Curious Minds: The Role of the Senior Solutions Architect
Infrastructure design has a big impact on the performance of a business, and a solutions architect plays a critical role in setting the vision and setting the foundations of the technologies that will help an enterprise meet its business goals.
Much like the other kind of architecture, IT architecture is both an art and a science. It's as much about understanding and accommodating the people who make use of computing and the services it can deliver, as it is about the systems used to run them and the networks that tie those systems together. IT architecture also concerns itself with best practices, and with making sure that technology always remains the servant of the organisation. The technology is not an end unto itself.
With that context in mind, a senior solutions architect is responsible for solving integration problems and synching technology frameworks across all the organisation's business units. It’s a mammoth task involving both process and technical knowledge in disparate areas like network security, storage, data management and service delivery. Depending on the organisation, the senior solutions architect may also oversee and coordinate the efforts of other technology-specific architects, such as security architects, data architects, or automation architect.
What skills do you need?
IT architects must possess and/or develop a sizable collection of skills. Interestingly, this is one role where soft skills play a crucial role alongside technical skills. Below is a list of skills an IT architect should have to excel in this field:
● Communication: Being able to communicate clearly, directly and persuasively in writing and in person. The increasing pace of business means the window to gather details and the expected agility of modern IT means immediate progress is expected. You must also be able to run meetings and collaborate with a variety of people, from C-level executives and managers to technical experts, end-users, customers and our partners, such as Microsoft.
● Strategy/business sense: Understanding what is important to a business or organisation is crucial. A variety of stakeholders must be considered by successful architects that focus on technologies and solutions most likely to provide an ‘agility advantage’ or to improve productivity or profitability. As Long Term Transformation goals may contradict short-term operational cost savings.
● Continued Learning across Enterprise IT: Having strong hands-on experience in roles and projects that highlight an understanding of how enterprises use information technology for a wide range of purposes and applications is an absolute must. While their will continue to be CyberSecurity requirements with the business for the foreseeable, skills in niche technology (media transcoding) can quickly be commoditised by a large CSP. Think of a Messaging Architect in the early 2010s, they were highly focused on scalability and uptime of a large mailbox farm. These same people have had moved to become Modern Workplace specialists with a very different definition of success.
● Ask the right questions: Customers come to Rackspace with complex problems, as we’ve got a great track record of solving these. Arguably, the most important skill is a combination of analytical skill and curiosity. Asking the right questions, listening carefully to the answers is essential, being able to provide the space for people from different levels of IT experience to explain what their problem is and why it's important for their business to fix this. Designing the right system or solution means understanding and formulating what users and stakeholders want, in a way that exceeds the expected performance, security and integrity for the relevant systems.
● Strong technical skills in enterprise computing: You must understand the fundamental building blocks of IT. These areas include client systems and applications, networking, infrastructure, data centres (yes they do still exist), web tools and technologies, databases and Big Data, ERP, and more. Architects are usually expert in one or more of these technology areas or disciplines. But their expertise is intended to create a vision of what is needed and how it might be put together, not necessarily to get involved in the construction work. Whether this is a case of focusing on repeating established design patterns used for years (such as resiliency and high availability) or the latest frameworks in DevOps.
● Leadership: You need strong, effective leadership skills, getting different groups and stakeholders to believe in a vision and a blueprint for how IT works within their organisations. Knowledge valuable for a project will never come from a single person, whether this is internal or external being able to assemble the group for your project is essential for its success.
● Planning and Organising: Architects must also possess strong planning and organising skills, since they build and manage plans of action for projects that can take years to complete, and we’re probably working on 4-5 of those multi-year projects as we speak.
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