Architect: The Next Generation

The need for agility, adaptation, and transformation also applies to arbiters of change.

By Bob Rhubart

November/December 2014

Technological evolution is the business of architects at the enterprise, solution, and application levels. People in those roles bear responsibility for getting their organizations from their current technological state to some predetermined yet always moving target state in order to meet ever-changing business demands. Failure to hit that target—or to recognize that the target even exists—can have dire consequences. Just ask anyone who used to run a video rental store. Or a mall. Or the music business.

Cloud computing, mobility, the Internet of Things, and other disruptions present new challenges and portend changes not just for the what, why, and how of IT, but also for the who—including architects. This reality raises important questions: What skills will be critical to the success of the next generation of architects? How will those skills differ from the skills that have served the current generation of architects? I put those questions to members of the architect community.

The ability to explain ideas and the consequences of choices is
key. ”–Lonneke Dikmans,
Oracle ACE Director

“Architects are often focused on principles and rules to keep IT in line with policies,” says Oracle ACE Director Lonneke Dikmans, managing partner at eProseed. But for the next generation to succeed in a fast-moving world, Dikmans says, “being able to innovate and come up with new solutions will be more and more important.”

Openness and the ability to learn and adapt are essential to architects responsible for helping to move their businesses forward, according to Oracle ACE Director Lucas Jellema, CTO at AMIS Services. “Architects themselves have to become agile,” says Jellema. “Rules that were absolutely sensible five years ago may have to be revised or even completely rewritten.”

Oracle ACE Director and Veriton LTD Founder Simon Haslam adds that the move toward cloud-delivered applications will place even greater importance on the ability to quickly absorb new concepts. “Cloud service provisioning will shorten procurement time, driving architects to deliver production-ready, innovative solutions much more quickly than today, in weeks rather than months,” he says.

Cloud computing will drive a change in mind-set, according to Haslam. “Future architects will have to think much more laterally about failure modes and potential performance bottlenecks, since many of those things will be out of their control. They will also have to understand how their operations teams will monitor complex interdependent SLAs [service-level agreements] and mitigate risk,” he says.

Oracle Enterprise Architect Eric Stephens asserts that basic problem-solving skills and business fundamentals, while always important, will be even more so in the future. “The next generation of architects will do well to spend more time consuming business literature and emphasizing the business planning aspect of architecture,” he says.

Those all-important soft skills, too, will take on even greater significance for the next generation of architects. “The ability to explain ideas and the consequences of choices is key,” says Dikmans.

Toward that end, Jellema recommends taking advantage of conferences, wikis, and other community-style platforms where architects from various organizations meet and exchange experiences and ideas. “Get out of the ivory tower to get more in touch with the rest of the world,” he advises.

There is a payoff to that kind of outreach. “As more and more reference architectures and best practices become available, the focus will shift from thinking about the theoretical solution to executing architecture in a controlled manner,” says Dikmans. That should make it easier for the next generation of architects to avoid entering the ivory tower in the first place.

For the architects to come, perhaps images of sleek, nimble starships—rather than ivory towers—will inform the technological and organizational sensibilities they will bring to the task of steering the companies they work for toward that always-elusive to-be state.

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