Architects Matter

Making sense of the people who make sense of enterprise IT

By Bob Rhubart

November/December 2012

Why do architects matter? Oracle Enterprise Architect Eric Stephens suggests that you ask yourself this question the next time you take the elevator to the Oracle offices on the 45th floor of the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois (or any other skyscraper, for that matter). If you had to take the stairs to get to those offices, who would you blame? “You get the picture,” he says. “Architecture is essential for any necessarily complex structure, be it a building or an enterprise.”

Complexity in enterprise IT is unavoidable—to a point. “You need a role to manage out the unnecessary complexity and prevent architectural entropy from taking hold,” Stephens says. “I’ve seen a number of companies with little to no architectural presence, and it shows. The duplication of IT assets, as well as inefficient and often ossifying integration between systems, leads to the business’s inability to respond to change.”

Stephens’ colleague Pat Shepherd, also an Oracle enterprise architect, shares a similar opinion. “Enterprise architects matter because history has demonstrated that project-based IT development does not lead to reuse, consolidation, or any of the economies of scale that come from enterprise architecture,” he says. “Enterprise architecture is the only real hope an organization has for delivering IT as a strategic asset.”

That awesome responsibility filters downward from the enterprise level to the level of the solution or IT architect.

“Architects provide the counterweight to the business,” says Oracle ACE Director Lucas Jellema, CTO at AMIS Services. It’s a matter of achieving balance between the interests of business and IT stakeholders. According to Jellema, the IT architect’s focus is on preparing the IT environment to meet key business demands. “Therefore the business should not regard architects as opponents, the frustrators of new developments,” he says. “The business should recognize the architect as an enabler.”

Development teams need to see the architect in a similarly positive light. “The architect is also the guide, coach, and sparring partner for the development team, and perhaps the administrators as well,” Jellema says. “The architect will instruct and monitor the development team in how they design and implement the software artifacts and how they make use of the various tiers of underlying infrastructure.”

That focus on efficient, intelligent use of resources is key to defining the architect’s value.

“Architecture matters because it optimizes the use of resources in order to achieve the most-important qualities in each IT system,“ says Manuel Ricca, an IT architect with a large European financial institution. Ricca points out that stakeholders in security, operations, and finance and even the CEO may not see beyond their respective concerns. It’s the architect’s job to relieve them of their tunnel vision. “The architect is responsible for getting agreement on the relative priorities of those different concerns, and for designing the system structures that allow the organization to achieve the desired qualities,” says Ricca.

The ability to see and understand the interconnection and interdependencies between disparate systems is another key value proposition for architects, and that value is increasing in the evolving IT landscape.

“When software could work in silos, architects weren’t overly useful,” says Derek Sharpe, director of the Oracle Fusion Middleware A-Team (that’s A for architecture). But times have changed. “In today’s world, business users expect their systems to communicate with each other, share information, and be highly available.”

A good architect knows how the pieces fit together and can turn that information into a cohesive strategy that spans a company’s IT infrastructure and forms the design basis for a reliable platform that satisfies IT and business stakeholders. “But most importantly,” Sharpe says, “the architect is management’s technical communicator, someone who can articulate to both the development teams and the business what is necessary to meet current and future requirements.”

To put it another way, if the elevators don’t work, nothing works.

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