Redefining IT Architecture

Every now and then someone comes along who has such a compelling message and a such a fantastic delivery of that message that the very fabric of your intellectual foundations get shaken. Jan Hoogervorst is just such a person.

Until now I looked upon IT Architecture as a largely diagram based activity- trying to stay away from the As-Is and focus on the To-Be- but fundamentally it drew pictures and was descriptive. Oh, how naive I was: In an hour long presentation Dr. Ir J. A. P. Hoogervorst turned my world on its head.

According to the presentation, and both its content and style of presentation lead me to believe that this view is entirely correct, Architecture provides normative guidance for design. That expression needs explaining: Architecture is the prescriptive process the defines (not describes) the rules by which changes may be made to an existing design to create a new design. Practically speaking then, Architecture is a consistent and coherent set of principles and standards that prescribe how a system is to be designed.

The consequence of taking this approach is the realisation that Architecture and Design (at least in the IT world) are fundamentally different concepts, and that most of the time, the activities that Solution Architects do are actually design. This is not a problem (in fact, a lot of the ‘fun’ part of my job is the design part, the architecture part makes your head hurt) as long as the managers, leaders and other stakeholders recognise what it is you do. And there are actually some good reasons for having one person act as Architect and Designer: the relationship between Architecture and the Design created using it is naturally very close. And as most organisations do not have well defined Enterprise or Solution Architectures, the poor chap (or lass) doing the work is probably going to be switching hats between Architect and Designer many times a day.

As the maturity of Architecture increases, the distinction between the Design and the Architecture will become clearer. But by then there will be a new IT paradigm and we will all be some other sort of engineers.

One Comment

  1. Hopefully Jan Hoogervorst didn’t hurt you to much with his presentation 😉 From your posting I can see that you understand what is going on: many IT architects (in particular solution and technical architects) are in fact IT engineers. And there is nothing wrong with engineers, the world needs good engineers as well as good architects. It is a pity that the image of engineers are not as good as one would like. Maybe because so many companies started to call their IT technicians also IT engineers. To me that is the reason why a lot of engineers start to call themselves architects. Promotion/status/better pay may also be part of the reasons.


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