- What is IT architecture in plain terms?
- IT architecture benefits
- Driving force behind any IT architecture strategy. Who are the architects?
- Types of IT architecture
- Domain-specific workflows practiced by companies. Their types and benefits
- Summarizing the types of benefits of having an architect
Andersen has been providing IT architecture services for many years. Currently, we employ over thirty accomplished specialists who boast well-honed skills in diverse business areas. In total, their prowess has contributed to a 22% reduction in resources across IT initiatives. Moreover, our experts boast certifications, such as ITIL Foundation, AWS, Azure, and others, from world-renowned opinion shapers in this niche. The projects we’ve worked on range from devising a detailed API strategy for an insurance company to planning and implementing a set of interlinked financial tools for an international commerce player. This rich track record has given us the opportunity to accumulate a significant body of domain-specific knowledge, based on our collaborations with diverse customers, communication with well-versed peers, and constant tracking of the industry’s best practices and promising trends. In today’s piece, we seek to share some of this knowledge concerning the essence of IT architecture, IT architecture benefits, and some applicable practical approaches that we adhere to.
What is IT architecture in plain terms?
Tech landscapes are getting ever-more sophisticated. Those in charge have sensed that and have been expressing their concerns. For instance, some fresh findings revealed by the Harvard Business Review show that:
- 82% of high-ranking participants, revealed by a recent global survey of large enterprises, believe that the growing intricacies of IT we observe are obstacles to corporate success;
- On top of that, 46% of them assume that the reduction of IT complexity is a way to boost innovation.
Paradoxically, the more components systems acquire and the more interconnected they become (seemingly, a sign of never-ending progress and obvious benefits), the more problems emerge. Moore’s law, all its predictive shortcomings notwithstanding, also means that the situation will get more challenging in the future. That is why those who are able to envision, implement, and continuously improve a viable, coherent, resource-effective, and purposeful IT architecture strategy, focused on real-world benefits, will keep on playing a major part in our common tech domain.
Before we dive deeper into various IT architecture types, their tangible benefits, and relevant hands-on tips, let us start with some basics. What is the IT architecture definition? Due to the all-encompassing nature of the term, there can be no shortage of varying understandings. For instance, this brief guide, compiled by the Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, gives us over 20 different types of interpretations from different angles. Of course, many more exist.
We, in the capacity of a provider of multiple types of professional technology services, would propose this generalized one. So, what is IT architecture? Our answer:
IT architecture involves the foundational designs of systems coupled with the practices of crafting those types of structures in reality. They consist of software elements in dynamic, constantly evolving relationships, as well as of properties pertaining to elements on the one hand and their interactions on the other hand.
Put plainly, software architecture functions are the fundamental framework of a program. This foundational design is crucial for engineering and subsequent maintenance, as it safeguards the integrity and coherence of even the most intricate and unwieldy systems. A well-defined structure prevents them from disintegrating, ultimately conserving resources of different types.
IT architecture benefits
Having discussed the meaning of this phenomenon, let’s continue with a range of types of IT architecture benefits:
- Benefits of enhanced scalability. A robust IT architecture is expandable, meaning it can adapt and grow to meet changing corporate needs and accommodate increased workloads. This scalability is essential for organizations experiencing growth or shifts in demand;
- Benefits of interoperability stemming from the benefits of flexibility and agility we have mentioned above. A well-grounded IT architecture promotes compatibility, ensuring that different systems and technologies can work seamlessly together and jointly give you benefits. This facilitates data exchange, integration of new emerging technologies, and collaboration between various components;
- Benefits of being aligned with your strategic business goals. Prioritizing IT architecture from the very outset ensures that the solutions correspond to the overall goals you pursue now or might start pursuing in the future. Such a focus helps bridge the gap between corporate strategies and software implementation;
- Benefits of elevated efficiency and benefits of inherent optimization caused by the fact that a well-thought-out architecture is, by definition, aimed at building systems that guarantee streamlined processes, optimal resource utilization, improved performance, cost reduction, and better productivity.
Driving force behind any IT architecture strategy. Who are the architects?
Now, we have arrived at a moment to discuss who exactly is supposed to turn these potential benefits into reality: IT architects. What is their job description?
They are specialized professionals responsible for crafting software architecture. Namely, the types of duties they perform encompass:
- Delineating the architectural pattern or paradigm;
- Identifying key components;
- Working on all sorts of interaction scenarios;
- Carrying out such tasks as establishing system boundaries and defining non-functional requirements.
Typically, an architect has a dependable years-long programming background, having progressed through roles such as Senior Developer and Tech Lead. Beyond technical expertise, this specialist must possess strategic thinking abilities, conduct global project evaluations, and effectively communicate thoughts and ideas to their team.
It is crucial, however, for the architect not to become a bottleneck — solely responsible for comprehending the entire picture and continually dispensing advice and directives to staff members. Instead, the architect's role is to design the IT architecture and furnish the group with ample information, enabling each specialist to perform their tasks seamlessly.
The architect not only lays the groundwork for scalable, optimized, and secure software but also contributes to optimizing the team's workflow, providing valuable assistance to PMs and Team and Tech Leads.
