What is an IT architect

The job description of the IT architect

IT architects have organizational and technical skills that combine management and system planning. The effective integration of IT architects in the IT planning processes increases the profits from IT investments. In practice, the benefits of IT architects are underestimated and in science the roles are blurred. This article presents the tasks, skills and value creation of three main categories of IT architects and shows their market opportunities and income opportunities.

Importance, goals and tasks of IT architects

IT systems have a major impact on the added value and competitiveness of a company. IT architects fulfill fundamental functions in the development of these IT systems.
An IT architect is manned

  • Key roles in the IT planning process,

  • defines interfaces and components for new IT systems and

  • integrates these into existing IT landscapes.

Extensive actual / target analyzes are carried out for this purpose. Business objectives are central to this; technical standards and rules must be observed.

IT architecture as an IT management discipline offers methods for structuring and controlling various technical IT components towards integrated, functional information systems in accordance with a company's business strategies. These methods take into account not only hardware / infrastructure, software applications, data and technologies, but also organizational characteristics such as people, locations, processes, procedures and services. The IT architect determines basic concepts, principles and guidelines for the strategic development of corporate IT and for the design of the associated solutions.

The terminology for IT architects is inconsistent, both in practice and in theory. Leading architecture frameworks such as TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) present numerous role descriptions and profiles for IT architects, but these only partially match in professional reality.

Companies assign inconsistent job titles to the different roles of IT architects, which are causing confusion in the IT specialist markets. A recent study of job advertisements for IT architects in Germany and the UK identified major categories of IT architects from a variety of job titles. Accordingly, three types of IT architects clearly differentiate themselves in terms of objectives, tasks and skills:

  • Corporate architect (Enterprise Architects),

  • Solution or system architect (Solution / System Architects), and

  • Software architect

These main types of IT architects operate on different logical levels, which are, however, closely linked to one another. While the corporate architect is oriented towards business strategy, solution and software architects are tactical, that is, project-related. This article sheds light on these typical profiles, especially enterprise architects and solution architects.

Strategic IT planning by corporate architects

Enterprise architects support the business plans with tailor-made IT solutions and develop long-term schedules for this. The IT architecture is developed as required over a period of three to five years in accordance with business requirements. This also includes advising management roles in the company (e.g. CIO, CEO, portfolio manager, functional manager) on technological issues.

The management of the associated processes, also known as IT-Business Alignment in international business informatics, is one of the core tasks. Corporate architects have technical responsibility for the medium and long-term development of corporate IT and are involved in the decision-making process for products and solutions. Functionality, flexibility and investment security are decisive in these decisions.

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The enterprise architect must also provide structures and frameworks in order to be able to implement the business requirements for IT effectively and efficiently. To do this, it is necessary to have an overview of the entirety of the IT planning and to control both the solution architects and the software architects from a technical point of view. This leadership (governance) includes approaches, techniques, methods, processes, patterns, etc. Everything about leadership on CIO.de.

Enterprise architects determine guidelines, rules and tools for solution architects so that they can plan efficiently and consistently. They also define the architecture platform, which includes reusable elements such as blueprints, references, functional blocks and generic configurations.

Solution architects on the tactical planning level

The technical planning of special IT infrastructure measures is the task of the solution architect - who is often also referred to as the system architect. He is the designer of special solutions and focuses on IT infrastructure segments within the overall architecture (e.g. security, network, data center, cloud, etc.).

The solution architect works on a project basis (i.e. tactically) according to the specifications of the company architect and in coordination with the project management project management. He supports projects mainly in the planning phase, but also during the implementation phase when a solution is provided and tested. Solution architects are supported by system specialists who are professionally instructed. Everything about projects on CIO.de Everything about project management on CIO.de

For the detailed design of systems, solution architects must first analyze the functional and non-functional requirements. They then specify hardware, operating systems, interfaces, software versions, protocols, flow charts, use cases, etc. and integrate the respective solution into the overall architecture.

In addition to the solution architects, software architects work on the tactical level. Software architects concentrate on the development and modification of IT applications that are based on the IT infrastructure of the solution architects. You collect and analyze software requirements and design corresponding IT applications with programmers and other stakeholders involved in application development.

Digitization architects as a future role

Digitization architects represent the new generation of IT architects. They combine the tasks and skills of corporate architects and solution architects. This professional group also has in-depth knowledge of digital technologies such as sensors, big data, big data or artificial intelligence. Digital architects are innovators whose goal is to create customer benefits from digital systems in order to generate new sources of income for companies. Everything about big data on CIO.de.

