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What Architecture in IT Is and Why It Matters

Andrey Sementsov

Andrey Sementsov

Head of Architecture at Andersen

Architecture
Outsourced IT Services
PDS
Apr 14, 2021
Lesedauer: 11 Min.
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Moore's law has been relevant for more than 50 years. Technologies are constantly becoming more complex, entailing the growth of software complexity. Building a program or an application without preliminary planning and design can lead to additional time and financial expenditures even at the development stage. There is a high probability that, after release, such a product will get left behind since it's unoptimized. In order to avoid such problems, the software architecture should be developed at the initial stage. In this article, we will figure out what it is, who IT Architects are, and in what cases it is worth seeking outsourcing software architecture development services.

Who is an IT Architect?

According to the Software Engineering Institute, there are nearly 150 definitions of software architecture. Wikipedia provides the following one:

Software architecture refers to the fundamental structures of a software system and the discipline of creating such structures and systems. Each structure comprises software elements, relations among them, and properties of both elements and relations.

In simple terms, software architecture is the framework or the basic structure of a program. This structure is the basis of development, which ensures the integrity and logic of even the most complex and cumbersome systems. A well-elaborated architecture prevents them from falling apart and simply saves resources.

IT architecture can also include system architecture that reflects the approach of an IT team to solving any problem or implementing any project. This can be not only software development but also, for example, a business digitalization project or a task to introduce other global innovations.

An IT Architect is a specialist who designs software architecture. This specialist defines the architectural pattern (paradigm), identifies the main components, develops scenarios for their interaction, and performs a number of other tasks, such as defining the boundaries of the system, working out non-functional requirements, etc.

In most cases, an Architect is someone who was a programmer, worked their way up to a Senior Developer, and has had experience as a Tech Lead. Moreover, this specialist must be able to think strategically, globally evaluate the project, and effectively convey their thoughts and ideas to the team.

However, the Architect mustn't become a “bottleneck” - the only person who sees the whole picture and who is expected to constantly give advice and orders to other team members. The task of the Architect is to design the architecture and provide the team with sufficient information so that each specialist can comfortably accomplish their work. The Architect not only lays the foundation for the software to become more scalable, optimized, and secured but also can help a PM or Team/Tech Leads in optimizing the work of the team.

Types of IT Architects

In order to better understand what exactly an Architect does on a project, we need to discuss the types of these specialists. One can distinguish multiple various categories of IT Architects, but we will consider the three most popular ones: Enterprise Architect, Solution Architect, and Application (Software, Technical) Architect.
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Enterprise Architect

An Enterprise Architect is engaged in defining global tasks that the product being developed will solve. This specialist also determines how to build an IT product from a technical perspective in such a way that business tasks are solved as efficiently as possible. Along with that, an Enterprise Architect deals with setting local goals related to business efficiency

This type of Architect is expected to be well-versed in modern technology trends and the competitive advantages of a given solution. The responsibilities of an Enterprise Architect may seem similar to those of a Solution Architect, but they are two different professionals performing different tasks.

Solution Architect

Formulates a plan for solving tasks defined by the Enterprise Architect. Solution architecture is an intermediate component between business processes and technological solutions. It includes seeking technical solutions for different tasks, describing the structure and behavior of software, and defining functions and stages for each solution.

Unlike enterprise architecture specialists, a Solution Architect focuses not on external factors but on the internal technical component of a project. This specialist draws up a concept and life cycle of the solution and controls their implementation. Also, a Solution Architect controls all risks of using new technologies, selecting team members, etc.

Application Architect

The role of an application architecture specialist is often performed by a Tech Lead. This Architect assigns specific tasks to developers, the accomplishment of which will solve the global challenge identified by the Enterprise Architect.
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What are functional requirements and non-functional requirements?

A Software Architect is found among the key persons on a project who determines, prioritizes, documents, and validates the product's functional and non-functional requirements.

The first term refers to what a system does, or its functions, while the second one predefines and describes its qualities. For example, the ability of a program to convert documents from one format to another is its function. At the same time, the speed at which the program performs this action is its quality. Quality requirements are believed to be crucial to a system's success and are embedded into its design.

Among the qualities that have the strongest impact on a product, there are its security, availability, usability, and performance. All these characteristics are specified in the system architecture and cover the aspect of the technical architecture. The team working on a project should also consider so-called non-technical factors that are associated with the product context. They are the types of licenses employed in development, various limitations due to the project's budget and technology stack, the need to follow industry regulations, and so on.

Functional requirements are embodied in a code in the form of equations and functions, and they are also represented in the expected behavior of a system speaking of the black box aspect. Product functionality can be expressed in formulas, technical information, data-driven operations, and so on. All these results are specified in the system design and cover the aspect of the application architecture.

Both the above requirement types contribute to elaborating well-structured software development architecture. Therefore, it's crucial for a Software Architect to diligently elicit, evaluate, document, and validate them early in the development, otherwise, the issues might arise that will appear to be too costly.

Work stages of an IT Architect

An Architect's responsibility is not limited to developing a project strategy and structure. This specialist is involved in the work at various stages.

Pre-Sale

The Architect supports sales specialists on the technical part, helps to ask the right questions, and gives a high-level assessment of the project, if possible. Such software architecture consulting is essential as the customer normally provides the company's experts only with general information as to the project's budget, efficiency, compatibility limitations, time to market, etc. All these instructions are considered by the Architect and form the basis of the solution architecture.

