up team of course makes that job easier. But for too many, the investigation process can sometimes more resemble the convoluted script of a TV crime mystery show, but perhaps without the body count that often occurs before the case is finally resolved.
Evolution – in search of the missing link (What Architects can learn from a mafia boss like Don Corleone)
Simply put it is one of “Control”!
Of course I am not advocating that an IT architect takes to becoming like the fictional mafia boss Don Corleone (or any real life mafia boss) and move into the protection racketeering business with all that it entails. Tempting as it might seem for certain role situations, it really doesn’t pay to threaten or bully people into a decision against their wishes. However, the strategic power mafia bosses have been regularly shown to possess is that of controlling their supply chain and understanding the fallibilities and motivation of those involved.
The above skill sets or job roles in combination certainly provide the foundations for equipping an architect to better adapt for disruptive innovation. But perhaps it is the ability to control and manage the supply chain, understanding the motivation and needs of the stakeholders involved, whilst understanding the flow of data that will ultimately mark out their strategic role and influence within the organization. Understanding the supply chain and being best equipped to optimize the flow of data places an architect at the head of the “control” racketeering process. This, after all, is a more ideal position for pushing the best fit of technology that can really make a step change and deliver real innovation.