What Architecture in IT Is and Why It Matters

Andrey SementsovHead of Architecture at AndersenApr 14, 2021

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 gel 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.

About architecture and IT Architects

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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Quality attributes

Quality attributes provide a means to determine whether the software meets the customer’s expectations. They provide the ability to evaluate a product or a project from different angles. One of the important tasks of an Architect is to determine the right quality attributes for a particular project. For this purpose, the Architect holds a Quality Attribute WorkShop together with the customer.

There are the three main categories of quality attributes:

  1. System qualities. This is the basic category that includes such attributes as performance, scalability, availability, modifiability, security, testability, usability, etc.
  2. Business qualities. These are the cost and benefit ratio, time to market, product life, etc.
  3. Architectural qualities. They include conceptual integrity, correctness, and completeness.

After identifying the attributes (non-functional requirements), the Architect prepares a plan to achieve the maximum results. This plan becomes the basis of the project architecture.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 (you can read more about the discovery phase in our article on this topic).
  3. Implementation. On large projects, the Architect accompanies the entire development process.
  4. 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.

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

The benefits of IT architecture in cases

Most of the cases that prove the benefits of architecture in practice unfold along these lines:

  1. The product goes into development without a well-designed architecture.
  2. The product release fails because significant factors were not considered.
  3. In order to fix the situation, the project team has to break down the structure and rebuild everything from the very foundation. The release of the redeveloped product is postponed for months, and huge amounts of money are spent on improvements.
  4. The product, without critical errors this time, is released again.

In the early years of our existence, like any other small IT company, we worked without Architects. The role of an Architect was performed by the most experienced developer in the team, but they did it partially and non-systematically. As a result, there was no full-fledged architecture, so sooner or later serious problems had to happen.

This happened with the project of an application for booking hotel rooms. The development was started without the discovery phase and architecture development (writing a SAD document). The development process took more than six months. After the product was released, it quickly became apparent that the system couldn'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 failed, money was wasted, and the project didn’t skyrocket as expected. It took 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 IT Architect outsourcing

Although an Architect can work on a project both full-time and part-time, outsourcing is more profitable in the latter case. If you have already formed an IT team but are thinking about designing architecture, the most reasonable option would be to turn to a professional from outsourcing. Employing an Architect makes sense only if your project is large enough, the Architect is needed on a full-time basis, and their participation will be required even after release. However, even in this case, companies can outsource another Architect for reinforcement or consultation.

If several specialists of different areas are required to strengthen the team, and your outsourcing company can provide all of them at once, this is often more profitable than hiring the necessary specialists separately. This option saves time on searches for individual employees - hence it saves money.

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!

Andrey Sementsov

Andrey Sementsov

Head of Architecture at Andersen

Welcome, dear visitor. My name is Andrey Sementsov, and as the head of software development at Andersen, I lead a team of well-trained professionals. The value of our work lies in the competent development of complex, high-load projects, making them more efficient and predictable while taking into account all the non-functional requirements necessary for the project. A carefully selected team, led by an experienced architect, is bound to succeed using the best design methodologies. Entrust your project to Andersen's team and you will never regret it.

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