Above all, creativity is required there in order to change business systems profitably through the application of digital technologies and the acquisition and evaluation of user data. In order to be faster and more innovative than the competition, digitization architects use sophisticated and progressive design methods such as modularization or recombination.

Skills required for IT architects

All types of IT architects should have strong social skills, especially in oral and written communication, teamwork and leadership. In addition, system and technology knowledge are of great importance. A methodological background in the areas of engineering, design, development and architecture is of crucial importance, while knowledge of certain standards and frameworks (e.g. ITILITIL, TOGAF, PMI, etc.) is very helpful, but surprisingly little in demand in job advertisements. Everything about ITIL on CIO.de

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Business management skills are particularly required for corporate architects. Solution architects need in-depth technological knowledge of a specific subject (e.g. data storage, networks, networks, security, cloud, VoIP) as well as corresponding product knowledge in order to be able to design needs-based solutions. Everything about networks on CIO.de

Value creation from IT architects

IT architects improve the organizational skills in relation to strategic planning and decisions of a company. This means that IT investments can be consistently aligned with the corporate strategy with a focus on added value for customers and your own organization. They also fulfill their tasks by creating structured communication paths between stakeholders at different levels, from the CIO to project and line managers to the programmer. In this way, they ensure the coherence of complex IT planning.

In addition, standardization, standardization and innovation by IT architects offer a wide range of options for creating customer benefits. IT architects increase customer benefits for each strategic customer value discipline, both through cost advantages (operational excellence) and special product features (product leadership) as well as through improved customer relationships (customer intimacy). Everything about innovation on CIO.de Everything about standardization on CIO.de

Involvement of the IT architects in the IT planning process

Enterprise architects have to carry out strategic business planning with senior executives in order to formulate (IT) strategies for competitive advantages and customer benefits. He coordinates this with the portfolio manager, who aligns the entire project portfolio, which also includes non-IT projects, with the business strategy.

The coordination between corporate architects and portfolio managers (IT project alignment) includes joint analyzes of requirements, risks and dependencies with regard to current and future projects. The feasibility and value creation potential of project proposals are also put to the test. Then new IT projects are selected, prioritized and budgeted. The results are brought together in a joint roadmap that shows all projects for the coming years on the timeline.

Selected projects are handed over to solution architects and project managers for detailed planning and implementation, who coordinate the individual components of the solution and jointly coordinate the steps for integration. In this phase, the solution architect reports to the company architect, while the project manager is directed by the portfolio manager. This closes the ideal planning loop for IT systems.

Requirements and training

The names for IT architects are legally unprotected. There are no generally accepted role titles with associated training paths or learning programs. The titles and role descriptions are inconsistent, so the competence requirements are also ambiguous. The competence profiles of frameworks (e.g. TOGAF) provide orientation, but do not reflect the content of job advertisements.

  • IT architects need many years of practical experience in order to be able to direct communication with the various stakeholders in a targeted manner.

  • Corporate architects are recommended to have at least two years of management experience, for example as a team leader. In addition to the tools and methods for architecture management, corporate architects need methodical skills for business analysis (e.g. SWOT, PESTEL, customer value disciplines)

  • Solution architects should have prior experience as systems experts. Knowledge of classic project management is an advantage.

  • Software architects should be able to demonstrate programming practice and master the principles and procedures of agile project management and software development.

Software and solution architects can also advance to corporate architects if they expand their technical range, acquire business knowledge and have the personal prerequisites for management tasks.

A completed Bachelor's or Master's degree is not a prerequisite for IT architects, but modern courses in IT management and business informatics offer excellent foundations. A direct entry from the school desk to an IT architect without relevant professional experience is not advisable. These roles require seniority, security and sovereignty, both with regard to the professional and social characteristics of the candidates. The suitability to be an IT architect, especially when it comes to communication and coordination, is largely based on practical experience.

IT architecture certifications

There are numerous frameworks for architecture management, both from standardization organizations and from IT manufacturers. Certifications are offered by accredited seminar providers in the form of online courses or face-to-face training.

