Author: Christophe Demangeot
In an ever-changing technological landscape, organisations require creative thinkers with business know-how.
This is where Solutions Architects come in. They are an integral part of many businesses today, whose input is often the difference between a quick, successful project and a slower roll-out.
Here is some insight into the importance of Solutions Architecture in modern business, as well as some of the ways you can level up your skills as a Solutions Architect to ensure you are an invaluable asset to any company.
Why simply be a good Solutions Architect when you can be a great one!
A Solutions Architect’s Role in Business
Without competent Solutions Architecture, businesses run the risk of delivering incorrect or ineffective solutions to the problems they are attempting to solve. The result of this is poor adoption, unhappy customers, loss of business, and a loss of trust in our services and the services of the Solutions Architect.
On the other hand, great Solutions Architecture has the potential to enable an organisation to drive better and more efficient business practices and processes.
For me, the Solutions Architect is the person who can both ‘architect’ and ‘design’ the best solution to a problem.
By my definition, to ‘architect’ is to articulate the blueprint and principles of a solution. To ‘design’ is to articulate the details of a blueprint and the principles of the solution, tailored to the solution’s environment.
The Solutions Architect must first be able to clearly articulate the problem to be solved (the what ), and the real reasons why the problem needs solving (the why– the hardest part).
They can then lean on their experience and expertise to describe the solution to the problem (the how, who, when ), in a way that the business can understand and the delivery team can implement.
Leveling Up From “Good” to “Great”
Solutions Architecture is the practice and the vehicle with which we can clearly articulate what work needs to be carried out from the current to future state.
This includes the reasoning and justifications for this work, as well as the benefits delivered through the solution implemented.
As such, good Solutions Architecture should be easy to understand within a business context and able to clearly describe the real problem that needs solving, and the intent, benefits, and limitations of the solution presented.
Great Solutions Architecture, however, can not only achieve the above, but present a solution that also makes sense within the long-term, strategic vision of an organisation. It helps to drive that vision, is adaptable, is technology-agnostic where possible, and both modular and service-orientated.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Work
Whilst Solutions Architecture tends to focus mostly on technology, some of the key, non-technical components are often forgotten.
A great technically-orientated architecture may still deliver a bad user experience. This may be because it is unmaintainable or difficult to extend, delivers more than the customer wanted, or not enough of it, or simply that it is too costly to build.
In my view, the ability to look beyond technology comes largely with experience in delivering solutions across multiple project types and varied client industries. It is also influenced by the maturity of an organisation in all aspects of their business.
As a general principle, I try to measure the effectiveness of my Solutions Architecture by its simplicity and "making sense" factor.
Of course, not all solutions can be simple; however, I do believe that the description of the solution, and the transition from a current state to a new state should be clear and aligned with the business expectations.
In practice, measuring the effectiveness of Solution Architecture can be done by asking the following questions:
Is the problem clearly stated, and approved by the problem owner?
What are the benefits of that architecture, and does it solve the problem stated?
Does the proposed architecture fit in the current, or aspired to, business and technology landscape? Is it feasible?
Can components of that solution be easily swapped, at low cost, without business interruptions?
What is the impact of the solution? Cost vs benefits, training, adoption, technology choice, support requirements, etc…
There is an element of elegance and beauty in well-defined Solutions Architecture. The principles are sound, the various components link naturally together, and the overall solution is innovative and appealing.
Solutions Architecture at CGI
As a System Integrator Business and Technology consulting company, Solutions Architecture plays a key role at CGI. In my opinion, it is essential in many areas of the business and I have always felt that my role was greatly valued by my peers and my reporting line.
At CGI, Solutions Architects are more than just technology gurus: they are the bridge between our clients and their current technology landscape, and the future vision of their organisation.