Let’s imagine that a company launched a test version of software. The product began gaining momentum, but then the system simply stopped. One of the reasons why IT systems stop working is poorly designed IT architecture. In order to resolve the issue and make sure such things don’t happen again, you need an IT architect.
IT architecture is a broad term. It includes enterprise architecture, infrastructure architecture, and solution architecture:
- Enterprise architecture describes a company’s IT system from the business goal perspective and unites people, processes, and technologies.
- Infrastructure architecture represents the entire structure of IT solutions to organize work (data centers, servers, network, custom applications, and so on).
- Solution architecture is applied to develop new software for a particular task.
In this article, I will focus mostly on solution architecture and solution architects. So let’s take a look at what IT architects are responsible for and why you absolutely need one on your project.
IT Architecture in More Detail
For comprehensive IT architecture planning, a crucial aspect is the planning of a foundation—platforms (hardware or cloud providers), external infrastructure (servers, network), and internal infrastructure (delivery of software solutions, their placement, and establishment of communication and interaction).
For example, a company creates a service allowing travelers to book flights, hotels, and taxis. An IT architect’s task is to analyze what tools, programming languages, platforms, and APIs to choose; how long the development will take; and how the audience will use the product, i. e., what devices and platforms they can access it from.
If you’d like to learn more about how the work of IT architects makes products user-friendly and accessible to end-users and allows all technologies to work together accurately and properly, I recommend Software Architecture in Practice by Len Bass, Paul Clements, and Rick Kazman.
Core Processes of Solution Architecture
Well-elaborated solution architecture allows IT specialists to develop a product on time, within the budget, and in line with business requirements. It helps them avoid such difficulties as incompatibility of the technologies used or the impossibility to scale or modify the software. In situations involving poorly elaborated IT architecture, companies have to redevelop programs and systems completely.
Well-designed architecture also makes it possible to more accurately plan the time required to develop and deliver the final product or its parts. It gives sufficient flexibility to development processes and the ability to parallelize these processes, reducing the complexity of understanding individual modules and services.
With this in mind, let’s now take a closer look at the processes an IT architect follows.
Compliance of New Software With the Corporate Environment
When IT architects start their work, they undertake a prior study of the systems within the corporate environment so that the new program syncs with it and the systems don’t come into conflict with each other.
Selection of Technologies for Project Development
Specialists consider the latest software development technologies when creating an IT architecture. They analyze what platforms, programming languages, and tools are suitable for a given project.
To perform such an analysis, an IT architect needs a technical background and programming experience. As a rule, at least five years of development experience is required. Over this time, a programmer manages to work on many various projects and knows different software development technologies.
Meeting Non-Functional Requirements
Every product has non-functional requirements specifying software characteristics: security, performance, user-friendliness, scalability, and so on. The IT architect is supposed to analyze these quality attributes and make sure that the project developed on the basis of the proposed architecture will correspond to them.
Even if it is impossible to predict the need for scaling at the initial stage, the IT architect creates a plan and strategy for the development of a sufficiently flexible infrastructure to automatically manage the expansion process.
Every program is based on the architecture that supports it. As a rule, there is no need to design and document architectural solutions for simple applications because software is often developed according to templates.
However, when it comes to a unique, complex program that needs to be implemented within a large organization’s corporate system, IT architecture must be well-thought-out and accurately documented.
Responsibilities of an IT Architect
If IT architecture is a kind of a frame for an application, it follows that an IT architect is a specialist who builds it. They work out the design of a program, its main parts and interfaces, so that the software is interoperable with external systems. This involves several responsibilities, as listed below.
Analyze the Requirements
Solution architects start their work long before the development process begins, looking for technologies that fit the business.
As I mentioned above, architects take care of the functional and non-functional peculiarities of the system in order to create a successful product. They assess the correctness and feasibility of the requirements and the possibility to meet them within a reasonable time and the allocated budget.
Create a Prototype
IT architects also analyze the technological environment and the сompany’s profile, document the requirements, and create a prototype of an architectural solution.
These specialists share the architectural vision of the project with developers, monitor the process, and support employees at the stage of product development. They fix technical issues, if there are any, and take part in subsequent program updates.
When working on the program design, an IT architect not only creates a solution for the implementation of the initial idea but also anticipates possible risks and restrictions associated with the non-functional product qualities.
For example, if the application isn’t scalable, the money allocated for development is likely to be wasted. If requirements change and this may affect the original design, an architect tries to prevent their negative impact on software performance, security, and other qualities.
To carry out this large-scale job, IT architects need a wealth of experience in programming and business analysis as well as knowledge of modern technologies and Agile methodologies. It can be said that the position of an IT architect is the next step in the career ladder of a tech lead, team lead, or experienced developer.
What Projects You Need an IT Architect For
As a rule, the need for an IT architect arises in large projects with several technical teams (front-end developers, back-end developers, and DevOps engineers). This specialist is also called on when complex non-typical software is being developed. Template development projects—an online store, for example—can do without an architect.
Involving an architect at the start of a small-scale project or startup is mistakenly considered to be unimportant. As a result, after the minimum viable product is completed, the product goes through a full beta testing phase, and new large-scale functional and non-functional requirements appear, it is often too expensive or even impossible to change the system.
This occurs due to the complexity of modification and the presence of hard dependencies, poor testability with no possibility of testing individual parts of the product, poor monitoring, i. e., control of internal and external processes, and other factors.
In global terms, an IT architect is necessary to design an efficient IT solution that meets business goals. Otherwise, the team risks developing a product that won’t be able to work for clients or scale to the full extent and will have to be redone. In fact, these are double costs. An IT architect will help avoid these unforeseen issues in a project.
The IT architect considers rapidly changing technologies and the increasing complexity of systems and can work out strategically important points, find beneficial solutions, and present a general vision of a product to developers and customers. Thus, the customer knows what to expect, and programmers understand how to create the product.
As for large-scale and complex projects, especially with a little-known subject area, an architect has an important additional objective: to define the most atomic parts of the project with a limited area of responsibility. Thus, specialists get a clear understanding of all the processes of development, testing, and further support of the product and its individual modules.
To Build a Solid Product, You Need an Architect
The value of solution architects is that they lay the foundation for the future product. This allows the team to attain coherence between requirements and tech solutions.
As companies strive to keep up with the emerging technologies and build reliable high-quality applications, they need specialists who are aware of how to transform technical know-how into concrete business results. With an IT solution architect, the project has a better chance of a successful launch.
Is it possible to write code without considering the IT architecture? Of course it is, but it’s risky because of the number of things that could go wrong. Without an architect, a project risks delays and unforeseen costs. Figuratively speaking, without IT architecture, the planned skyscraper risks becoming a two-story building.
With a good architect, your project is sure to succeed.