The modern IT architect needs to manage 3 architectures to enable Agile and DevOps ways of working

3 architecturesI have been a technology architect for a long time and have worked with many different technologies. And there is something satisfying about coming up with “the architecture solution” for a business problem. The ideal end-state that once implemented will be perfect.

Unfortunately I had to come to the realization that this is not true. There is no end-state architecture anymore and there never was. All those diagrams I drew with the name end-state in it – they are all obsolete by now.

Knowing that architecture will continue to evolve (just look at the evolution of the architecture of Amazon (or many other internet companies) over the years) means as architects we need to think differently about architecture. We need to build architectures that before even implemented are already considering how parts will be replaced in the future. No stone will remain unturned over time no matter how good they seem at the moment. So rather than spending time on defining the end-state we need to spend more time understanding and defining the right principles of architecture for our organisations and manage the evolution of the architecture – how technical debt is paid down and systems are being decoupled for the eventual replacement.

This would be difficult if we had to deal just with the architecture of business systems. Reality is that in the current IT world we have to deal with three different architectures: the business systems architecture, the IT tools architecture and the QA and Data architecture.

Let’s quickly define these:

  • Business Systems Architecture – this is usually well defined in organisations. How do your CRM, ERP and billing systems work together to achieve business outcomes
  • IT Tools architecture – this is the architecture of all your tools that make IT delivery possible: configuration management, container management, deployment, defect management, Agile lifecycle, etc
  • QA and Data architecture – how do we validate that systems are working correctly both in production and in new development and how is data flowing across systems and environments

All three of these architectures need to be managed with the same rigor and focus on continuous evolution as the business systems architecture. This will make the job of architects a little bit more complicated. At the moment I see many organisations not having architects focused on all three architectures as they are not perceived as being of similar importance.

Let me give you some examples from my past to highlight why that is foolish:

  • One of my clients was already pretty mature in their automation so that all deployments to production were fully automated. Unfortunately their deployment architecture was basically a single Jenkins server that was manually maintained. When this server was wiped out by mistake it took weeks to get the capability back to deploy to production – in the mean time very risky manual deployments had to be performed by people who had not done this in months
  • Another client of mine had built a test automation framework that was too tightly coupled so that it took a lot of effort to replace one of the components and maintenance had become so expensive that they had stopped using it – ultimately there was too much technical debt in the tests and the QA and data architecture

The answer of course is that all three architectures need to be managed by architects in similar ways (e.g. failover and availability need to be considers for IT tools and QA tools too) and that the principles of decoupling and continuous evolution need to be aspects of all three.

The architect function is one that will see a lot of change as we come to terms with managing three interconnected architectures and the evolving nature of architecture. But I think it will make the job more interesting and will allow architectures to climb down from the proverbial ivory tower to engage with the Agile delivery teams in a more meaningful way.

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