Saturday, February 4, 2012

The skills that transform an IT Manager to an IT Architect


One of a typical question that an aspiring architect has to answer in the hiring interview is “how in your opinion an architect is different from an IT Manager?” Even I have been in the asking side, on many occasions and have not been getting convincing answers from many. This is very typical as in most organizations, even if one is titled as Architect, he or she end up managing IT as against Architecting IT. Let us attempt to compare and contrast the skills that these roles demand. Please note this is not an attempt to make out a complete list of skills of these roles.

1.       The Engagement

The Architect’s engagement starts with identification of a business pain point. At times, it would be the Architect who should spot the pain points and propose remedies. On the other hand the IT Manager is engaged the moment a project has been scoped and is ready for execution and implementation.  The engagement of an Architect starts with the challenge of making a business case (of course with the help of fellow architects specializing on specific areas) to the stake holders with appropriate quantified projections that lead to a positive RoI. When this task is done well, the projects that get shelved mid course would come down considerably.

2.       Big Picture thinking

The Architect has to be the one who can visualize the big picture of any given problem or a possible solution in line with the enterprise’s long and short term goals, the anticipated business growth and the technology trends in the related area. This visualization would help the Architects to appropriately prioritize the various initiatives and to draw out the short term and long term road maps. The big picture visualization is an integral part of the IT strategy lifecycle of the enterprise to determine the future state and plan for the transformations from current state to future state. On the other hand, the IT Manager is engaged only in the transformation tasks and there by leading the organization to the future state.

Some of the aspiring architects, when asked how would they do the capacity planning, their response was based on a pinned down Statement of Work, which in case of architect engagement would not exist and they could not think of a situation where they would be designing a solution with absolutely no requirements on hand.

3.       Project Execution

The IT managers will have teams to execute, implement and manage various projects, whereas, the Architect would be playing an independent and in most cases individual contributors. The Architects have to be with the project execution teams and help the teams by bringing in course corrections whenever they deviate from the intended plan. This role requires the Architect to possess hands on ability in the related technology, so as to hand hold the project teams during execution. The IT Managers on the other hand may not be required to do this and instead he would simply co-ordinate the engagement of Architects with the teams.

4.       Risk Management

While Risk management is essential in IT management life cycle, performing it early on adds huge value to the solution execution as it helps better decision making in terms of resource planning, training needs and of course will bring in the ability to remedy the risk. That is the challenge an Architect has to face in identifying all potential risks that the solution may lead to. IT managers also face challenges in risk management, but it will be a lot easier as many things would have gained concrete shape with less ambiguity.

5.       Staying on top of the trends

The IT Managers are not normally pressed to stay on top of the technology trends and it would be enough for them to stay on top of the technology that is mature enough and has good industry adoption. The Architect on the other hand has to stay on top of the trends and that would help him in measuring the longevity of the proposed initiative or solution. It also important for the Architect to have a good grasp of industry predictions and analysis and should have the ability to choose the less risky path to lead the enterprise to the future state.