Discovery

Together with Business Analysts, the Architect actively participates in the discovery phase. The BA studies all functional requirements, and the Architect studies non-functional ones based on business requirements and product expectations.

The Software Architect considers the strong dependence of the project prerequisites from the domain in question. For example, while for a banking app, the key quality would be customer data security, for an eCommerce platform it would be its availability.

It's worth mentioning that working with the product qualities is an ongoing process that takes place throughout the development lifecycle. These characteristics are reviewed and evaluated at all stages from the initial phases when experts get acquainted with the customer's processes up to the maintenance and support stage.

Based on both non-behavioral requirements and those collected by the BA and documented in use cases, Architects elaborate architectural documentation. They leverage various techniques such as failure trees and risk models to break down complex functionality into structural parts and turn to templates and ad-hoc formalization. These specialists specify how their architectural solution correlates with the requirements, and outline the system's design.

Implementation

On large projects, the Architect accompanies the entire development process. These experts participate in defining the technology stack and the deployment methods. They also supervise the development with regard to the product characteristics and functionality.

During this stage, Software Architects evaluate the interaction of the system modules with other infrastructure and ensure that the individual requirements don't contradict each other. The above specialists also regulate the development with regard to the business' possible expansion over time and the system's scaling.

Assessment

The final check of architectural solutions. This stage can be the final one during the Architect's work on the project. It is also possible that a customer comes with a ready-made solution that the Architect only needs to review.

To evaluate the success of the previous stages, the Architect might fall back on formal verification techniques, i. e. statistical analysis, stress testing, and so on.

Depending on the project, the Architect can either be involved in some stages or participate in the full development cycle on an ongoing basis.

How can IT architecture help your business?

Most of the cases that prove the benefits of architecture in practice unfold along the following cases.

The product goes into development with a well-designed software development architecture

IT Architects are experts who deal with both the technical and business sides of a project. Not only do these specialists evaluate the feasibility of a project from the architectural viewpoint, but they also think through every constraint as for resources and budget available, timing, compatibility, scalability, regulatory requirements, and more.

The Architect outlines a high-level product model and subsequently elaborates the Software Architecture Definition (SAD) document. The schemes, charts, calculations, and prototypes present a decomposed system with all the interactions between its modules with regard to the key customer's infrastructure. As a result of comprehensive software architecture consulting, all ways around are considered to deliver stakeholders the best solution possible.

The product release is a success as all significant factors are considered

IT Architects are both proficient in supervising the team and have many years of first-hand experience as tech specialists. Thus, they work in close cooperation with Tech Leads and Project Managers to successfully lead the development avoiding potential problems.

Should any alterations to the requirements occur, the Architects make strategic decisions that go in line with the product concept and domain-specific rules. They participate in defining the environments and the infrastructure where the code is deployed and ensure that the development results comply with quality standards.

The project team doesn't have to break down the structure and rebuild everything from the very foundation

Without an Architect, critical errors in the product's structure might occur. The release of the redeveloped product can then be postponed for months, and huge amounts of money will be spent on improvements.

What complications might a business encounter without an Architect?

Many small IT companies in the early years of their existence tend to work without Architects. The role of an Architect is performed by the most experienced developer in the team, but they do it partially and non-systematically. As a result, there is no full-fledged architecture, so sooner or later serious problems have to happen.

Let's imagine what might happen, say, with a project of an application for booking hotel rooms. The development is started without the discovery phase and architecture development (writing a SAD document). The development process takes more than six months. After the product is released, it quickly becomes apparent that the system can't handle the required loads. Nobody discussed these restrictions with the customer, so they were not taken into account when creating the product.

Meanwhile, such requirements and constraints are what the development of the architecture and hence the entire project should start from. Architecture can't be designed out of thin air; it must be based on drivers that dictate the rules and on the basis of which decisions are made.

As a result, the release fails, money is wasted, and the project doesn't skyrocket as expected. It takes several more months to rebuild the project and bring the system in line with business goals and non-functional requirements.

Unfortunately, only those case studies that start with a critical failure illustrate the benefits of on-time and complete architectural design best of all. When a project is developed in the right way and shows good results, architecture is objectively just one of many success factors. However, when the release of a product that seems to be well-written and based on a cool concept fails, the importance of architecture and the discovery phase in particular becomes apparent.

Advantages of the IT Architect consulting

To sum up the above, let's list the core benefits of having an experienced Architect on a project:

  • the language of business requirements is seamlessly translated into an advanced technical structure of your web or mobile app;
  • the risks are managed adroitly by timely addressing the system's limitations and ensuring its flawless quality;
  • the overall project cost and time to market are reduced thanks to a carefully thought-out product structure that allows for efficient allocation of resources;
  • you can freely expand your business over time based on scalable technology that preserves its great performance.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, there is still a stereotype that architecture is needed only for large projects or not needed at all. This misconception is believed by both young startups and leaders of large non-tech companies initiating the development of digital solutions for their businesses. In this article, we have tried to provide arguments and cases of why architecture mustn't be neglected. If you need more information or would like to get a consultation on issues related to architecture and software development, contact our specialists - we are happy to help!

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