One IT architect is not the other

by Alain Couniot - Senior Enterprise Architect
by Bruno Grenson - Head of Architecture
| minute read

Just like traditional architects, IT architects come in many different shapes and sizes, from highly specialised profiles, active in a multitude of technology fields, to really broad generalists. In our previous post, we highlighted what all types of IT architects have more or less in common. Now we’d like to focus our attention on what actually sets them apart from each other.

Out of the very many “flavours” of IT architects existing today, our own IT architect community actually distinguishes four main types: the enterprise architect, the domain architect, the solution architect and the technical architect. These different architect roles that we at Sopra Steria Benelux came up with are in fact fairly common categories.

An architect is not an SME

What is important to keep in mind, before we move on to a detailed profile of these four types, is that an IT architect is not a subject matter expert (SME). Unlike, say, a server or network specialist or a developer, an IT architect brings structure to a solution. More importantly, he is able to strike a balanced compromise, taking into account the different aspects of that solution, such as its cost, complexity, performance, evolutivity, and so on.

An SME can – and often does - play an important complementary role to the IT architect(s) in an organisation. And although SMEs, as quintessential techies, don’t always make for good architects, a number of them grows into an architect role.

Enterprise and domain architects

The enterprise architect is basically the captain of the ship. He sets the course and makes sure everyone and everything required for the journey is on board and well prepared. He also takes care of all the necessary adjustments during the actual journey.

Since enterprise architects are responsible for aligning the business mission, strategy and processes to the IT landscape, they inevitably operate very close to the business. That’s why soft and particularly communication skills are all the more important for this type of architect. As an enterprise architect, you basically need to be able to deliver an elevator pitch on the fly to your CEO or any other C-level executive.

Domain architects, too, operate pretty close to the business – closer, at any rate, than solution and technical architects. Consequently, they also must be able to communicate effectively with business stakeholders. The difference with enterprise architects lies in the depth of their knowledge. Whereas enterprise architects, as generalists, have a larger breadth of technical and business knowledge, domain architects qualify as specialists, focusing only on particular “domains” or niche areas of expertise. As the captain of the ship, the enterprise architect relies on the deeper knowledge of his domain architects to get down to the process level of solving problems.

Solution and technical architects

Our IT architect community has defined a “domain” as a coherent, bounded set of business functions and activities that are closely linked to or dependent on a particular context or organisation. As such, they encompass an extremely wide range of possibilities: from BI, ERP or even specific vendors (e.g. SAP) to Finance, Marketing or even specific sectors (e.g. retail).

This vertical approach also applies to the role of the solution architect. Only, contrary to the domain architect, the solution architect is not as deeply engaged in the business, focusing instead on technological challenges and getting down to the project level for solving them.

Finally, technical architects, as the name itself suggests, are even more deeply, if not exclusively engaged in the technology. But whereas solution architects define the whole IT solution, consisting of multiple components to be implemented, technical architects focus on the actual implementation of those components. There is both breadth and depth to their knowledge, albeit purely on a technical level.

It’s not a competition nor a hierarchy!

Each of our four architect types has its own focus and responsibilities, not to mention its specific challenges and pitfalls. But while the impact of a mistake at the enterprise architect level may be far more profound or wide-reaching, all four architect types are equally important in the end. Each type is essential for the success of a project. And all types equally depend upon each other.