Before we proceed with different types of IT architecture, the logical thing would be to zoom in on the generalized criteria of viable IT architectures. What do companies expect from them? This topic can be divided into the functional versus non-functional requirements that we have briefly mentioned above:
- Functional ones pertain to what a system actually does, to the mission embodied in its code as functions and equations, and to the types of benefits software offers;
- Non-functional ones are quality related, i.e. not “what” but “how” software brings about all the types of benefits it promises.
Speaking of key qualities influencing a product, we would name, besides speed, its security, availability, usability, and performance, all integrated and interconnected. Beyond tech facets, other factors like licenses, budget constraints, tech stack, and compliance with industry regulations and guidelines also play a role.
Types of IT architecture
There exist the following three types of IT architecture, or “layers”: enterprise, solution, and application.
- Enterprise-grade activities involve defining the overarching objectives that products of various types aim to address. This architectural approach outlines how a product can be technically constructed to efficiently tackle business challenges. Additionally, it involves establishing specific objectives related to local business efficiency.
- Solution-grade activities encompass the development of a strategy to address tasks outlined at the enterprise level. Serving as an intermediary between business processes and technological solutions, it involves identifying tech approaches for various tasks, outlining the structure and behavior of software, and specifying the functions and stages of each solution.
In contrast to enterprise-grade considerations, the solution-centered angle emphasizes the internal technical aspects of a project. This involves formulating a concept and life cycle for the solution, as well as overseeing its implementation. Additionally, solution architects manage risks associated with the adoption of new technologies, team selection, and other internal factors.
- Finally, application-grade activities are often carried out by a Tech Lead who assigns specific clearly formulated tasks to engineers. The accomplishment of these assignments will solve the global challenges identified by enterprise-grade architects.
Domain-specific workflows practiced by companies. Their types and benefits
Typically, the complex and multifaceted work of the average architect can be summarized in the following step-by-step fashion.
Activities, their types and benefits at the pre-sale phase. An architect normally:
- Supports sales with profound tech insights;
- Provides a high-level project assessment;
- Formulates solution architecture based on planned costs, required efficiency, compatibility, and time constraints.
Activities, their types and benefits at the discovery phase. An architect normally:
- Collaborates with BAs on functional and non-functional requirements;
- Considers project prerequisites, aligning with the domain's key qualities;
- Continuously reviews and evaluates diverse product characteristics throughout the engineering lifecycle.
Activities, their types and benefits at the project implementation phase. An architect normally:
- Supervises the entire engineering processes on large-scale projects;
- Defines the technology stack and deployment techniques;
- Supervises development, ensuring alignment with product characteristics and functionality;
- Evaluates system module interactions and plans for future business expansion and scaling.
Activities, their types and benefits at the assessment phase. An architect normally:
- Conducts a final check of architectural solutions;
- Uses verification techniques, such as statistical analysis and stress testing;
The actual involvement can vary, based on the particular project, spanning either specific stages or the entire development cycle.
Summarizing the types of benefits of having an architect
Employing a skilled specialist for IT initiatives offers several key benefits:
- Benefits of efficient translation. Business requirements seamlessly translate into an advanced technical structure for any app types — mobile or web, for example.
- Benefits of skillful risk management. Risks are adeptly mitigated by promptly addressing system limitations, ensuring flawless quality.
- Benefits of cost and time optimization. Carefully planned product structure reduces overall price tag and time-to-market, allowing for proper resource allocation.
- Benefits of scalability. Utilizing matching scalable technology from the outset enables the freedom to expand your business over time while preserving optimal performance.
Having examined benefits, contributions, and solution architect roles, the best and most thought-provoking way to finish this overview is to discuss what might happen without an architect. In the early stages, many small IT companies often operate without dedicated architects.
The role is typically assumed by the most experienced developer, albeit in a partial and non-systematic manner. This ad-hoc approach can lead to the absence of a comprehensive architecture, eventually resulting in significant issues.
Consider a scenario with a hotel room booking application initiative that needs to be coded and released swiftly. Without a proper discovery phase and architecture development, the development process exceeds six months. Post-release, it becomes evident that the system cannot handle the required loads. Critical factors like load restrictions were not discussed with the customer, leading to oversights during product creation.
Ideally, requirements and constraints should serve as the foundation for architecture development and the entire project. General design considerations must be grounded in rules that guide decision-making, rather than being created arbitrarily.
Consequently, the release fails, resources get wasted, and the initiative falls short of expectations. Months are then spent rebuilding the project to align with corporate goals and non-functional requirements.
Unfortunately, the true benefits of timely and comprehensive architectural design often become evident only in case studies that begin with critical failures. While well-developed projects may consider architecture as one of many success factors, the importance of it, especially in the discovery phase, becomes apparent when seemingly well-written products with strong concepts face release failures.
Key takeaway: regrettably, a persistent misconception prevails that architecture is either only crucial for sizable endeavors or unnecessary altogether. This misbelief is shared by both fledgling startups and leaders of large non-tech companies venturing into digital solutions. This piece seeks to present compelling arguments and cases highlighting the importance of not overlooking architectural issues.
For additional information or consultation, feel free to get in touch with our tech specialists — Andersen is here to assist! Our team is always delighted to examine all the types of goals you are pursuing and challenges you might be facing. Andersen’s job is providing you with all the feasible benefits of robust IT architectures, be it about dedicated teams, managed delivery frameworks, or all the IT staff augmentation benefits!