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Solution Architect

The strategic role of a Solution Architect

by Svitla Team

November 09, 2018
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Introduction

Let’s kickstart this article with how all good things start - from the beginning. Before we delve into the depths of what a Solution Architect does, let’s first provide some clarity on what Solution Architecture is.

As defined by Techopedia, Solution Architecture is the process of creating a set of “enterprise solutions, applications, and processes that integrate with each other in order to address specific needs and requirements.”

Another straight-to-the-point definition, as provided by Gartner, is that Solution Architecture “is an architectural description of a specific solution.”

Up until this point, it’s pretty simple, right? Basically,  Solution Architecture is the process of designing solutions that meet a company’s set of needs. Normally, the solution architecture is overseen and directed by a Solution Architect. And here is where we go deep.

What does a Solutions Architect do?

It’s important that we shed light on who is a Solution Architect and what does a Solutions Architect do because, in recent years, the term has been floating around all over the software development world without a clear sense of direction.

Let’s break it down: The Solution Architect is the strategic designer and planner of solutions in a technology environment. In essence, the person attached to the Solution Architect label is the leader of the process that develops solutions to fit an enterprise architecture in terms of a business, information, and technical standpoint.

Solution Architects should possess a combination of skills in order to help design, build and lead the execution of a solution with precision and effectiveness. In the following section of this article, we are going to dissect the skills anatomy of a formidable Solution Architect.

The anatomy of a Solution Architect

Solution Architects come in different shapes and forms. Regardless, there are key characteristics that are shared across the board by effective Solution Architects.  These skills are crucial to the essence of  Solution Architects - what makes them who they are.

Solution Architects, primarily, have the invaluable ability to take a set of requirements and turn them into a full-fledged architecture and design that is the blueprint of a successful solution.  To achieve this, Solution Architects carry within themselves a toolbelt of skills that make it relatively simple for them to deploy an effective solution via their techniques, tools, technologies, and, ultimately,  field experiences.

Let’s take a look at the skills a Solution Architect must possess.

Expert communication: The Solution Architect must be capable of communicating clearly the technical aspects, risks, challenges, and selling points of the solution. The Solution Architect is the centerpiece for all the parties involved in the solution, including business analysts, project managers, vendors, developers, and more. Additionally, the Solution Architect must be capable of providing advice, explanation, empathy, influence, and negotiation skills to navigate the solution with prowess.

Risk management and identification: Solution Architects must identify, evaluate and assess risks to mitigate them and eliminate any factor that might hinder the successful delivery of the solution. Solution Architects know how to identify and reduce the threat of risks via tests in performance, security, user experience, and more.

Mastery of software development process and technical skills: Solution Architects must possess plenty of knowledge in technical aspects of the project to be able to provide guidance, identify risks, and assess the technology infrastructure of the solution. Because Solution Architects deal with many technical disciplines, it’s important that they are well informed about all the elements that play a role in the solution. While Solution Architects aren’t in the driver ’s seat, technical knowledge provides them with the confidence, credibility, and expertise to advise and guide the solution in the right path.

Detail oriented: The Solution Architect must be a detail-oriented individual. There are many components that influence and affect the solution, which is why the Solution Architect must ensure constant and consistent evaluation of every aspect, as minor as it may seem, to understand what is valuable and discard what may be insignificant.

Solution construction and management: Solution Architects are capable of shaping, designing and managing a solution comprehensively. To achieve this, Solution Architects must be assertive, responsible and multi-taskers to ensure the solution is satisfactorily built and managed.

People skills: Solution Architects must maneuver and manage business requirements and expected outcomes from numerous groups that work in the solution. Without people skills, Solution Architects don’t have the confidence and credibility to solve problems or to have the team trust their guidance.

Resource management: Solution Architects must be capable of using resources efficiently and effectively. Resource management is crucial to staying within the budget, meeting deadlines, and providing a well-rounded solution without hiccups, which is why Solution Architects are critical in this area.

Technical background and experience

Given the strategic place that Solution Architects hold, their technical background and experience prior to entering this role must be evaluated and meet a specific set of needs.

Solution Architects are often considered consultants who examine a system’s architecture, as well as business and technical aspects to suggest a solution.  Thus, it’s important that Solution Architects hold a degree, certifications or provable experience in the IT field.

As far as technical background, Solution Architects come from a variety of fields including computer science, information technology, software engineering, and other areas related to technology.

