If you work with an organisation’s technology at any level beyond niche specialities, chances are high you’re working with an architect. The term “architect” itself can refer to several different disciplines. But what we mean by architect in technology is similar to what we mean by architect in, for example, home building. The architect isn’t the specialist that the electrician, carpenter or plumber is; the architect sees a whole, unified, functional design that will allow those specific pieces to interoperate effectively, aligned to an overall strategy.
Over the past few years, architects have gained increasing prominence in enterprises and governments for their role in designing systems management and cybersecurity solutions that enable organizations to remain resilient against disruption without the burden of managing too many different point products or massive cost overruns. Alongside every successful IT organisation led by a visionary CIO or industry-leading CISO, you’ll find that the blueprint to the organisation is developed and curated by their Chief IT Architect. The architect allows a company to produce repeatable, structured designs for their technology landscape, ultimately improving interoperability, increasing speed to market, and reducing risk.
(It’s worth noting, as well, that many organisations are also investing in layers of architecture using different architect roles. An enterprise architect, for example, is looking at aligning business priorities with technology needs, whereas a domain architect might be an expert in a specialized area, such as cloud or cryptography.)
The industry is ready for this
A majority of enterprise organisations are actively consolidating the number of vendors they do business with, no doubt realizing they can do better than manage dozens of tools that don’t comfortably integrate with one another. That’s not a shift that comes easily, notes ESG analyst and longtime security pundit Jon Oltsik, because “it goes against a 20-plus-year-culture of the community at large.” But it’s a positive shift helped along by architects, who are tasked with designing more easily managed, cost-efficient infrastructure while helping CIOs and other IT leaders deliver on an increasingly common executive mandate around digital transformation.
Many of the best architects working right now are, not coincidentally, the ones who’ve been at it a while. They’ve seen their roles go from curiosity – remember all those “what does an IT architect do?” articles from a few years back? – to strategic stakeholder with influence over purchase decisions. Architects are looking at their stakeholder group broadly. They recommend and design for solutions that will help often-at-odds-teams – such as IT management and security operations – improve their overall resiliency by working together off a common set of actionable data.
Architects evolve and CIOs with them
As technology vendors, we make the architect’s job easier when our products are designed with this critical role in mind. I spend much of my time talking with architects at well-known enterprise brands and government agencies, and when they’re trusted by their superiors, they’re instrumental in designing environments that executives can depend on for high veracity information and capabilities that materially reduce risk.
If you’re a CIO, for example, can you accurately state the number of endpoints attached to your distributed network, and can your teams use that information – not next week, right away – to patch, remediate and otherwise manage security risks? Those who can confidently say “yes” have solved the challenge of visibility and control over their environments at an architectural level, well beyond an individual product level. You can buy lots of different products to satisfy lots of individual requirements, from EDR to compliance audits. But if you don’t have the right ecosystem (including people and processes) to support them, you’re not going to derive much value.
Support for the role of the Architect
There’s another reason I think CIOs will increasingly look to architects in the push to maintain and improve the entire environment. An architect’s remit includes looking across the environment and make design recommendations that lower opex and capex costs, do more with less, rationalize services and consolidate vendors. Nowhere else under the office of the CIO do these individual metrics matter as much, at least outside of FP&A teams.
Teams that manage, say, EDR, or compliance, or other operational aspects are necessarily thinking in platforms and ecosystem-wide efficiency (some, in fact, relish having many different point products to manage because it means they maintain larger teams and receive more budget to keep running them.) But an architect, by definition, has to think ecosystem-wide. And if the modern CIO has to achieve digital transformation, make IT an enabler, not just a cost center, stay secure and resilient and maintain continuous compliance – and occasionally, see his or her family in the midst of all of these weighty priorities! – that CIO is going to lean on roles that make solution-level decisions easier. That’s an architect.
A word on automation, which would sometimes seem to be at odds with the role of the architect: it isn’t. For all the automation and orchestration you can now have in your environment – and you have so many vendors climbing all over themselves to try to “own” the message around both of those slippery words – you still need a conductor for that orchestra who understands, at a solution level, how the pieces ideally harmonize. That’s invariably the architect.
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