Our technology environment is evolving quickly while changing business requirements at a dramatic pace. In order to keep up with the digital transformation and align their business strategy with new technology solutions, companies need to rely on specific expertise. That’s where IT architects come into play.
But what is the difference between an enterprise architect vs. solution architect?
And why can’t an enterprise architect and a technical architect alone guarantee the successful execution of an IT project?
While enterprise architects define strategic directions, solution architects bridge the gap between business requirements and the implementation of technology solutions. Past experiences have shown that without this link, almost half of all IT projects tend to fail.
Broadly speaking, a solution architect’s task is to evaluate all business requirements and come up with solutions in the form of products or services. Once they are given a problem, solution architects are not only in charge of finding answers, but also of actively leading the technical vision to success.
Solution architecture is comprised of several complex processes and sub-processes. It plays a central role in an organization’s efforts to introduce and successfully implement new technology solutions.
In the first step, solution architecture specialists closely look at how the different elements of business, information and technology can be applied to solve a specific problem.
Next, they propose a combination of building blocks that provides the best possible fix. This process is very detail-oriented and serves as a connecting piece between enterprise architecture and technical architecture. It also requires a breadth of knowledge in the technical and business inner workings of the company.
After solution architects have designed a solution for an existing problem, it is their job to manage the tasks and activities that are involved with its successful implementation.
During the entire process, the specialists oversee all technological risks and make sure that the described solution proves to be consistent while meeting all the necessary requirements. They coordinate ongoing activities and translate the design concept to IT operations. Thus, in their assigned role, solution architects most resemble project managers who make sure that everyone involved, including the stakeholders, are on the same page and move into the right direction throughout all phases.
While solution architects engineer solutions for specific business problems, enterprise architects verify that the IT strategy is aligned with the organization’s mission. It is their job to analyze business properties as well as the external environment and define all business needs.
Among all IT architects, enterprise architects have the most overarching view of the organization and know of its capabilities and potentials.
They play a key role when it comes to identifying business needs in context with external factors like competitors and internal factors like a company’s IT landscape.
They are in charge of analyzing current trends in technology architecture and educating technology departments about new frameworks and best practices.
Through the use of clear architectural models and the help of domain architects, they define business goals and design an information technology roadmap. This roadmap is supposed to create a bridge between context and concept.
In this context, the enterprise architect needs to make sure that the right enterprise infrastructure is created while the new applications meet all business standards and are in line with the company’s integrity.
Even though enterprise architects sometimes deal with technical questions like an app’s life cycle and technological environments, they mostly delegate specific tasks to the solution or technical architect. Since they aren’t focused on the fine details, they have the most abstract view of structures and processes and never lose sight of the big picture.
Compared to the solution and enterprise architect, technical architects take the most hands-on approach during the execution of IT projects. Most technical architecture specialists focus on one single implementation and specialize in a particular domain where they also define best practices.
The technical architect’s main task is to realize particular technical implementation processes. As this requires a high level of in-depth expertise, technical architects usually specialize in one single technology. Thus, they are named according to their area of knowledge, for example Java or Python architect. Just like data, application or information architects, technical architects fall under the umbrella of domain architects. Altogether, these roles put technological solutions into practice ensuring that the application designs support the technological strategy defined by the enterprise architect. However, technical architects are not only in charge of the implementation of new technologies. They also provide recommendations and inform stakeholders about potential threats.
Technical architects can be in charge of leading large teams of developers and technical professionals. They act as technical project managers who define the structure of a specific system and oversee the related IT assignments. Out of all IT architects, they are the closest to an organization’s end user. Thus, they have to ensure that the technology is not only delivered in a timely manner but fully functional for the end user.
In order to meet the requirements of both the organization and user, technical architects work closely with solution architects who create a link between the strategic concept and its technical execution.
