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The Key Difference between IT Architect Roles: Technical vs Solution vs Enterprise
By Arijit Banerjee
IT architects, be it technical, solution or enterprise, have one overarching mandate – ensuring a robust infrastructure that not only supports the technology framework but also drives business outcomes. While these three roles may have a similar mandate, there are some key differences between them. The problem though is the job descriptions for these three roles can sound quite similar. So much so that companies often use the terms interchangeably, when advertising on job portals. Advertising for a technical architect when your organization actually needs an enterprise architect would only lead to disillusionment if you are the employer and a sense of failure if you are the new hire.
Understanding what each role entails can lead to better articulation of role requirements, and therefore, better hiring outcomes for both employers and candidates.
Technical architects: the tech gurus
Technical architects have a detailed understanding of the technology required for a specific project. They are often named according to their area of expertise—for instance, Python architects or Java architects. They provide technical guidance for the company’s development teams, ensure the implementation process meets defined parameters and best practices, and also help estimate implementation costs and project timelines.
Since they are well-versed with technology and have a fair understanding of business needs, technical architects are able to apply their knowledge to help meet business goals. As a result, they often liaise between management and tech personnel. Unlike developers who only carry out instructions, technical architects help evaluate the needs of a project, analyze design specifications, make recommendations, and collaborate closely with development personnel. They are responsible for improving user experience and for ensuring that the digital framework of the company runs smoothly.
Technical architects generally hold a degree in computer science, computer engineering, information systems, or software development. They may also be required to have experience with a variety of programming languages, depending on the organization's needs. Most technical architects tend to specialize in one or two technologies.
Solution Architects: the project managers
Typically, a solution architect is capable of doing everything that a technical architect does, but with a difference. While technical architects display in-depth technical knowledge and have a hands-on approach, they are not expected to provide strategic direction. Solution architects, on the other hand, have a broad understanding of technology, but focus on strategy.
Like technical architects, solution architects too are capable of analyzing current issues, recommending solutions, developing best practices and determining if the IT architecture aligns with business needs. In addition, they also assist management in strategic planning, oversee technical forecasts, conduct research to determine positive and negative trends and review the effectiveness of installed applications. In short, they straddle both the worlds of technology and technical strategy.
When deciding whether to assign projects to technical or solutions architects, companies tend to assign straightforward, single implementation projects to technical architects and high-risk projects to solution architects. High-risk projects could include those with uncertain requirements (having a high likelihood of change), untested technologies, multiple new technologies being deployed simultaneously or projects that have been outsourced to external teams.
Since they are involved in a project from the “cradle to grave” —right from requirements capture to concept design, implementation, and finally, maintenance or transfer to IT operations—solution architects play a key role in ensuring product consistency. They generally hold degrees in computer science, engineering, mathematics, or business.
Enterprise architects: the decision makers
Enterprise architects collaborate with management to define business goals and ensure that the enterprise infrastructure supports these larger goals. They help create the IT architecture roadmap, work with solution architects to design roadmaps for different domains, determine operational gaps and develop methods for improvement. They are also responsible for educating personnel on best practices like frameworks and governance models.
Unlike technical architects who are heavily focused on implementation and solution architects who manage projects, enterprise architects are involved with policymaking and business strategy. They tend to delegate technical decisions to specialists. Day-to-day responsibilities include analyzing trends in related fields, providing recommendations to their enterprise, evaluating applications for compliance with internal and external standards, and assessing architecture viability when making organization-wide changes. Since they deal with enterprise-level design, they need to be capable of bridging the gap between a particular concept and its practical context.
Enterprise architects usually hold degrees in information technology, information systems or related fields.
While these three roles are clearly interrelated, the focus of each varies. Technical architects work within a solution, solution architects determine the apt solution to a problem, and enterprise architects are called upon to decide which problems need a solution. Using this distinction as the starting point can help stakeholders figure out which role to hire for and how to word the job description to identify the best-fit architect for their company.
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