  1. E-learning in job and talent management
    Companies have to break new ground in talent management and invest more in the further training of their employees. According to the experts at Right Management, the following tips on the subject of e-learning can help set the course in terms of skills and training and make learning attractive.
  2. Tip 1: Learn without an instructor
    An instructor does not always have to be present to learn new things. E-learning allows experts to design granular curricula, record courses or individual lessons and make everything accessible via an online platform. This makes e-learning an important step towards self-determined learning.
  3. Tip 2: Enjoyment of learning in a team
    Online and self-determined learning does not necessarily mean learning alone. The joint creation of learning content and the categorization and sharing of content are well suited to create a spirit of collaboration. If this is done with the help of elements from social media, smartphone apps and games, the employees experience the fascination of real-time collaboration.
  4. Tip 3: Learn anywhere, anytime
    In the modern business world, the ubiquitous and time-independent access to even very specialized information is proving to be a great blessing. A learning or talent management system should also take into account the aspects of an increasingly mobile world.
  5. Tip 4: Productive learning portals
    In the case of further training measures, it should be avoided that employees get bored and are withdrawn from productive business for longer. The best way to do this is to use suitable learning portals, especially if they take popular trends such as gamification and micro-learning into account. In this way, learning becomes an immediate work-related measure through which employees continuously improve their qualifications.
  6. Tip 5: Talent Management & Learning
    Learning is a powerful driver of quality and performance. However, this only becomes visible and measurable if the disciplines of e-learning, human resources and IT exploit their synergies. Tools that combine e-learning and talent management programs are a good basis for this.
  7. Tip 6: encourage willingness to learn
    In order to achieve learning acceptance among employees, a mix of traditional learning and digital, self-determined learning programs is recommended for companies. The latter, in turn, should cover the entire range from simple e-learning to mixing programs and virtual 3D elements.

Some organizations make their frameworks available on the Internet for free. The knowledge can thus be acquired easily and autodidactically.

The Open Group, which developed the widely used TOGAF architecture framework, offers a two-tier certification program. The focus is on knowledge of the TOGAF standard and less on its application in practice. Over 100,000 IT professionals worldwide are TOGAF-certified, but there is still little demand on the job market. Less than seven percent of job advertisements for IT architects require this certificate. John Zachman, a pioneer of IT architecture in the 1980s, offers certifications for enterprise architects across four levels from associate to educator. Zachman certifications are less in demand in job advertisements than TOGAF certificates.

In addition to the TOGAF, Zachmann and EABOK architecture methods, corporate architects should have profound knowledge of other IT management frameworks. A wide range of knowledge about business analysis (BABOK), business architecture (BIZBOK), enterprise IT (EITBOK), IT infrastructure (ITIL), etc. promotes strategic planning skills.

Certification programs from manufacturers and institutions

  • For example, Cisco Systems offers its global certification program across six levels of qualification. At the top is the CCAr architect certificate, which has only been awarded ten times worldwide. The acquisition of the Cisco architect title requires an expert certification for design (CCDE) and requires the elaboration of a so-called architectural challenge, which must be successfully defended in front of a jury.

  • Microsoft offers certification as Solution Architect Expert for Azure and Dynamic 365. The exam topics are technologies and design methods.

The following IT manufacturers and service providers offer qualified certifications for solution architects, especially for cloud solutions:

  • Amazon: AWS Certified Solutions Architect

  • Dell EMC: Proven Professional Cloud Architect

  • Google: Professional Cloud Architect

Certifications and frameworks for software architects are less common. Academic institutions are active in this area.

  • For example, the Fraunhofer Institute offers a Certified Professional for Software Architecture (CPSA) program.

  • Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute (SEI) offers a comparable certification program.

The job market for IT architects

Regardless of the industry, IT architects can work in all medium-sized and large companies. The public service also needs IT architects at universities, local government, police, etc.

The potential of IT architects is still underestimated in industry and public administration and the disordered IT planning processes in many companies lead to an underestimation of the need. However, the increasing competitive pressure can increase the sensitivity for process optimization in IT planning and reveal the need for qualified IT architects. Enterprise architects should be employed because of the long-term nature of their planning.

Solution and software architects can also be hired temporarily as freelancers or commissioned on a project basis from IT consulting firms. Solution architects have good chances on the job market because their goals and tasks are tangible. Software architects still have to find their place in structures with agile process models; this role does not exist in the Scrum model, for example.

Earning opportunities

IT architects are among the top earners in the IT business. You are on the salary level of project managers. The current hourly rates for freelancers are around 100 euros for solution and software architects and around 120 euros for corporate architects. Permanent IT architects achieve gross annual incomes between 70,000 and 90,000 euros. Depending on seniority and role, even six-figure annual salaries can be achieved. However, the above-average incomes are appropriate when considering the demanding qualification profiles. (bw)

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Note: For reasons of readability and comprehensibility, the author of this article has chosen the generic masculine, which includes all genders equally.