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With a technology landscape that evolves quickly, the roles of IT architects need to adapt as well. That’s why the distinction between the different types can sometimes become unclear. Even though tasks seem to overlap at times, each IT architect has their own area of responsibility. While the enterprise architect focuses on the enterprise-level design of the IT landscape, solution architects are in charge of finding and introducing solutions to specific business problems. They also manage all activities that lead to the successful implementation of a new application. Technical architects concentrate on one particular technology and provide the technological know-how that is needed to deliver the product.
The figure below illustrates the amount of strategic and technological input that each type of IT architect contributes to a project: Enterprise architects have a high strategy focus and less of a technology focus, while it is the other way around for technical architects. The solution architect bridges the gap between concept and implementation by acting like a channel between enterprise architecture and technical architecture.
Enterprise architects need to have a variety of skills in order to become effective IT strategists. Next to having good knowledge of all enterprise software and technological trends, they also have to be skilled business managers. They often interface with the executive leadership and need to be able to define and clearly communicate business goals in order to get stakeholders on board. It is their responsibility to align these business goals with the technological goals and the IT infrastructure of the organization. Most enterprise architects have a Master’s degree or an MBA.
Just like enterprise architects, solution architects need excellent communication skills. A lot of their time is spent coordinating ongoing activities and negotiating the needs of all involved parties. As the connecting piece between enterprise and technical architecture, they constantly move between different business layers. Therefore, it is crucial for them to understand how all parts of the business work together. This requires a great deal of analytical thinking. As they are also in charge of ensuring the technical integrity of each solution, they are required to have a good understanding of technical specifics.
Technical architects are specialists in their field and need to be able to first visualize and then implement new technical concepts into an existing system. It is their responsibility to realize the IT project with a development team and define best practices and standards along the way. Furthermore, they inform all parties involved about specific software requirements and associated risks. Ideally, technical architects are experienced working with on-premise and cloud native infrastructures and know how to deploy an application in the most effective way.
The salary for IT architects varies across the United States. On the lower end, the starting salary for all three types hovers around $82,000 a year. However, an average income of around $111,000 seems to be the norm. According to Glassdoor, enterprise architects have the biggest earning potential. Senior or principal enterprise architects can make up to $135,000 a year. Right in the middle are solution architects who have the potential to receive an annual income of up to $116,000. Technical architects tend to get the lowest rate out of the three. The average annual income of a specialized Java architect is indicated as $79,000.
It is a combination of talents that make a successful enterprise architect. Most importantly, they need to understand how the enterprise technology framework can lead to desired business goals. In this role, strategic and analytical thinking are just as important as outstanding soft skills.
The IT strategy development and architecture governance require an extremely structured work approach and the ability to use special EAM tools. These tools help visualize roadmaps and keep track of all information related to a company’s IT architecture. One of an enterprise architect’s greater talents is to analyze and synthesize this information through meta models and architecture diagrams that uncover operational gaps. In the same process, an enterprise architect evaluates possible applications in terms of integration and compliance with enterprise and business standards.
Enterprise architects also need to be comfortable with communicating the value of new IT strategies to the executive leadership team and stakeholders. In fact, a lot of their time is spent on people and decision-making processes. Out of all IT architects, they are required to have the best grasp of the company’s IT landscape in relation to business outcomes. That is why this role requires a high level of awareness in regard to industry trends and enterprise-grade solutions that boost productivity and increase competitiveness.
When comparing all three IT architects, the distinction between an enterprise architect vs. solution architect usually creates the biggest confusion. However, each architect has a well-defined set of tasks that shouldn’t overlap too much with the responsibilities of the other two. Enterprise architects drive standardization and guide a company’s business decisions by introducing effective IT strategies. Once they have identified areas of improvement, the solution architect then takes a specific problem and proposes a solution. Thus, they create a link between the technological vision and its actual implementation.
In the last step, technical architects translate the solution into an integrated system. They provide in-depth technological insight about matters like hardware and software specifics. They also lead development teams and make sure that the deployment of new applications happens smoothly. Whether an organization needs all three types of architects depends on the company size and the complexity of its infrastructure. A great number of IT architects work for consultancy firms and are hired on a project basis.
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