For experience, Solution Architects are oftentimes required to have practical skills and knowledge in:

  • Computer and operating systems.
  • Infrastructure and engineering design.
  • DevOps.
  • System security measures.
  • Business analysis.
  • Database management.
  • Cloud development.
  • Web platforms.
  • Hardware and software management.
  • Network administration.
  • Project and product management.

Solution Architect roles

There are several Solution Architect roles covered under the umbrella of the position. 

Here is a list of some of the most prominent Solution Architect roles: 

  • Design solutions that mesh ideally with an enterprise environment.
  • Recommend best practices for the entire solution.
  • Comply with all technical and business requirements.
  • Scrutinize project constraints to analyze alternatives, mitigate risks, and conduct process re-engineering as necessary.
  • Select the technology stack and perform a resource evaluation.
  • Act as a liaison between the technical and sales teams to convert requirements into outcomes.

Solutions Architect responsibilities

The Solutions Architect responsibilities include:

  • Conduct an architectural system evaluation.
  • Analyze technology environment.
  • Define a collaboration framework.
  • Analyze technical and business requirements.
  • Define a procedure and process to ensure solution delivery.
  • Create a solution prototype.
  • Take part in the technology selection.
  • Comply with strategic guidelines and architecture.
  • Control the solution development.
  • Collaborate with project management and IT development teams.

Challenges

These are the top challenges that Solution Architects face:

  • Technology is constantly changing: Solution Architects must stay on top of the latest technologies, techniques, and tools, which can be daunting and time-consuming.
  • Accountability: If a project fails, the Solution Architect is usually at the top of people who are ultimately responsible for its downfall.
  • Balance: Because there are so many factors that affect a solution, the Solution Architect must be diligent about covering all of them in a balanced and accurate way. 
  • Requirements: A company’s initially defined functional, technical and business requirements may not always be necessary or well-documented. Thus, it is a challenge for Solution Architects to identify listed requirements that are non-essential and that can be discarded given the sheer volume of requirements involved in a solution architecture.
  • Catering to stakeholders: Stakeholders have concerns and key needs that must be addressed while also balancing the needs of the technical development team. Solution Architects are at the heart of this crossroad.

Overview of the different architecture roles

There are a number of architecture roles in the IT market, but the three roles with the biggest resonance are Enterprise Solution Architect, Solution Architect, and Technical Architect.

This article focuses on the Solution Architect role, but for clarity, here’s a brief explanation of the other two roles and how they compare to the Solution Architect role.

Enterprise Solution Architect role description 

The Enterprise Solution Architect is the individual that oversees an entire enterprise in terms of business entities, properties, external ecosystems, relationships, and more. Enterprise Architects focus on building robust solutions that solve a critical strategic issue. Usually, Enterprise Architects supervise and take a back seat role by delegating specific tasks to specialists in particular areas. The principal involvement of Enterprise Architects is ensuring the company, as an entity, has streamlined application lifecycles and uses the technologies best suited for each application.

Technical Architects role description 

To put it simply, Technical Architects provide leadership and guidance to development teams. Technical Architects are in charge of a specific engineering, software architecture or implementation technology. Technical Architects play a technical leadership role to define standards and practices that should be followed throughout a solution project. Technical Architects work closely with technical development teams and executives to communicate information technology strategies, design overviews, applications, and more.

How do companies benefit from leveraging the expertise of a Solution Architect?

In the last couple of years, the rise in demand for Solution Architects has exploded because of the broad array of skills they bring to a project’s framework. 

While it is a challenging role, it is also a role born out of an experience, which helps bear the burden of an entire solution deployment. 

Solution Architects are individuals who, without the shadow of a doubt, are up to the task of dealing with complex environments while delivering value. Their relevance is increasing in a world where solutions are the conjunction of technology, resources, skills, and business goals.

Companies benefit from employing a Solution Architect as projects become more complex and challenging. This is because Solution Architects, as we previously mentioned, carry a toolbelt of skills and expertise that help identify processes, risks, technologies, and business outcomes involved in delivering a top-notch solution.

Conclusion

For the near future, the role of a Solution Architect will continue to evolve. It is not a static role and that is why it is still a work in progress. With this transformation and the opportunity for growth, more and more professionals are setting their sights on this promising position that is already one of the highest-paid jobs in the IT industry. 

Solution Architects are highly valuable assets in any enterprise, but their significance becomes more distinct in large-sized companies that require a robust solution architecture framework.

In a challenging technology environment, Solution Architects are some of the best allies to have on your team to align business requirements with technology solutions.

by Svitla Team
November 09, 2018

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